Never one to turn down an opportunity for a new experience, I found myself at the ballet earlier this week. To clarify “new experience”, my knowledge of ballet doesn’t extend beyond The Red Shoes, Black Swan and Billy Elliot. It is no surprise that my awareness comes from the movies, but it is also very appropriate as my introduction to the art form was Swan Lake, the background to the movie Black Swan. The venue was Birmingham’s fantastic Hippodrome, the home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet since 1990. For those who know even less than me here is the synopsis provided by the Birmingham Royal Ballet:
Ballet’s greatest love story returns in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s lavish production. This romantic fable of ill-fated passion, powerfully illuminated by Tchaikovsky’s legendary score, has bewitched audiences for generations.
By a moonlit lake, a grieving prince witnesses the transformation of a swan into a beautiful princess. Compelled by an evil spell to spend her days in the form of a bird, she can only be saved by the power of love.
The story is split into four acts:
- ACT I: A COURTYARD IN THE CASTLE
- ACT II: THE LAKESIDE BY MOONLIGHT
- ACT III: THE BALLROOM OF THE CASTLE
- ACT IV: THE LAKESIDE
The first was possibly the weakest and felt a little repetitive. Things got going in act two with the introduction of Odette, Von Rothbart (the evil sorcerer, who has enchanted Odette) and the swans. It came as a surprise how long it took to introduce the main character (remember my knowledge costumes and what appears to be hugely technical and complicated dancing and the introduction of Odile (The Black Swan). The final act starts with the shows standout moment. For a performance that is all about dancing, the breathtaking moment came from total lack of movement. The curtain rises on the lakeside we saw in act two. The stage is filled with dry ice smoke like an 80’s disco (or a scene from Alien). As the mist pours out over the edge of the stage into the stalls and orchestra pit it reveals a stage filled with the swan-maidens. The whole performance lasted around three hours including two intermissions, the time flew by.
You may have picked up from my tone that I enjoyed it, the surprising thing is just how much I enjoyed it. I have never had any interest in dance or dancing but found the whole spectacle enchanting and enthralling. I know nothing about technique or the positions and movements associated with ballet but anyone with an interest in art can appreciate aesthetics and form, but like a football match you know when someone has done something special or spectacular.
If you want to know how good the lead dancers were look for a review from someone who knows what they are talking about. Odette/Odile was performed by Céline Gittens and Prince Singleton by Tyrone Singleton. I looked them up after the show, they are very highly regarded. Both are mixed-race, a big deal was made of this when they first took these roles three years ago “it will be the first time the ballerina role has been taken by a black dancer in the UK”. Although this was portrayed as a positive moment for ballet, it is a shame that it is something was even worth mentioning. The one thing I did go in knowing a little about is the music. I have a few albums (yes real albums on vinyl) of ballet music. It is the one form of classical music that I enjoy. I am pleased to report that the music performed by The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was fantastic and I would have happily listened to it even if I hadn’t enjoyed the visual performance.
I am not about to sign up for a season ticket and declare myself as ballet lover, but may well go again in future. For those interested Swan Lake is on for another few days in Birmingham before going on tour.