Birmingham Royal Ballet’s entrancing Swan Lake – a revival of Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s 1981 production – is danced to the hilt, with exceptional principal performances from Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton.
As Prince Siegfried, Singleton excels at lonely weltschmerz during Act 1’s court festivities, drawing sad, lingering phrases even from the briefest solo. Tzu-Chao Chou is an effective foil as the prince’s bouncy pal Benno, with jumps as airy as his billowy blouson sleeves. Despite the merrymaking – with neat, fleet turns from Miki Mizutani and Maureya Lebowitz as two spry courtesans – Philip Prowse’s designs maintain the sense of glowering doom, as the palace’s dark marbled columns give way to a murky lakeside framed by spidery branches.
Gittens’ tragic swan maiden, Odette, captivates from the off, pitching her plastique so expertly between sorrowing woman and wild bird, with striking little avian accents of the head and neck animating a rich legato line. She’s sensitively accompanied by Robert Gibbs’ plaintive solo violin, with Singleton as a suitably rapt partner.
The full flock are on fine form throughout, from the in-sync intricacies of the cygnets’ dance to the lofty sweep of Delia Mathews and Samara Downs’ solo swans. Only Jonathan Payn’s evil enchanter Rothbart is a tad underpowered at times. With his tattered costume, eccentric headgear and habit of appearing furtively from behind a rock, he occasionally looks more like a dubious lakeside twitcher than a demonic magus, but this is a minor complaint – however he’s dressed, it’s always a tall order for any Rothbart to emit a consistently convincing aura of menace.
There’s drama galore in Act 3, with Gittens’ bewitching turn as the black swan Odile. Here Odette’s feather-soft vulnerability is replaced by a dazzling assurance and avidity, every turn and triumphant balance proving irresistible for poor bedazzled Siegfried. He’s blind to the delicious mockery with which she imitates Odette’s rippling port de bras and surges through his solo, spinning headlong into tragedy. While the dancers shine at every level, the orchestra under Paul Murphy play brilliantly, giving an account of Tchaikovsky’s score that’s as supple as a swan’s neck.
At the Mayflower, Southampton, until 1 February. Then touring.