Coliseum, London

Dance review: Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet - Russian ballet’s bad boy Sergei Polunin woos and wins

Polunin not only shows up, he then shows everyone else up

Sergei Polunin has a reputation to live down, and another to live up to. After the spectacular no-show of the young Ukrainian at his last major London engagement (when he went Awol days before the opening of Midnight Express, in which he was due to star), even his most ardent fans may have thought twice before shelling out to see him again. And those who wondered what all the fuss was about will need to be convinced by some serious stage fireworks.

What’s more, Coppélia is hardly the obvious shop window for a guy with tattoos and a crippling ambivalence towards his artform. With it’s hummable score by Délibes (and  tunes that everyone finds they know), its requirement for tights and tutus and its reputation as a safe bet for end-of-year school productions, its about as uncool as dance gets. Clearly Polunin is, for the moment, on his best behaviour and flying the flag for the Moscow company he now calls home, the Stanislavsky.

This Coppélia isn’t, in fact, a traditional treatment based on the 1870 original. It’s the 1975 rewrite by the Frenchman Roland Petit. Gone is the rustic village setting and the character of old Dr Coppelius as a gruff, misanthropic toymaker. Petit recast Coppelius as a sexually predatory aesthete, whose smart apartment contains a cabinet of prosthetic body parts that he refashions at whim to resemble his latest love-interest.

Franz (the role now taken by Polunin) is no longer a local oik but a lickety-spit young army officer stationed in a garrison town. Swanilda and her chums are the local girls who hope to snare a soldier husband. Knowing sexuality winks from every scene, which is perhaps to be expected from Petit, who cast himself as Coppelius in 1975, and as Swanilda, his wife Zizi Jeanmaire who, at the time, in France at least, was a household byword for sex on legs.

But on the evidence of the current showing, what seemed sexy in 1975 hasn’t weathered well. Lines of girls puckering their lips and wiggling their frothy pink behinds now smacks of tacky tourist cabaret, and Coppelius’s peccadillo seems distinctly unpleasant. Even Ezio Frigerio’s sets look dated in their radical sparseness, which gives no spatial context for such naturalistic business as Swanilda’s pickpocketing of Coppelius’s door key so she can break into his flat.

Twenty-year-old Kristina Shapran, a human wonder of Bambi limbs, taller than Polunin even off-pointe, struggles to establish a character for Swanilda beyond the come-hither shoulder rolls and eyelash batting. I found myself wistful for the innocent Bolshoi production that visited in 2010. Shapran copes well enough with Petit’s choreography and can easily lift her leg up to her ear. But there are only so many times you want to see that trick, and Petit’s text rather overdoes it.

In a ballet that should be full of comic moments, Petit lumps them all into one number – a duet for Coppelius with his “Swanilda” mannequin, her rubber-band legs tied to the ends of his shoes. It is very funny, and Anton Grishanin as the pervy dandy displays smart comic timing. But it doesn’t leave much for Polunin to do (his Franz, drugged with a potion, lies slumped over a table during this scene), and it misses the opportunities found by other productions for fairground-horror fun in Coppelius’s lair. In reaction, Polunin shows a new maturity in his acting, finding a stance (throwaway heroic) that does a fine job of glueing the joints of this curious production. You feel the story is in safe hands each time he steps into view.

But, ultimately, who cares about acting in the face of such dancing? If Polunin was ever off-form, he’s back on it with a vengeance. Sinews sculpted by pewter high-waist tights, he cannons into the circuits of barrel turns and fancy aeronautics, his enjoyment visibly heightened by each faultless execution. At the curtain, protocol dictated that Polunin present his ballerina and keep two paces behind. When, finally, he was sent out front (still in tandem) some elements of the audience emitted a noise I haven’t heard in years. Something between woooaar and aarghhh. Enough said.

Last performance at 2pm on Sunday

NEXT WEEK From Russia with love: Les Saisons Russes du XXIe Siècle

Critic’s choice

Here’s something rather different in the heart of London’s theatreland: a promenade show in a disused building at 136 Shaftesbury Avenue. Nest is inspired by Homer’s Odyssey and uses a mix of dance, animation, architecture, live music and interactive lightshow. Today to 21 July, tickets at the door.

 

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable