St Petersburg Ballet Theatre

From St Petersburg to Eastbourne with the beating of wings
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Ballet-going can be a gamble at this time of year. It ought to be cause for celebration that so many smaller troupes from the former Soviet Union converge on provincial UK theatres during the winter months, bringing the art form to audiences that otherwise don't get a sniff at a pointe shoe. But the reality is that any old collection of also-rans can call themselves the Ballet Stars of Nowhereburg and deliver an experience that creaks.

Ballet-going can be a gamble at this time of year. It ought to be cause for celebration that so many smaller troupes from the former Soviet Union converge on provincial UK theatres during the winter months, bringing the art form to audiences that otherwise don't get a sniff at a pointe shoe. But the reality is that any old collection of also-rans can call themselves the Ballet Stars of Nowhereburg and deliver an experience that creaks.

What a treat, then, to discover St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, a bona fide group now 10 years old which sources its talent from the Vaganova Academy (the same stable as the Kirov) and boasts at least one principal dancer of world calibre. Why the wonderful Irina Kolesnikova wasn't snapped up by Russia's premier company straight from school is a mystery only partly explained by what every Russian knows about the power of "personal influence" in modern Russia. Kolesnikova has supermodel looks, a glittering technique and all the big classical roles in her lap. The only danger is that Ballet Theatre's touring schedule - currently 24 UK towns and cities in 15 weeks - will dance her into the ground.

Swan Lake shows off her qualities best: her Odile is no fragile, shrinking thing but a sleek, strong creature, exulting in her own length and flex of limb as much as she is trapped in misery. Among the scores of interpretations I've seen, only one, the Kirov's Uliana Lopatkina, another tall ballerina, has taken the White Swan's Act II adagio at so daringly slow a speed. Kolesnikova's supreme technical control makes this possible, while her Garbo-like smoulder creates a transfixing allure, both regal and unbearably tender. At Eastbourne, even the measly audience turnout could not dim the extraordinary gilded haze that seemed to surround Kolesnikova's every movement.

And this Swan Lake, though thoroughly old-school and Russian-mannered, is full of warm and lively touches. It has a jester (Dmitry Shevtsov) who is genuinely funny, a loveable young blade of a prince (Yuri Gloukhikh) and a glittering Rothbart (Dymchik Saykeev) who pulls off his unlikely role - part evil wizard, part pantomime crow - with incredibly sexy panache. I don't recall another Swan Lake whose denouement hinged on the Prince ripping off one of Rothbart's feathered wings and beating him to death with it.

But this is one of no fewer than four productions offered by the current tour. The company's Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty have been here before. But Bayadère, in its 1941 revision, is new and still needs bedding in. Yet it has more intractable problems. Unlike Swan Lake, which makes a perfectly respectable showing with a corps of 16 swans, Bayadère looks thin on these slender forces. After all, it was first staged in St Petersburg alongside Verdi's Aida, and had a similarly vast cast of exotic extras, including 48 veiled girls, a live elephant and a stuffed tiger. Ballet Theatre's corps is beautifully schooled, and already makes a better fist of the difficult djembe dance than British companies ever hope to. But the "Kingdom of the Shades" scene loses a good deal of its magic-mushroom buzz by sending only 16 girls down the ramp. Earlier, too, the show suffers from diffident acting. Bayadère is a ludicrous story and you have to signal it big. Luckily the orchestra, under Aleksandr Kantorov, gives Minkus's crazy circus music plenty of thrust. The tuba player deserves a medal for his oompahs.

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

Kings Lynn (01553 764864), Tue & Wed; Brighton Dome (01273 709709), 26 Dec to 2 Jan; tour continues

Comments