Ballet Ireland’s ‘Swan Lake’ set to grace the Millennium Forum

Classically trained dancer Niamh O'Flanagan on fulfilling her 'dream' of performing in a new production of the immortal fairytale which is renowned the world over

Swans have been endowed with almost mythical status; creatures too pure for this world - which would perhaps explain why more often than not, they succumb to tragic fates in stories told and retold throughout the ages. From ancient Greece’s Leda and the Swan to the Ugly Duckling, humankind’s enduring love affair with this near celestial bird continues as Ballet Ireland brings their national tour of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to the Millennium Forum this November.

And what better medium to translate this animalistic idealism than ballet – an art form which marks the pinnacle of artistic perfection. Taking what we're told is a rare break from rehearsals, dancer Niamh O'Flanagan delves into the dynamics that have transformed what is essentially a children’s fairytale into a now beloved ballet and internationally renowned phenomenon.

Trained in classical ballet from an early age, O’Flanagan’s résumé cuts a fine figure. Having completed three seasons with the prestigious National Youth Ballet of Great Britain and performing in last year’s The Nutcracker, she is now looking forward to tackling Swan Lake.

'It is such a classic and a story most people are familiar with, which just goes to show, you don’t have to know anything about dance or the genre to truly appreciate what it has to offer,' she says. 'It’s a ballet I loved from childhood, so the opportunity to fulfil that dream is incredible for me.'

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Currently mid-way through an intensive four-week, back-to-back rehearsal schedule, O’Flanagan proves it takes a great deal of effort to look so effortless. 'This ballet has four acts, longer than most - so it’s essential we work on our strength training in preparation for this tour. And that means training every day.'

Dedicating lessons solely to mastering headwork is indicative of the great deal of detail entailed in this craft. And whilst the intense physicality of ballet is no secret, the efforts required to attain precision in this performance is nothing short of impressive. 'This production is so well known and with that comes added pressure,' she explains. 'Act Two, incidentally my favourite act, with the swan and signet formations is so intricate.

'Getting everyone in line and having our feet perfected is difficult but you have to be meticulous because when it’s done right it really is spectacular and so worth it,' she adds.

Praising the thematic stylings and incredible attention to detail given to everything from the musical score to costume, O’Flanagan said these specialist techniques have given this masterpiece, immortal status. Relying heavily on capturing emotion through music, costume and dance, this once considered ground-breaking technique, has since become an age-old tradition adopted by creatives behind some of the greatest stage and screen performances to date.

It goes without saying, but there is something about the power of movement and music, in the absence of words which allows the drama of a scene to be felt, to penetrate deeper. Each individual is given the opportunity to interpret meaning in their own way and bestows room for imagination.

 'There are so many aspects to this performance, so many intricacies,' O’Flanagan agrees, 'I can assure that audiences will leave feeling moved. It’s an experience which will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.'

As the old adage goes, the course of true love never did run smooth and Swan Lake certainly entertains that notion. It is testament to our twisted human nature that we often revel in tidal waves of emotion and this perhaps explains the enduring popularity of this ballet. With romance, tragedy and the pursuit to replicate the ethereal, what’s not to love? 

So, escape from reality as we approach these colder, darker nights and reacquaint yourself with the wonder and beauty of Swan Lake. O’Flanagan promises it will be a ‘powerful treat for the senses, not to be missed.’ 

Swan Lake will take to the Millennium Forum, Derry~Londonderry on November 9. For more information and ticket booking visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk or contact the Box Office on 028 7126 4455.