There are little girls everywhere in the audience, with criss-crossed plaits pinned tightly across their heads, pink bows peeking from pristine buns and excitedly clutching programmes. This is a vision of every young girl in dance class taking their first trip to the ballet, and I am reminded of my own first trip as an aspiring ballerina. Of course, this dream was never realised as my arms make me look more praying mantis than The Nutcrackers prima, but there is something captivating, inspiring and I soon realised, timeless, about taking a trip to the ballet.
This production of Swan Lake was performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who have a questionable place in the current British dance firmament, and for a tirelessly touring company I had mixed expectations. However, director Peter Wright certainly delivered with his version of the 1895 ballet classic. A ballet so hackneyed may prove boring but Wright captured the gothic heart of Swan Lake, complete with incredible costumes and staging. The setting was dark and foreboding which created a beautiful dynamic with the elegance of the choreography.
Our prima for the evening was Nao Sakuma, taking on the roles of Odette and Odile with an experienced and artistic approach. Sakuma is exactly what I look for in a ballerina, long limber legs, extensive lines – she embodied the frantic grace of the white swan perfectly. Her characterisation proved to be powerful when following Act III I had to double check Sakuma had actually played the role of Odile as well. A swift personality change to a dark and seductive temptress was flawless, her movements were strong and exotic as she and Yasuo Atsuji performed their passionate pas de deux.
Atsuji danced as Prince Siegfried, and intitally I found him a little lacking. A slight dancer for a male lead, I was aching for him to demonstrate the power and elevation attractive in male ballet. At the arrival of Act II, Atsuji began to deliver the Prince Siegfried the audience craved, and showcased his perfected technique followed by an exquisite jete sequence in Act III.
He Sought to intrigue and even baffle children with ludicrous nuances
The rest of the company executed the performance well. There were many mishaps with timing and the ballerinas did not consistently move in unison, but they danced with solid technique which combined with the set and costuming, created a magical display. My highlights were the cygnets (who thankfully didn’t slip up on the precise timing required for their intricate footwork) and the charming pieces of character dancing in Act III – it’s always nice to see the pointe shoes come off for a while!
Wright and the Birmingham Royal Ballet delivered an evening of pure class and magic, capturing the admiration of all aspiring dancers in the audience and the regret of those who have praying mantis arms.