Despite prima ballerina Irina Kolesnikova offering a technical masterclass in the St Peterburg Ballet Theatre’s (unashamedly traditional) Swan Lake, the remainder of the production lacks the passion – and electricity – synonymous with Tchaikovsky’s score.
It’s so much more interesting when you can say the opposite – that the ensemble (corps de ballet, in this case) stole the show – but there’s no denying that the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s touring production of Swan Lake is utterly dominated by its astonishing prima ballerina. Irina Kolesnikova is a dancer of crystalline finish – and the wife of the theatre’s founder offers nothing short of a technical masterclass in all three of her acts with turns of impeccable precision, impossibly beautiful lines and a wholly compelling acting performance (particularly, interestingly perhaps, as Odette). Her Odile perhaps comes across less ‘monster’-on-a-destroy-mission, and more confident (almost modern) woman enjoying her night, but her Odette is captivatingly delicate and multi-layered. If you were being grumpy, you could say the whole evening feels like a vanity exercise for her – but I have to admit I’m sort of cool with that. If you’ve got it, flaunt it…right?
The problem with the Russian company’s production is none of the elements around her are quite as remarkable. There’s no mistaking that the corps de ballet are precise – a model of unity, for the most part – but they’re a little unmemorable. Few grab your attention, and homogeneity is a little dull after a while. Denis Rodkin’s Prince demonstrates he is an effortless dancer, but we’re never treated to enough emotion in his face. Little of his lonely, romantic angst is subsequently relayed – and because he seems wary of passion, the narrative is prohibited somewhat. Particularly when dancing with Kolesnikova (which, let’s face it, is 90% of his stage time), he doesn’t match her emotional intensity on any front – which she invests in every movement, however tiny.
The production itself is equally a little uninspired, or perhaps just ‘proudly traditional’ in its values and design. Everything you associate from the classical ballet is present – tutu-clad swans, grand pas de deux – but its design is so orthodox that it perhaps feels a little like the theatrical equivalent of the Mona Lisa. Sort of impressive, but as ‘touristy’ as production designs come. The sets are arresting, in isolation, but disappointingly old-school in their inability to seamlessly transition. We instead have antiquated curtain scene changes, which the company gets away with – but it’s a shame no risks or innovations are taken on this part.
Perhaps the one exception to this conservatism, albeit an uncontroversial production decision still, is the Jester characterisation. A role which is often a little thankless comes into its own here, with Sergei Fedorkov (an adept tumbler, as well as a dancer) offering a magnetic and scene-stealing performance.
All in all, Swan Lake will no-doubt delight newcomers to dance – particularly those with a burning desire to experience ballet at its most traditional. Costumes dazzle and frequent formations are sure-fire spectacles – but what is lacking, with the exception of Kolesnikova’s performance, is the depth necessary to really elevate the evening.