Celine Gittens as Odette and Tyrone Singleton as Prince Siegfried Photo Roy Smiljanic

Céline Gittens as Odette and Tyrone Singleton as Prince Siegfried
Photo Roy Smiljanic

Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham
September 28, 2015

David Mead

Sir Peter Wright’s Swan Lake is something of a dark brooding affair. The scene is set in a short prologue that shows us the gloomy funeral cortege of the former King, Siegfried’s father. The lights may then come up on Siegfried’s birthday party, but the sense of loss and emptiness that the death has left remains; a sense enhanced by Philip Prowse’s cold but rather beautiful, icy blue setting and costumes.

It may have been a party for him, but Tyrone Singelton’s Siegfried was initially a Prince laden with melancholy; a man with his mind very firmly elsewhere. In Wright’s production that distance from the action is often the way Siegfried stays, but Singleton’s Prince perked up rather and actually seemed to enjoy dancing with the courtesans. He’s a very princely prince in appearance, his largely black costume accentuating the line of his limbs. Singleton has long been a dancer lucky enough to have a natural presence that demands you look at him. What particularly took the eye here, though were his jumps. Everything was so light, effortless, and best of all, graceful. He seemed to hover in mid-air at times, always landing with barely a sound.

There’s more darkness down at the lakeside where one immediately just knows that the shimmering black water holds any number of secrets. Into this unsettling place comes a fragile vision in white. Céline Gittens’ Odette is a delicate, sensitive creature indeed. She immediately gave the impression of having been through some seriously bad experience, and was still so on edge that the slightest touch made her almost jump out of her skin or back away at speed. Her caring Prince was at hand, though. When Singleton finally lifted her gently from the floor, there was very much the sense of him saying, “Come on, I’m not going to hurt you.” She responded and melted into his arms, and the audience’s hearts.

As Odile, Gittens was somewhat less overtly scheming than most. Then again, she didn’t need to be. This was one seriously sexy lady who simply let her body do the talking. No wonder Siegfried was smitten and so easily snared. Perhaps there’s not quite the same level of malicious delight at having captured him as usual, but the slightly different interpretation is so good you don’t miss it at all. The all too short Act IV is hugely emotional and flies past.

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Swan Lake Photo Bill Cooper

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Swan Lake
Photo Bill Cooper

At the ball, where by now the palace temperature has risen somewhat and all is red and gold, all three princesses sparkled. The fast-rising Mizi Mizutani in particular dazzled in her Italian Princess variation with plenty of sharp neat footwork. The would-be brides-to-be don’t often show much in the way of character, but enter Samara Downs. As the Polish Princess she comes on after the Hungarian Princess (Elisha Willis). As she lined up beside her, the look of sheer disdain at her competitor for Siegfried’s hand was such an absolute delight it got a reaction from the audience. When turned down by Siegfried, her response seemed to be, “Your loss, mate.” Clearly not a lady to be messed with. Wonderful!

As indeed was the whole evening. Apart from the leads, Marion Tait reprised her wonderful portrayal of the Queen Mother, a tiny yet terrifyingly dominant and stern figure swathed in black, while Jonathan Payn was a commanding Rothbart, always a difficult role to get just right. Indeed, the company looked on good form all round with the corps backing everyone up excellently; a sea of shimmering white tulle together and as one at the lakeside.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake continues in Birmingham to October 3, then on tour to January 30, 2016. For full details click here.

Next week at the Hippodrome (October 8-10) the company perform a Variations triple bill of works by George Balanchine, Kit Holder and Frederick Ashton. Details here.