BWW Review: BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET'S SWAN LAKE Still Stunning After 25 Years
The Birmingham Royal Ballet's first production of the season is always a special occasion, and even more so this year as the company celebrate the 25th anniversary of their move to Birmingham. In the past 25 years, Birmingham Royal Ballet have performed Swan Lake a total of 582 times, from Thailand to the USA, South Korea, Israel and Japan.
Following the death of his father, Prince Siegfried will be crowned king and must marry. He dreads the loss of his freedom, so friend and equerry Benno (the exuberant Max Maslen) arranges entertainment to divert him. As a flock of swans passes the castle window, Siegfried and Benno head out on a hunt.
In the forest, the evil Baron von Rothbart has transformed the Princess Odette and her companions into swans. Only between midnight and dawn do they recover their human form. Siegfried sees a swan which, to his astonishment, transforms into the beautiful Princess Odette. Her enchantment can only be broken if someone who has never loved before swears an oath of undying love. As dawn approaches, Prince Siegfried declares his love and the couple promise to meet the following night at the castle.
Rothbart, disguised as an ambassador, arrives at the castle with his daughter Odile, enchanted to look like Odette. Infatuated, Siegfried declares his love for Odile and asks for her hand in marriage. Odette, watching from the window, returns to the forest in despair, with Siegfried in pursuit.
Siegfried begs Odette's forgiveness. However, nothing can change the fact that his vow has been broken. Odette and Siegfried decide they cannot live apart and will die together. Dawn breaks and the spell is broken as the lovers are united in a world of eternal love.
Philip Prowse's set design is quite possibly the best of any Swan Lake production. The castle is dark and richly decorated, making Prince Siegfried's castle truly magnificent. The elaborate, heavy costumes of the courtiers and Dowager Queen (a very regal Yvette Knight) add to the gothic effect of the piece.
First Artist Brandon Lawrence makes an incredibly impressive Birmingham debut as Siegfried. His youth, combined with a detailed and multi-layered performance, conveys the impression of a vulnerable prince, head over heels in love for the first time. Lawrence is the ideal danseur noble, with a captivating stage presence. His elevation is incredible, as he seems to soar above all other dancers on stage.
Delia Matthews as Odette is simply breath-taking. Her movement is completely transformed: with the curve of her neck she epitomises the awkward yet beautiful gait of a swan. Her port-de-bras are exquisite. The use of her back and arms gives the impression that she really does have wings. There is nothing showy or unnecessary about Matthews' interpretation of Odette, yet her gestures convey the princess' plight so clearly. A simple chassé becomes a demonstration of her longing to escape, whilst her classical mime is clear and well-articulated.
In the dual role of Odile, Delia Matthews adds an extra spark to her characterisation. She takes the infamous 32 fouttés in her stride - never missing a beat and without a hint of a wobble in sight. Her coy glances to the audience are irresistible. It is no wonder that Siegfried falls under her spell entirely!
Lawrence and Matthews are a beautiful pairing with an obvious onstage rapport; they dance for one another, with total commitment to this very moving performance.
The most memorable moment of BRB's Swan Lake comes with the opening of Act 4. The curtain rises on a stage covered in swathes of dry ice, which draws an audible gasp of surprise from the audience as the swan maidens appear, as by magic, through the mist.
BRB are blessed with a wealth of talented dancers at the moment, and the corps de ballet are flawless. As the swan maidens, the women are beautiful; they glide elegantly and seemingly effortlessly as though they really are under an enchantment. The cygnets (Ruth Brill, Laura Day, Reina Fuchigami and Beatrice Parma) are delightfully synchronised.
Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake is a stunning and memorable production, with a young and talented company that is on top form at the moment.
Photo credit: Andrew Ross