Review: Swan Lake @ Birmingham Hippodrome

After last week’s thrilling triple bill showed BRB’s true coming of age it seemed Swan Lake was about the only thing with which they could convincingly follow. The extra Tuesday performance they’ve since had to add showed just how spot-on their programming proves to be.

Swan Lake is the gold standard of classical ballet, Tchaikovksy and Petipa’s homage to the eighteenth century French ballets idolised by top 19th century Russian society. It may lack the dramatic cohesion of its 1840 source, Adolphe Adam’s Giselle, but its terminally romantic music assures Swan Lake’s place in the repertoire of any serious ballet company in the modern world, proving romance still isn’t dead.

Swan Lake’s plot is at once horribly human and utterly unconvincing. A young man’s future is all mapped out but he falls in love with the wrong person, who turns out to be a swan. It’s easy to see why Matthew Bourne’s modern reworking has criss-crossed the world – there can be very few people living who haven’t felt some of this poor guy’s constraints.

Returning star Ian Mackay here brought a new acting depth to the prince’s crucial role. Right from the start we felt his pain as his mother, BRB Ballet Mistress Marion Tait chilled the blood by reminding him of his urgent duty to marry and produce an heir now his father, the king, is dead. In lavish Ivan The Terrible costumes her grand viziers parade giant books before him with stylised images of the princesses on offer, but understandably the still-grieving prince isn’t really in the mood. His mates try to cheer him up with a few drinks and some energetically easy-virtue dancers, but it’s only when he goes out on a hunting trip and meets a cute swan (resident star ballerina Nao Sakuma) that the future seems both more attractive and, quite naturally, full of problems. After all she is a swan. Let’s face it, he’s, well, snookered, but this is a story at once unbelievable and metaphorically convincing, and music and dance conspire here to make us believe love is all.

The swans’ ethereally geometric progressions were simply magical, the ballroom scene smouldered with explosive action while the third act drew gasps of admiration. At the finale the orchestra unusually and most deservedly got the loudest applause of the evening. If you haven’t seen Swan Lake before, succumb now. This production is about as good as it gets.

Swan Lake runs until June 26. For tickets phone the Box Office on 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com.

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