Laurencia, which continues the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s London season, is a curious hybrid. The Spanish dances, castanets and local colour suggest the exotic ballets of the 19th century, with the addition of a Soviet-friendly tale of a peasant uprising. Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev make sensational rebel leaders, drawing the mix together.
Laurencia was created in 1939 by virtuoso dancer Vakhtang Chabukiani. It shows off a style of Russian ballet on the eve of the Second World War, with broad style, folk-influenced dances for the ensemble and virtuoso steps for the leads. It was popular for decades, before falling out of favour. Mikhail Messerer restaged it for St Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Ballet in 2010, marking the centenary of Chabukiani’s birth.
The story is loosely based on Lope de Vega’s play Fuente Ovejuna. A predatory lord rapes the young women of the village. His attack on the heroine, Laurencia, is the final straw, and the villagers storm the castle. In ballet form, it’s a black-and-white tale of leering villains and brave villagers, big gestures and bigger jumps.
If Soviet ballet could be simplistic in its messages, it was driven by powerhouse dancing. Messerer’s production includes film clips, projected during scene changes, of an early Laurencia cast. Their sincerity is as huge as their gestures; it’s a hard style to recapture.
Former Bolshoi stars Vasiliev and Osipova are obvious casting, with their vivid charisma and heroic dancing. Osipova has appealing spontaneity in the village scenes. At first, she rejects the hero Frondoso, not sure that he’s serious enough. Their exchanges have a bright, bantering edge, with glimpses of deeper feeling.
The choreography shows off her gorgeous, bounding jump. Osipova’s split jetés are spectacular, but I almost prefer the soaring skips she does as a run-up: she has energy to burn. She leads the rebellion with furious commitment, limbs braced and strong.
As Frondoso, Vasiliev rockets through the demanding steps. In one whirligig sequence, he spins from jump to jump, giving each leap a wriggly corkscrew twist in midair. The speed, height and complexity are amazing: he goes so fast your eye can only just keep up with him, but the shapes are clear and bold in the air.
The Mikhailovsky Ballet need more gusto in the scenes of rage and revolution, but scamper brightly through the village celebration scenes. Sabina Yapparova is lively as the peasant girl Pascuala, while Oksana Bondareva is touching as Jacinta, the first victim.
Mikhailovsky season continues until 7 April. Box office 020 7845 9300