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BRB - Swan Lake - Belfast - 08-09 February 2008

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When I saw BRB’s Spring Tour schedule a couple of months ago, the prospect of a short trip to Belfast seemed such a good idea that a friend and I went ahead and booked!

BRB were performing Sir Peter Wright’s production of Swan Lake in the delightful Grand Opera House, a more intimate setting than we are sometimes used to seeing them in. We really were very close on the front row of the stalls.

This is a really handsome production with sets of black and silver (brightened with red and copper highlights in Act 3) and uses the traditional choreography. The opening scene is of the funeral procession for the King and sets the stage for Siegfried’s melancholy that his companion Benno is trying to alleviate by organising a gathering for his birthday. The one time we see the Prince happy is when he is presented with the crossbow. The Queen is not amused when she arrives and tells Siegfried in no uncertain terms that he is to get married and she shows him portraits of potential brides. This heightens the sense of melancholy and even the arrival of the courtesans cannot lift his mood.

The flight of swans across the lake is imagined by mime and Siegfried and Benno set off to hunt them.

There is a pause between Acts 1 and 2, and Act 2 is the very beautiful and traditional version with 18 swans.

There are three Princesses and their attendants in Act 3, Hungarian, Polish and Italian as well as a pas de six for Benno and five dancers and the black swan pdd.

I always find Act 4 very moving. The curtain opens on a sea of mist from which the swans rise up. Even though I know they are there, I never fail to get a tingle down my spine as they appear and the gasps of amazement around me would indicate that most of the audience were similarly thrilled. Odette appears and laments her betrayal before being prevented from killing herself by Von Rothbart and the two leading swans lead her away as the music starts to soar and the distraught Siegfried runs on to find her, There are some beautiful patterns formed by the swans, including a v-shaped wedge that is so typical of the migratory swans we see flying overhead near where I live. Odette and Siegfried have a battle with Von Rothbart and their love starts to destroy his power. Odette signifies that she is going to kill herself and runs off to throw herself into the lake. Siegfried has a further duel with Von Rothbart before he is able to free himself to join Odette in death. Benno arrives and as the swans are watching the lake and we see Odette and Siegfried‘s souls joined Benno brings the Prince’s body from the lake.

The Company were on splendid form throughout, with the corps of swans outstanding in all three performances we saw. We were lucky to see a variety of the dancers performing as the Princesses, as leading swans, in the pas de six, Neapolitan and Spanish dances. We also saw three casts in the leading roles – all bringing something different and all superb. On Friday night we were privileged to see Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao as Odette/Odile and Siegfried give a sensational performance. These two dancers are supremely classical and also give a tremendous depth of characterisation. Nao was so fragile and terrified in the white acts – you could almost feel her heart beating the way you would a sparrow’s caught in your hand. This was a total contrast to her manipulative vamp of Act 3. Chi was very angst-ridden and melancholy as Siegfried, really looking as though he had the weight of the kingdom on his shoulders. Again this was a stark contrast to his joy at meeting the false Odette at the ball. Both danced with magnificent precision and Chi’s solos in Act 3 were so exciting to watch. It was a magical performance from start to finish and well deserved the standing ovation.

This production was filmed some years ago by the Royal Swedish Ballet – oh how I wish we had available a recording of BRB performing it.

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