Combining two emotionally opposed roles, technical challenges and a classic ballet, Momoki Hirata talks about the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake
1. Can you tell us a bit about Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake and your role in the show?
Swan Lake is an iconic love story between Prince Siegfried and the Swan Queen Odette, performed in 4 acts. I play the role of Odette/Odil so both the White Swan and the Black Swan.
2. What would you say is the hardest part and what do you enjoy the most?
The hardest part is definitely the technical challenge. It’s incredibly demanding as you play two different sides, one as the White Swan and the other as the Black Swan. Showing two different characters in one performance is a challenge in itself and Act 3 is especially technically challenging as you have to famously complete thirty-two fouettés. But getting the chance to play two different people is also what I enjoy the most.
3. How do you prepare for a big role like this?
We have a very intense rehearsal process but this part for me is familiar as I last played Odette/Odil three years ago just before Covid hit so we had to finish early. It’s weird as my body still kind of remembers the steps and everything. I’m really excited to pick up where we left off and push myself even further than three years ago.
4. Can you tell us a bit about your dance background and history with Birmingham Royal Ballet?
I started dancing when I was five back in Japan which is where I’m from. I then came to England to study at the Royal Ballet School. It’s really funny as the first ballet performance that I saw in London was actually Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake. So, for me Swan Lake is a very special ballet that I’ve always dreamt of being a part of. I studied at the Royal Ballet School for two years and then joined Birmingham Royal Ballet. Again, Swan Lake was one of the first ballets I performed with the company. I joined BRB back in 2003 and this is now my fifth Swan Lake with the company. I’ve pretty much done every role as I joined in the Corps de Ballet and this is my third time playing Odette and Odil.
5. What made you want to get into ballet?
I always wanted to wear a tutu! I have two older sisters who both started ballet before me and I used to go and see their school performances when I was really young and just fell in love with the costumes. So that’s how I got into ballet really – I just wanted to be a princess in a tutu.
6. Can you describe what a typical day looks like during the Swan Lake tour?
Once we go on tour it’s slightly different to what we do here in Birmingham during the rehearsal period. When we’re in the studio we have a class at 10.30am and then rehearse until 6.30pm five days a week so it’s pretty full on. Once we go on tour and are performing, principals do one or two shows a week, so we have a bit more free time but obviously the pressure is really high.
7. What are you hoping audiences will take away from Swan Lake?
I always enjoy performing Swan Lake on stage and the music is so special so I hope that comes across to audiences. Everyone on stage is giving their heart out, not just the principles, but the Corps de Ballet too. You have sixteen swans dancing together all in line and I know from experience how hard it is to be in sync. I hope audiences appreciate that as well.
8. Why should people come see Swan Lake?
Swan Lake is so iconic – everything that you think of when you think of ballet is in there – and there’s something for everyone, from the big numbers to the sets and costumes and beautiful music.
top image: Momoko Hirata as Sugar Plum Fairy, Birmingham Royal Ballet The Nutcracker. Courtesy of Bill Cooper
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