Swan Lake

Tchaikovsky
Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet
Sheffield Lyceum

Natalia Romanova as Odette, Swan Lake act 2 Credit: SPCB

The St Petersburg Classic Ballet company represents the Russian school of classical ballet, which was influenced by earlier French and Italian models. The emphasis is on pattern, movement and form rather than the expression of emotion.

The performance of the corps de ballet is impressive for the beauty and correctness of its ‘line’, particularly hand and arm gestures and, generally, for the standardisation of group movement.

There is little opportunity for personal expressiveness in the corps and it is left to more experienced dancers performing in smaller groups, pas de deux, pas de trois, and so on, to present more advanced and exciting techniques in an elegant style with appropriate characterisation.

The apotheosis of the Russian style is in the performance of the principal dancers, notably Prima Ballerina Natalia Romanova, whose performance is technically flawless and stunningly emotive.

Tchaikovsky’s ballet was not well received when it was first performed in 1877. The music was described as ‘undanceable’ and the choreography ‘unimaginative’. It was not until it was re-choreographed in 1894 after the death of Tchaikovsky that it attained its legendary status in the classical canon.

This is a fairy tale in a magical setting. Odette and her hand maidens have been bewitched and turned into swans by the evil magician Rothbart and can only return to human form in the night time. Prince Siegfried encounters Odette while hunting, falls in love with her and determines to free her from the spell.

He is thwarted in his attempt by Rothbart who arrives at the Prince’s coming of age ball where his mother, the Queen, has decreed that he should choose a prospective bride. Rothbart presents Odile who closely resembles Odette and Siegfried succumbs to her seductiveness. There is a happy resolution when Siegfried realises his mistake, overcomes Rothbart and releases Odette from the spell.

The current production is faithful to the revised version in every way. This is not a radical re-interpretation like Matthew Bourne’s. The painted sets and costumes are traditional and there are episodes in the storyline when the dancers can display their technical expertise and artistry in the performance of familiar and challenging set pieces like the "Dance of the Cygnets" or, even more impressively, the 32 fouettes (360 degree spins on one leg) performed by Odile in the ballroom scene.

As is customary in Russian ballet performances, each of these extremely accomplished set pieces gives rise to audience applause and the most elegant of curtseys from Romanova and the other women in the cast or triumphantly raised arms from the men.

Romanova is truly outstanding in the dual roles of Odette/Odile. As Odette, she perfectly captures the sensitive melancholy of the character and the fluttering arms, remarkable leg extensions and effortless grace in the lifts conceal the underlying technical expertise which makes such a performance possible. She is transformed as Odile. The choreography helps here. Where Odette’s movement often draws her towards the ground, Odile’s is pert and upright, confident and full of energy. The contrast in characterisation is impressive. It could be a different dancer.

There is also a splendid performance from Mikhail Bogomazov as the Jester. He is completely in character throughout, his mime and gesturing is clear and readable, he finds opportunity for all sorts of additional stage business, and his set piece solos which include many vigorous leaps are technically accomplished and simply thrilling.

Vadim Lolenko has a strong stage presence as Siegfried, and for a big man, moves with grace and delicacy. He is also vital to the effectiveness of the lifts in the pas de deux with Romanova. I rather think his performance was constrained by the size of the Lyceum stage. On a much larger stage I think we would have seen a more expansive performance with more opportunity for leaps.

This is also the case when the entire corps de ballet is on stage. In the ballroom scene particularly, when side flats eat into the available space, the choral lines seemed crowded and the performers at the ball similarly constrained.

But there is so much to appreciate and enjoy in this performance. A delight for anyone new to the ballet and a masterclass for beginning dancers.

Reviewer: Velda Harris