Review: Swan Lake @ Birmingham Hippodrome

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet’s move to the Midlands, to be known henceforward as Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Based in the very heart of the great city, home to the industrial revolution, for most of that time they’ve been fortunate to have at the top David Bintley, an ex-Royal Ballet dancer himself. A programmer of genius, he’s brought to the Midlands not only key-note works from the Royal Ballet tradition but representative works from dance world-wide both historic and new while proving to be a powerfully inventive choreographer in his own right.

Swan Lake is the one of the gold-standard markers of ballet history, and this 25th year season quite rightly gives us a deeply traditional production that celebrates ballet’s great flourishing as an imperial art form in pre-revolutionary Russia. Tchaikovsky’s score alone means this supernatural drama is always darkly thrilling and always heart-stoppingly new, both of which virtues are here done full justice.

Right from the start it grabs you by the heart. A young prince is mourning the death of his father, but there’s no time for private grief; protocol demands he assume the throne and take a wife. Under pressure from the queen mother brides are paraded before him in a chilling reminder of modern British history. And after seeing the acquisitive candidates we can sympathise more readily with his struggle between doing the right thing and the impossible love he has discovered far from home.

This richly satisfying production is full of treasures, the sumptuous gilding and shadowy candlelight of the ballroom scene filled with the story’s dark corners, Marion Tait’s performance as the implacably haughty Queen mother, the stunning athleticism that marks Tyrone Singleton’s touchingly troubled performance as the prince, Celine Gittens’ heart-breaking beauty as the imprisoned love of his life. Add in the sight of ghostly swans rising ethereally from the mist on a moonlit lake and it’s got the lot.

But it’s the very humanity of Swan Lake that has kept it at the pinnacle of must-see balletic triumphs for over a century, as the standing ovation from a packed first night audience made crystal clear. Pure theatrical magic.

Swan Lake runs at the Hippodrome until October 6. For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000.

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