Review: Swan Lake, Brunton Theatre

THERE is a buzz of excitement about getting up close and personal to a classical ballet company.

It’s all very pretty watching the big commercial touring companies wheeling across the stage of the Festival or Playhouse. But the same moves on the Brunton stage take on a different dimension.

So it was that the packed house for last night’s Swan Lake couldn’t just see the sweat flying off Michael Bearden, dancing the Prince, as he performed yet another succession of awe-inspiring spins. They could understand every emotion in the face of Sara-Maria Smith in the twin roles of Odette and Odile

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It made the love story which lies at the heart of the ballet take on a completely different texture.

At first it was just body language. As Odette, the princess trapped in a swan’s body by the magician Rothbart, Smith was all coy yearning when she first met the Prince and they fell in love. As Rothbart’s black-clad protégée Odile, she could have been a different dancer – powerful, arrogant and mockingly mimicking Odette’s moves while Bearden turned his big puppy eyes at her.

But cut to the final scene and as Odette peered out from between the fluttering feathers of the corps-de-ballet swans, such was the look of reproach she gave her faithless lover that you could see right down into her broken heart.

The size of the Brunton stage somewhat inhibits scenes when 24-strong drifts of swans or dancing peasants are called for.

The teenage students of the Ballet West dance school, who make up the corps-de-ballet, coped admirably with the constraints. As dancers they are not all at the same level. Their individual technique is excellent but they haven’t reached the point where they form into an anonymous mass of uniform dancers.

Which, in this environment, makes it all the more fascinating. It isn’t just the emotion in the dancers faces that is apparent, it is the rigours of skill and strength required to perform the classical repertoire. Moreover, for all the aspiring ballerinas in the audience – and there were more than a few – it brings dreams of stardom closer to an attainable reality.

Rating: ***