Swan Lake – Birmingham Hippodrome

Reviewer: Tim Harding

Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Choreographers: Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa

Conductor: Philip Ellis

Birmingham Royal Ballet returns to the Hippodrome with a revival of Sir Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s well-loved 1981 production of Swan Lake. Based on the ageless folk tale of the Princess forced to become a swan during the day by an evil magician and the Prince who promises to love her in order to break the spell only to be hoodwinked by the magician, this production is also standing the test of time incredibly well. Indeed, the excellent programme notes tell us that a number of the costumes date back nearly 40 years to that first production.

This is a very traditional, straightforward telling of the tale, and no worse for that. The storytelling is crystal clear, and the dancers are given the space to perform their variations with character and, often, bravura.

At the centre of the production, Japanese Principal Ballerina Momoko Hirata is sensational in the dual roles of the white and black swans. Her Odile is lithe and flowing, delicate arm gestures supporting her bird-like persona with a beautiful poise en pointe. Her Odette is absolutely the mirror image, black in look, black in character, revelling in her seduction of the hapless prince. While Hirata’s athletic strength is demonstrated in the famous 32 fouettes, performed with breath-taking ease, her acting of this role is a real stand out. Her sarcastic reaction the moment the prince discovers the deception is a great demonstration that there is more to a great ballerina than just the dancing.

Partnering her in the rather more thankless role of Prince Siegfried is Chilean Principal César Morales. He performs all his solos with great energy, generating excellent lift and seeming to hang in the air and does an admirable job supporting Hirata in the Pas de deux. But he only seems to possess two facial expressions, and, working opposite a dancer with a contemporary actor’s abilities, this really shows up.

Excellent support comes from Max Maslen as the Prince’s confidant Benno, and local Birmingham dancer Tom Rogers as the evil Baron von Rothbart. Rogers clearly revels in this character role and takes his well-deserved “boo” on his solo curtain call with great humour.

The Corps of Swans is utterly captivating, both in movement and stillness; the coup de theatre involving their appearance at the start of Act 4 receiving audible gasps from the large Hippodrome audience.

The austere and moody design by Philip Prowse lit by Peter Tiegen serves the story very well. The whole evening is rounded off by the magnificent playing of the BRB Sinfonia, under the direction of Philip Ellis. Particular kudos to Sinfonia Leader Robert Gibbs whose solos are performed to perfection.

Runs until 29 February 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Ageless revival of an ageless fairy-tale.

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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