St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, London Coliseum
August 13, 2015

Irina Kolesnikova as Odile. Photo St Petersburg Ballet Theatre

Irina Kolesnikova as Odile.
Photo St Petersburg Ballet Theatre

Charlotte Kasner

Yuri Gumba’s production of Swan Lake for St Petersburg Ballet Theatre is a fascinating mix between Russian and Western European traditions, the story being told in a fairly straightforward manner without emphasis on allegory or political references. Siegfried is a simple soul who makes bad choices in the girlfriend department. No brooding Hamlet, he seems like an innocent abroad (with a mother who looked young enough to be his sister) and there is no sense that he has doomed a dynasty by opting for Odile.

Semyen Pastukh’s sets are bold and dramatic. Particularly impressive is the cut out of foliage that mutates seamlessly from the autumnal golds of the opening to green for the lakeside. The Act II ballroom is framed with striking arches that set off Galina Solovieva’s attractive costumes. Although it is a relief not to be wreathed in fug, the lake does lack an element of mystery (top marks for the Gothic ruins, though) and the red lights that signify Rothbart’s appearances are rather crude.

Irina Kolesnikova is moulded in the great tradition of Russian Odettes/Odiles. Rather better as Odile than Odette where her spiky surety convincingly won Siegfried over, she nevertheless produced some wonderful lakeside moments, dancing every note with conviction and drama. If her performance had been tempered with a little more vulnerability as Odette, it could well have developed into a memorable rendition. Choosing to perform the fouettés in Act II rather than the more traditional Russian posé turns, she flung them out with seeming ease and notable speed, barely moving her supporting foot from the spot.

Denis Rodkin was a truly noble Siegfried with lovely line and soaring jumps. He was not alone in producing soft, cat-like landings – indeed the production was notable for not sounding like a clog dance when the swans are en masse. It was a poor decision to allow him to exit the stage in Act III in pursuit of Odile though, as he should surely witness the national dances and the visiting princesses that he rejects?

The corps were disciplined throughout and there were some lovely patterns displayed, although the stage looked a little cramped given that the tutus had enormous plates. They also had an exceptional stillness when required. The inclusion of the black swans in Act II which make perfect sense.

The national dances were treated in a rather odd manner all round as if Gumba could not wait to get them over and done with. With Siegfried off stage, they become mere divertissements for the court. The rattling pace they were taken was also problematic, proving a bit much for some of the dancers and not allowing the unique character of the dances to shine through.

Irina Kolesnikova as Odette Photo St Petersburg Ballet Theatre

Irina Kolesnikova as Odette
Photo St Petersburg Ballet Theatre

Mention must be made of Sergei Fedorkov’s marvellous Jester. It’s a role generally poorly received by English audiences, but here is allowed to have a fleshed out character rather than just being a foil for Siegfried’s moods, pursuing one of the dancers lustfully and of course, producing fine virtuoso dancing in the process.

Rothbart is one of the thankless roles in the classical canon. Hampered by the owl costume which always looks faintly ridiculous, he is usually reduced to flapping frantically in an attempt to look menacing. Dmitry Akulinin was one of the better Rothbart’s, especially in Act II where he wafted his cloak in a suitably dastardly manner to remind us who he really is. He is let down by seriously wet staging at the end though, his fight with Siegfried being totally unconvincing as he is feebly battered by his own wing that Siegfried rather wetly tears off, before rolling over and playing dead conveniently.

Equally conveniently, Odette appears to faint until revived in what one assumes is human form by Siegfried in that most awful of recent Russian traditions, the Swan Lake Happy Ending.

The orchestra under Timur Gorkovenko gave a robust rendition of the score. There were occasions where enthusiasm got the better of refinement in the brass section, but the evening was notable for particularly fine playing from the leader in the numerous solos for Odette. Sections sounded especially fresh and truly Russian as emphasis was placed on certain instruments that enabled complexity to shine through that we don’t always hear from domestic orchestras. An extended solo for the harp led into Odette’s Act II solo. Above all, having the courage to allow the score to illustrate and support the dance meant that tempi were often very varied and the use of the general pause was not stinted to great dramatic effect.

An injection of something of the night to give it a much darker edge and the restoration of the tragic ending would do wonders for this Swan Lake, but it was a very enjoyable evening with plenty of exciting moments of dramatic dancing.