Soloists and Stray Feathers
When it comes to Tchaikovsky’s much loved ballet "Swan Lake,” the Russians have a reputation for the most exacting standards. Companies like the Bolshoi, the Mariinsky/Kirov, and St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre are revered by aficionados and amateurs alike, and their arrival justifiably anticipated with eager delight. A delight delivered in exquisite style by St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s two principals in their latest production of Tchaikovsky’s much loved classic. The corps de ballet, however, despite some superb moments, show a few too many stray feathers on occasion. Yet, disappointing as it is, even that can't undermine this lusciously rich and visually striking production.
From its opening, symphonic sweep to its final tender embrace, "Swan Lake" takes flight with star crossed lovers Prince Siegfried and his love Odette, transformed into a swan by the evil Rothbart, striving for love to conquer all. Tchaikovsky’s legendary music brought vividly to life by an exceptional RTÉ Concert Orchestra, conducted with tenderness and verve by Timur Gorkovenko. Semyen Postukh’s scrumptious set, awash in Friedrich styled romanticism, is gorgeously classical. All of which Nikolay Shlein lights to perfection. So strong are Shlein and Postukh’s classical leanings, the use of some brief projections in Act Two look decidedly alien and unforgivably out of place. Not so Galina Solovieva’s costumes, reinforcing the richness and romanticism at the heart of it all.
If staging is constructed in terms of visual grace and beauty, so too is original choreography by the legendary Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, which demands an exacting rigour in execution. Something the corps de ballet achieve in a hit and miss fashion, looking compositionally far tighter during swan sequences. If "Swan Lake" demands the corps de ballet dancing as one, a few too many moments go beyond any latitude allowed for an occasional drop in focus. Arms and legs over or under elevated in places, under or overshot foot positioning, some shaky and unsteady footwork at times, all contribute to infrequently pulling focus towards individual dancers, and not in a good way, disturbing the totality of the scene and the stage image. Even the four little swans, and three big ones, can momentarily fall short of executing to the high standards they themselves set, breaking the transportive spell. Yet when they cohere, as they more often do, the effect can be sublime, if not always sustained.
Those in need of the necessary correctives need look no further than their striking principals. Including a stunning Sergei Fedorkov as Jester, marrying wonderful physical humour to some meticulous executed sequences. A hugely impressive Alexander Volchkov as Prince Siegfried, his two delayed entrances aside, excels during solos, gliding across the stage with the ease of a breath. Providing Prima Ballerina, Irina Kolesnikova, with untroubled support, never competing or trying to draw focus. Ensuring Kolesnikova is nothing short of sensational. If many have danced Tchaikovsky’s swans, few will have embodied them as completely as Kolesnikova. Her white swan a bird like evocation of longing and nervous vulnerability, her black swan brimming with brazen, haughty arrogance. Technically, Kolesnikova is out of this world, her fouetté turns being simply magnificent. As is every painstaking gesture and movement, invested in completely, right down to its very nerve endings, in this exquisite, masterclass performance.
Running close to three hours, St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s production serves as an unapologetic reminder that "Swan Lake" isn’t something you squeeze into your day. It’s something you surrender to. In this instance, surrender repays your indulgence tenfold. Throughout, most dance exquisitely to Tchaikovsky’s transcendent music, some occasionally dancing on it, or a little ahead or behind it for half a moment. Kolesnikova becomes one with the music. Today, Prima Ballerina often denotes a position in a company rather than the impeccable standards required to potentially become one of the all time greats. Without question, Kolesnikova is the real deal. And she is simply breathtaking.
Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky’s "Swan Lake," with libretto by Vladimir Begichev and Vasily Geltzer, choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, performed by The St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, and produced and presented by Theatre Tours International PTE.LTD, in association with Konstantin Tachkin, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until October 26.
For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.