Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London
They need to spread their wings
Wednesday 27 July 2011
It's 50 years since the Mariinsky Ballet, then known as the Kirov Ballet, danced its first, triumphant London season. So much has changed since 1961. The St Petersburg company has weathered the end of the Soviet Union and opened itself up to foreign choreography, with important acquisitions in this anniversary season.
It opened this visit with a Swan Lake of few surprises. There's no question that this is one of the world's major ballet companies, led by one of its biggest stars. It's a solid, confident performance, rather than a dazzling one.
Uliana Lopatkina is the Mariinsky's reigning ballerina. She's best known for the classical repertory, sticking to the refinement of roles such as Swan Lake. On opening night, she danced a simpler, clearer Swan Queen, dropping the exaggerated mannerisms that had distorted her performance. Her limbs still unfold with smooth authority, but with a lot less art nouveau twisting. She even responds to her partner, the warmly attentive Daniil Korsuntsev.
As the betrayed heroine Odette, she dances with mournful softness, her phrasing long and steady. As Odette's wicked double, the black swan Odile, she spins with fierce accuracy. In one whirling sequence, there's a burnished precision to the way she flings up one curved wrist.
She's still a stylised, remote presence. This is not a dramatic Swan Lake; the company dance with calm refinement, not urgency. There's a lovely spring to the corps de ballet's detailed footwork, with buoyant little jumps – yet they've been grander in the sweeping lines of swans. The national dances lacked gusto.
Konstantin Sergeyev's 1950 production is clear and uncluttered. Igor Ivanov's picture-book designs establish a fairytale world, from vistas of lake and castle to the ornately carved ceilings inside the palace.
A traditional Soviet version, it adds a happy ending – strongly danced by Lopatkina and Korsuntsev – and a Jester. Alexei Nedviga has fun with this normally charmless role, with a mock-modest demeanour. Happily, the Mariinsky has brought its own orchestra, playing sumptuously under conductor Boris Gruzin.
For excitement, the week's wonder was Ivan Vasiliev's guest appearance with English National Ballet over the weekend. The Bolshoi superstar danced Roland Petit's Jeune Homme et la Mort with wild energy. He reaches out to Jiz Zhang's death figure with craving need, melting at her frosty touch.
In rep to 8 August (020 7304 4000)
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant