Birmingham Royal Ballet
1 October 2015
Birmingham Royal Ballet are making their annual visit to London this week, opening with Swan Lake (details) and then a triple bill coupling their newest work (and subject of a BBC documentary), Bintley’s The King Dances with classic Balanchine and Ashton pieces (details). We will be covering opening night casts of both bills in detail but earlier I went up to Birmingham to see two younger dancers tackle Swan Lake – effectively to see how a new generation are looking.
Brandon Lawrence and Delia Mathews first danced Swan Lake together last month at Salfords’s Lowry and so I wasn’t quite catching their debut, but it had the air of something pretty fresh. These performances are Lawrence’s first as the prince and since he joined the company 4 years ago he has been marked out as special. For me it goes back further – I first saw him in 2007 as a very young student performing (in York) at a Yorkshire Ballet Summer School Gala and by 2009, when he was at the Royal Ballet Upper School, one could see he really was looking top notch and indeed a finalist in that year’s Young British Dancer of the Year. Currently he is only a First Artist so a huge thing for him to be given main stage performances of Swan Lake. Delia Mathews is a little more senior, joining BRB in 2008 and is now a Soloist. Three years ago she first danced the lead in Swan Lake – you get the picture, Birmingham’s Director, David Bintley, is one to seriously push his younger dancers – and in the same year I was really struck by her debut in Cinderella. All up, lots of reasons to drive to Birmingham and see them both.
So were they good? Yes. Lawrence is tall and towers over most dancers and so he immediately has the look of princely authority. His movement is gracious, elegant and strong and he shows the Prince as a thoughtful character looking to do the best in troubled circumstances. His bearing is danseur noble – locally he follows in Tyrone Singleton’s shoes in this respect or, at the Royal Ballet, the young Vadim Muntagirov is probably the best exemplar – Lawrence already shows much quiet authority. But on the move one is astounded by his jumps and he always seems to have time to do things properly, nothing is rushed or fudged. In a company that accelerates dancers through, he needs accelerating. Matthews is also a dancer who finds time in a score to do things properly and with elegance. Her approach is one of reserved dignity. Even as the vamp Odille she lets the steps do the talking. Some partnership work because the dancers are so different and others, as here, work because they share a style and approach – unaffected, nuanced, true and richly musical. Sadly I was not very well and so could not stay for the last act, but if you like a flash and brash Swan Lake this is so not the show for you – it’s better than that. You can see Lawrence and Matthews Lac at the Sadler’s Wells matinee on Wednesday 14th 2015.
Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s production is now 34 years old but doesn’t look it since they rejuvenated Philip Prowse’s sets and costumes a few years ago. The designs really pop and the production is full of honest good sense. There is no need to change anything here. But for more on the overall ballet you need to see Margaret Willis’s up-coming review of the London opening night cast of Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton. But I will add that they were jolly good when I saw them them at Gittens debut 3 years ago!