Irina Kolesnikova London Season – Swan Lake

St Petersburg Ballet Theatre
London Coliseum

Irina Kolesnikova as Odette in Swan Lake Credit: Nina Alovert
Irina Kolesnikova as Odile in Swan Lake Credit: Nina Alovert
Irina Kolesnikova as Odette in Swan Lake Credit: Nina Alovert
Irina Kolesnikova as Odile in Swan Lake Credit: Nina Alovert

St Petersburg the city of ballet: Mariinsky / Kirov Ballet you will have heard of, Mikhailovsky too, but maybe not the independent St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, founded only twenty-one years ago by Konstantin Tachkin, who is proud that it relies neither on state subsidy nor private sponsors.

The self-promoting aim of the 55-strong hard-working young company, accompanied by the 40-piece St Petersburg Ballet Orchestra, seems to be to spread its city’s classical ballet heritage around the world. Touring constantly, it garners acclaim.

Irina Kolesnikova is its prime selling point. Trained at the famous Vaganova Ballet Academy, she joined the company aged only eighteen in 1998 and was made principal in 2001.

And Swan Lake is her primary vehicle, her signature ballet it seems. Not the Swan Lake of the English National or Royal Ballet companies with their glorious apotheoses, but the Soviet happy ending version, where Prince Siegfried rips off Rothbart’s wing, flails him with it and destroys his power. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Picture book sets, Russian fairy tale ethos, garish bright lighting, this seemingly small-scale touring production with its cheeky jester (Sergei Fedorkov no Wayne Sleep but not bad) will suit children and first-timers perhaps, but ballet sophisticates will find it lacking in finesse and subtlety.

And poor Siegfried has very little to do. Androgynously pretty Denis Rodkin, recently made Principal at the Bolshoi Theatre, has to stand around looking regal and rapt. When he gets his brief chance in act three he delivers the goods, though in a rather disengaged haughty fashion. Am I perhaps mistaking autopilot for being under Odette/Odile’s spell…?

Principal of The Royal Ballet Vadim Muntagirov and First Soloist with the Mariinsky Ballet Kimin Kim, both terrific dancers, will alternate with Rodkin in the guest role of Prince. Maybe they will bring more dynamism to the role. Worth a look if you can navigate two hours forty minutes with two intervals.

The focus is all on Kolesnikova, and she gives a gala performance. The rest can go hang. Unfortunately they do. Very laboured and cautious, an untidy corps, especially the flat-footed men, whom my companion, wondering whether they had left the best at home, swears he saw counting. I see panic in their eyes.

Surely they will come into their own in the folk dances, but sadly as the evening progresses these either tired or underprepared dancers are wilting and out of step with the music.

Kolesnikova pays little attention to the music too, belting out her Odile fouettés with dazzling speed. The orchestra goes hell for leather. But neither is in synch. Her control is fantastic, her balance likewise, but of characterisation there is little. Eyes cast down for Odette, she comes into her own as Odile, playing to the audience rather than the Prince.

Her old-fashioned prima ballerina adulation-milking curtain calls after each variation are the best and most entertaining I’ve seen. The Trocks come to mind. No wonder the Prince looks bored, there’s little mystery or chemistry between them. It’s all about her.

Hats off to her, dancing with such self-assurance and attack, in fine form some nine months after producing a baby daughter, but, as Sylvie Guillem said recently in an interview with Deborah Bull, it’s not the steps but the life you breathe into them. You have to be a person first—Kolesnikova is a ballet machine.

Robotic is my note for the 22-strong swan corps de ballet, their arms flapping with little grace, though Miho Naotsuko catches my eye in the pas de trois with her lovely leap and serene poise.

If it is a showcase for Kolesnikova, it is short-sighted not to pay attention to the setting for the jewel. Although she is no Ulyana Lopatkina—my benchmark Odette/Odile—she does have presence and dedication.

The audience gives the company a very warm welcome and the season is selling very well. I look forward to La Bayadère next week, when she will be partnered by Rodkin again. I live in hope.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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