I was working with SpiralDance a few years ago, as creative writing facilitator on a project with disaffected and disengaged children in what was then a deprived area of Rochdale MBC. It had been a funded project and somehow we had some money left over at the completion of what had been quite a successful course, and the funder kindly allowed is to ´use it wisely´ for the children rather than return it. It was decided between the SpiralDance leader, Catherine Wiles, and the Borough´s fantastic arts officer, the late Beate Meilemeir, that we should take the group to a production of Matthew Bourne´s Swan Lake at The Lowry Theatre In Salford.

The pessimist in me feared the kids would be bored to death and that, being ten, eleven and twelve years old they would be up and down for ice creams all night like Del Boy at the opera. I even feared they might be somewhat disruptive.

The Lowry, though, treated the children like VIP guests, taking them on to a darkened stage before performance time, and then turning on the lights and showing them the theatre in all its glory. An hour or so later, we were all in our seats, and the music struck up and the curtains drew back, and the ballet artists danced on to the stage. The little lad in front of me, who I had grown to like immensely despite him always stretching my patience to the limit and then snapping it by always insisitign on the last word, audibly gasped in amazement, and was so struck by the spectacle that he started to sob. He continued to do so throughout the performance, helplessly and unashamedly,and I am as sure as I can be that the evening changed his life forever in a positive manner.

Swan Lake

Now, I see that The Birmingham Royal Ballet production of Swan Lake is reprising a production that was originally staged almost forty years ago by Peter Wright and Galina Samsova – though of course the tale itself is much older.

The Manchester Evening News (MEN) review I stumblerd into when I pressed the wrong button reminded me that Tschaikovsky’s 19th century ballet follows Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse.

This version doesn’t disappoint as the MEN tells us that  it’s the perfect marriage of Tschaikovsky’s score and powerful dance performances, from dancers who are both graceful and athletic and utterly mesmerising. (it was that word that reminded me of the sotory I have re-told above.

The set gives a sense, says the MEN, of the dark story to come, beneath a canopy of trees and dark marble columns by a gloomy lakeside.

The stage is so vast that dancers with less presence and aura around them could have easily been overwhelmed by, but MEN´s writer describes Momoko Hirata is a faultless Odette/Odile, playing the role with humour and the inevitable grace and strength that it demands.

She is entrancing, the reviewer notes, from the off, switching between a sorrow-stricken woman and a swan, with delicate swan-like movements of her arm and head dips.

The flock are wonderful – the cygnets’ intricate dance and swan maidens Yu Kurihara and Yuki Sugiura intriguing.

There’s applause for Hirata in the dramatic Act Three, when she becomes the black swan Odile.

She performs 32 fouette turns, revolving on one leg repeatedly without letting the raised leg ever touch the ground. She spins and spins with the equally accomplished Prince Siegfried, danced by Cesar Morales, supporting her.

There is a synchronicity revealed, too, in the Manchester Evening News in that the reporter hears someone nearby gasps: “Wow” and even a reviewer who will have seen it all, agrees that it’s a ‘wow’ moment, in the same way as that performance I saw was to the young miscreant in our group

The Evening News review tells us that the pair of ballet dancers looked delighted with the spontaneous mid-performance applause and whoops from the audience.

The music, too, conducted by Philip Ellis, and played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia was matched perfectly to the intricate choreography.

It’s important not to forget Benno, danced by Tzu-Chao Chou, who is an outstanding dancer.

He’s a tiny powerhouse with a commanding presence across the stage with his jumps, as light and impressive as the puffy sleeves in his costume.

Swan Lake is completely sublime.

It will be at the Lowry until Saturday March 7.

I have ´pinched´ more of the MEN that I would usually do but I hope writer Helen Carter will forgive me, not because I wrote arts-reviews for them the paper for many years but because they will realise that I only want to make sure as many people as possible know of the event.

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