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Swan Lake, St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, London Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

Swan Lake, St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, London Coliseum

Swan Lake, St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, London Coliseum

Irina Kolesnikova dominates but doesn't enchant in this mediocre production

Moonlighting: St Petersburg Ballet Theare giving a competent, but not a great, account of Lev Ivanov's lakeside choreography© Bill Knight for theartsdesk

St Petersburg Ballet Theatre is a phenomenon of the new Russia: not anchored in centuries of history or state patronage like its neighbours the Mariinsky and the Mikhailovsky, but founded as a commercial venture in 1994 by Konstantin Tachkin, a wannabe impresario with no balletic training.

It tours widely, and evidently has no difficulty selling out foreign theatres – including the Coliseum for Swan Lake last night – with a combination of recognisable productions and "Russian ballet" cachet.

The centre of the company's hard sell is their prima ballerina, Irina Kolesnikova, who on this London tour is partnered by several different male guest stars on their summer holidays from bigger companies, including the Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov.

Denis Rodkin of the Bolshoi Ballet. Photograph by Bill Knight for theartsdeskLast night's Siegfried, Denis Rodkin, a protegé of charismatic but trouble-making former Bolshoi principal Nikolai Tsiskaridze, was promoted to Principal at the Bolshoi just two weeks ago, an event surely anchored as much in the shifting power structures at the Moscow company as in his own merits. He's androgynously beautiful, obviously good-natured, and a gallant partner, but the full danseur noble package isn't there yet: both his dancing and his acting lack a certain vibrancy and sense of direction. The prince in Swan Lake can be a bluff good-time guy or a yearning romantic or even a tortured melancholic, but – like all fairy tale characters – he has to have a reason for going into the woods at the end of Act I. The languidly elegant Rodkin (pictured above right), though he fiddles with a book and his birthday crossbow before doing a few arabesques in a gesture at the soulful solo, just seems to end up there because he has to in order for Act II to happen.

When he meets Kolesnikova's Odette, it's she who makes all the going; he barely has time to ask who she is before she's acting out her suffering with a practised intensity that is dramatic, but not (to me) convincing. She looks like she's here to be the prima ballerina in Swan Lake, not to tell us a story about love, hope, deception and betrayal. With her regal bearing and elegant arms and back, she can look exceptionally refined in static poses (pictured below left), but in motion I found her too stagey, flinging herself about with a combination of grandeur and artifice aimed entirely at the audience rather than her partner, and taking over long applause-forcing bows between variations. She's, unsurprisingly, better as Odile: that commanding air is more fitting for the seductress and is complemented with a wolfish smile and commendable – if again rather stagey – attack in the fast sections.

Irina Kolesnikova as Odette in Swan Lake. Photo by Bill Knight for theartsdeskAs for the rest of the cast, they are more or less uniformly nervous teenagers, opening-night terror clearly visible in their eyes and – quite often – in their dancing. The corps de ballet, in clean and simple white tutus, execute the famous white acts with a reasonable degree of neatness and grace (one unfortunate cygnet aside), but without coming near that pitch of ecstatic harmony with the music that in a good production forces you to acknowlege anew that, no matter how clichéd and over-performed Swan Lake is, Ivanov's lakeside scenes for it (see main picture) are marvels of which one need never tire – and from which one would certainly never wish to avert one's eyes, as I had to a couple of times last night.

The court scenes are less sacred, and therefore less offensive when slightly fluffed, but still the male corps dancers, just as young and rather more ungainly than their sisters, needed to get their wobbly legs and flapping feet under control. Amid all this mediocrity, Sergei Fedorkov's jester deserves praise, not only for supplying much-needed entertainment with his well executed big jumps, but also for seeming genuine and at ease in a way almost no-one else was. Among the women, it was principally trim, vibrant Anna Samostrelova, in the pas de trois and as a Big Swan, who brought some dancing class to proceedings.

It's not a terrible production visually, mixing fairly traditional scenery with varied and often elaborate cod 15th-century costumes in a way I could have easily liked had the storytelling been at all compelling. The staging is straightforward, eschewing the kind of innovation that has attracted criticism in the Bolshoi and Royal Ballet productions, but the lighting is regrettably garish, bright white during the lake scenes and cherry red whenever Rothbart appears. The orchestra under Timur Gorkovenko are little better than serviceable, belting out the Tchaikovsky (à la Drigo in Act IV) with gusto but without much in the way of either expression or precision.

As companies of this ilk go, St Petersburg Ballet Theatre are far from the worst; they deliver competent full-scale ballets with a live orchestra and tolerably decent principals. But it would also be disingenuous to pretend that they're on a par with the great artistically driven troupes of the world, Russian or otherwise. If you want more than just competence from your Swan Lake, you need to look elsewhere.


  • St Petersburg Ballet Theare perform Swan Lake at the London Coliseum 13-21 August and La Bayadère 22-23 August.
Kolesnikova dances with a grandeur and artifice aimed entirely at the audience rather than her partner


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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