I have been been attending performances of Swan Lake  since the 1950s, some danced by no lesser ballerinas than Natalia Makarova, and more recently, Natalia Osipova. What I now search for is dramatic sensitivity and beauty of line. While Giselle is about a floating lightness of step, Swan Lake relies on expressivity through developpés and arabesques. Thus, one outstanding ballerina is not necessarily perfect for both parts.

Tyrone Singleton (Siegfried) and Céline Gittens (Odette) © Roy Smiljanic
Tyrone Singleton (Siegfried) and Céline Gittens (Odette)
© Roy Smiljanic
Last night Céline Gittens, as Odette/Odile, moved an audience almost to tears. She reminded me of a baby bird scooped up from the ground – her heart beating hard, her wings fluffing, occasionally trembling as she is held. Gittens' stillness and balance re-enforced her purity of line, in contrast to her rapidity of movement, as if in fearful flight. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia paced and interpreted the music subtly, which lifted such a musical dancer. Gittens' arms fluttered but were restrained, and she used her back to expand her expressiveness in the manner of the Mariinsky-trained dancers. Her footwork and legs were beautiful. Act II left me spellbound. Her 32 fouettés in Act III passed off easily, with a single followed by a double, yet they were only a part of her depiction of 'Odile'.

This gives me an opportunity to thank the corps de ballet for putting such great care into their performances. They were elegant and up to tempo and endowed the entire evening with oignance. To a dancer, they were excellent technically, but as a member of the corps, each must be willing to sacrifice individuality to the artistic whole. The swan maidens, Yvette Knight and Yijing Zhang contributed to the high standard with their loveliness. This is also the moment to mention the magnificent costumes of Katrina Lindsay. An example of her visual acuity was the way in which the black flamenco gowns in the Spanish Dance accented the shapes of the dancers. Another example was the softness of the tutus which Gittens wore.

The staging of the production sustained its intense drama.The opening of Act IV placed the audience in a haunted wilderness with the whiteness of the swans barely visible through the mist. The choreography from the original Moscow production of 1877 has disappeared. Most Russian productions descend from the Petipa-Ivanov version. Peter Wright, with the collaboration of Galina Samsova, adapted the Petipa-Ivanov choreography for this production. The original Swan Lake was performed 44 times until 1883, and then, not again, until after Tchaikovsky's death. As a memorial tribute to the composer in St Petersburg in 1895,  the ballet was given the historical version we now have.

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet © Bill Cooper
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet
© Bill Cooper
Tyrone Singleton, as Prince Siegfried, partnered Gittens with particular grace and modesty, often obscuring the fact that she was supported at all. His lines lent lyricism to his dancing, which was truly apt for this piece from the Romantic era of ballet, which placed the ballerina in the foreground. As his friend Benno, William Bracewell displayed vibrant technical ability. I was intrigued by Jonathan Payn's Baron von Rothbart, who was not only an evil magician, but seemed to possess some of the characteristics of a hawk. Why shouldn't swans be plagued by a bird of prey? It was a clever choice to sustain the bird imagery.

There is something unique happening in the Birmingham Royal Ballet under its director, David Bintley. In his choreography for The King Dances, he drew from the actual vocabulary of movement available to Louis XIV. This Swan Lake is true to the Romantic spirit from which it derives. It was unaffected and had the power of a fairytale to transport its audience. Although Céline Gittens is a blaze on the horizon of dance, her endeavor here was to be a young swan.