Whether a ballet novice or connoisseur, certain expectations come with viewing a Russian ballet company’s Swan Lake. St Petersburg Ballet Theatre don’t come with the renown or prestige of the Mariinsky or the Bolshoi but the arrival of the “Irina Kolesnikova Season” in London, certainly suggests they have no lack of confidence in their principal dancer.
Kolesnikova is a temptress even as Odette, her strong physique is powerful and commanding. However, for the most part she is a machine that has been tuned to the “Odette” setting. It’s all a little mechanical, undeniably beautiful but for me totally missed any portrayal of the fear, vulnerability and betrayal Odette should feel.
Sadly, the dynamic and chemistry shared between Denis Rodkin’s Siegfried and Kolesnikova’s Odette never gels. Viewed simply as a showcase of the prima ballerina’s skill and precision it is exhilarating. However, for those invested in the classic story, who want to feel any kind of vulnerability and longing, the pairing is unfortunately lacking.
Rodkin is a long-limbed, elegant Siegfried. He is technically competent but his acting skills leave much to be desired as he appears vacant and lacking motivation at pivotal moments in their courtship.
Swan Lake, for most, is about a strong, regal young man falling in love with a fragile and vulnerable girl. Instead here we have a boy following around a confident and self-assured woman.
As such, Kolesnikova’s Odette never seems betrayed, only utterly in control. She plays with Siegfried but sadly it felt as if she’d have danced just as confidently if he hadn’t be there at all. She is a prima ballerina and knows it. She flings herself effortlessly into the required arabesques and pirouettes as if exhibiting a masterclass. The 32 fouettes do not pose a problem either and she delivers them fast enough that she could have squeezed in several more if she’d wanted.
Black Swan, Odile feels a more natural role for Kolesnikova, where she is finally permitted to be sexy and mischievous yet there was not a marked enough contrast between her Odette and Odile. Rodkin remains solid yet still lacks emotion, leaving the audience questioning why he would go back into the woods to find Odette in the first place. As a partnership, the two may not work but they certainly both possess a watchable and engaging quality that holds the production together.
However the corps de ballet are sadly unremarkable and add little overall. Although Sergei Fedorkov made a notable contribution as the spritely Court Jester and should be applauded for his boundless energy and agility in the court scenes as well as injecting some comic relief.
The dance of the cygnets started strongly, but only took for one unfortunate cygnet’s slightly fluffed footwork to spoil the moment and unfortunately momentum was never regained. The corps of remaining swans were serene and understated for the most part, yet the underlying feeling of first-night nerves presented themselves through the odd wobble and stumble throughout, lacking the polish one expects for a Russian ballet company.
It seems unlikely, yet this is still a completely competent and at times hugely enjoyable production, largely down to Kolesnikova’s power and grandeur. The corps require a little more work and the key relationship lacks chemistry but the beauty of the lakeside scenes will never fail to charm any ballet lover.
First published on londontheatre1.com