Ballet West is a vocational ballet school with National Diploma and Honours degree programmes in dance performance, and last Friday they brought Swan Lake to the MacRobert Arts Centre in Stirling. Despite comprising primarily of a roster of relatively young dancers, and a slightly shaky start, the evening was extremely entertaining and featured a lot of talented performers.

Dancer Jonathan Barton's dancing and acting were very good in the role of the prince. His expressions when refusing to marry any of the girls his mother (Mary Anderson) has brought before him, and his contrasting enthusiastic acceptance of his chosen bride in Act 3, spark laughter. Another humorous moment in Act 1 occurs after the prince has been gifted a golden crossbow. Enchanted by the beauty of a flock of swans, rather than merely admiring the spectacle the prince immediately decides to go hunting.

© Ryan James Davies
© Ryan James Davies

Act 1 ends with the prince in a spotlight, pointing his crossbow to the sky. I liked the device of having each act separated by spot-lit finishing poses; which punctuate each act. It was the case, somewhat unfortunately, that Friday’s audience applauded after every single dance anyway, which caused the first act, especially, to feel very stilted. As well as this, there were a few major timing issues, particularly again in Act 1, and, because the stage was rather small, the ensemble dancers occasionally bumped into the scenery or each other. This lowered the momentum of the production. There also was no proper build-up to the prince meeting and falling in love with the cursed swan woman, Odette (Natasha Watson) in Act 2.

The duet between the prince and Odette when they first meet was performed well. Watson portrayed the timid swan girl astutely, using her splayed fingers to cover her face as if holding her head under a wing, and her understated leg shakes and bobbing head made her a very convincing swan. The pair’s dancing was polished and intimate; however, due to the lack of impetus up to that point, some of the fantastic lifts did not have the impact they deserved.

No such problem in Act 3. As soon as the evil magician Rothbard (Miranda Hamill) and the imposter swan Odile (Uyu Hiromoto) entered, the entire performance was alive with energy. Hamill gleefully puppet-masters Odile’s seduction attempts on the prince with tiny flicks of the hand or chin. As the prince and Odile make way for a series of character dances, Hamill lounges disrespectfully in the prince’s throne, filing her nails and paying only disdainful cursory attention to the main performances.

© Ryan James Davies
© Ryan James Davies

More fool her – the national dances were extremely entertaining! The Spanish flamenco was full of character with lacy fans and fast footwork. The two dancers for the Neapolitan tarantella made an amusing show of tossing tambourines in the air and playfully rapping them against each other. The haughty Czardas dance began stately but increased in speed until the dancers’ feet were almost a blur. There was even a number that featured forty-one children from Ballet West’s Edinburgh Associates Programme that was completely in time, a lot of fun, and utterly adorable.

Then the prince and Odile were back for the pas de deux. Barton’s strength and elevation was shown off to great effect here with excellent leaps and lifts, but Hiromoto was undoubtedly the standout performance of the evening. Her saucy glances from the prince to Rothbard and back were simultaneously playful and sinister, and although the famous fouetté sequence veered to the left, she is a fantastic turner and I was captivated by her performance.

It is difficult to make the lovers’ duet of Act 4 interesting after the exhilarating Act 3, but Barton and Watson did a good job. The climactic fight with Rothbard and the suicides of the lovers, breaking Rothbard’s evil magic, were stimulating but felt a bit rushed. That said, I relished the ending, where Rothbard lay defeated on the bathed-in-blue stage while the ensemble of couru-ing swans formed a V shape towards the moon backdrop. It is a tranquil moment after the excitement of the fight that has just passed, and it was a beautiful end to a very enjoyable evening.