This evening’s performance of ‘Swan Lake’ by The Birmingham Royal Ballet, at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, although an immensely beautiful piece of art, lacked narrative drive allowing it to feel slightly dated. The plot was difficult to follow and hence, if you were not previously aware of the story, you may have been left no real moral or comment on society suggesting the themes of the original play are not as universal as previously considered. With this in mind, it still brought a traditional take on Swan Lake with an exquisite score by Tchaikovsky blended with a stunning chorus of ballet dancers.
Each set was immense, particularly over the central lake out of which arise the signets. Upstage were two oak tree structures joined by a central stone stairwell. Behind the steps hung hundreds of fragments of what looked like mirror. From below, white light was directed upwards creating a distinctive and constant ripple effect. This was utterly stunning and memorable and like nothing I’d ever see before. Adding to this, when the swans make their final entrance in Act IV the stage is filled with almost a metre depth of dry ice which, when the tabs rose, allowed the smoke to cascade off revealing fragile and elegant dancers, like swans appear through mist. This was iconic and merited an immediate applause!
Overall, the soloists were very impressive. The principal swan, Celine Gittens, gave a notably impressive interpretation; encompassing the bird like features completely, outstretching her neck and brushing her ‘feathers’. Hence, she became incredibly life-like. Her commitment was highly commendable and thus her portrayal of the swan was excellent. This was only complimented by her ballet, which was also excellent. She appeared almost weightless, as though she were literally flying like a bird. However, her costume, although traditional, was not as impressive as I had hoped. With a white tutu, embroidered with diamantes, and a single white headdress, she looked rather more like a ballerina pretending to be a swan than an actual swan. Although it was still a beautiful costume, I felt her strong characterisation deserved an equally matched costume. Nonetheless, her performance was still flawless.
The ensemble dancers unfortunately detracted from Gittens’ performance, as they intermittently lacked unison. This was shown in their timing as often one or two dancers slightly missed the beat. However, more noticeably each female dancer often held their legs at differing heights in arabesques which often ruined the tableaux effect and meant they lost their harmony. Saying this, the iconic swan quartet was impressive. Each dancer was slick, controlled and agile, keeping in perfect synchrony. The male dancers were also incredibly skilled particularly Prince Siegfried and Benno, played by Tyrone Singleton and Tzu-Chao Chou.
Together, each element of art fused together to create a thing of particular beauty. However, almost 3 hours of the same beauty with confusing and disjointed direction became tiresome. This was disappointing due to the mostly high quality of the visuals. For me, it suggested the style of theatre was too archaic and needed bringing forward like perhaps, Matthew Bourne has shown in his interesting interpretations. I also felt without getting a clear narrative, I was unable to form a true interpretation of the story and was hence left feeling underwhelmed. For me, theatre should not just be about the visual representation, but the message, the comment on society, or the inevitable tragedy. Since none of these themes were well communicated it simply did not meet me expectations of theatre. This is not to say it is not still an impressive art form and I’m sure many around me enjoyed it, it was just not my style.
Reviewer - Grace McNicholas
on - 29/1/20