REVIEW: Swan Lake, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, October 24

Swan Lake
Swan Lake
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When I was a little girl I had a music box, complete with twirling tulle ballerina, that played the Enchanted Lake tune from Swan Lake.

Last night that music box sprung to life in fantastical, sumptuous glory and full-bodied sound.

The prince and Odile

The prince and Odile

Though I’ve seen modern versions of this piece, this was my first time seeing it in its pure, traditional form, as performed by the talented troupe of Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Composed by Tchaikovsky in 1875, there’s a reason it’s taken flight to become one of the most famous and beloved of ballets: because it’s thoroughly captivating.

Like all great stories, it’s based on love. Our lovers in this case being the grieving Prince Siegfried and his lady of the lake, Odette. Compelled by an evil spell to spend her days in the form of a bird, Odette can only be saved by the power of love. And so begins a heart-in-your mouth journey as you travel with the star-crossed lovers on their quest to be together.

Last night’s prince and princess were played by married couple Nao Sakuma and Yasuo Atsuji and their chemistry added extra sizzle to the stunning choreography as they moved in perfect unison together to Tchaikovsky’s instantly-recognisable score.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

Yasuo, with his lithe limbs, captured the youthful vigour of this coming-of-age prince as he athletically leaped through the air, while managing to make hardly any sound as he lands.

At his side, Nao captures the fluid, avian moves of the swan maiden as she ripples her arms and glides across the stage delicately yet boldly, luring the Prince into her watery world. He hangs on her every move, every gentle inflection of her wrist, and so do we in this chillingly enticing production.

It stands in stark contrast to her Odile - the black swan - who sets out to turn the prince’s head with her more obviously alluring moves.

There’s a brief moment of joyful comedy from the Dance of the Cygnets, one of the most recognisable pieces of music, performed with perfect precision by a quartet of eager young swans.

The famous flock

The famous flock

But aside from that, the gothic depth of the scenery envelops the stage. Such was the looming nature of the towering design, it managed to make the Empire stage look twice as big as it has before.

It’s a space that lends itself perfectly to the group swan scenes as the famous flock of white tutus perform against the backdrop of the glassy, shimmering lake.

Particularly spectacular is the opening of Act IV as they emerge from a blanket of dry ice, unfurling themselves with graceful elegance.

After a breath-taking final scene, the spell is broken, and you’re swept back to Sunderland after an evening of elegant escapism.