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Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, review: The Mariinsky ballet is back on home ground

Swans, courtiers and national dancers sway and flow with shared refinement

There’s a changing of the guard at the Mariinsky Ballet. In this London summer season, the celebrated St Petersburg company is promoting its young artists, showing off a new generation of Swan Queens and princes alongside the established stars. On the first night of Swan Lake, first soloist Oxana Skorik was distinctive but not yet secure as Odette-Odile.

After the ropy Romeo that opened the season, Swan Lake shows the Mariinsky back on home ground. Konstantin Sergeyev’s production has a fairytale spaciousness, with picturebook sets by Igor Ivanov. Created in 1950, the staging has Soviet-era additions – an exasperatingly perky Jester, a happy ending for the prince and Odette.

The Mariinsky Ballet’s swans flood the stage with aristocratic assurance, flocking in curving lines and clean, moonlit phrasing.

As their queen, Skorik is a stylised swan who can become mannered. She’s a long-limbed dancer, thin and flexible, with arched feet and high cheekbones. Like many Mariinsky swans, she emphasises the mystery of the heroine Odette, with a remote and even frosty persona.

Though she has presence, Skorik needs to project the ballet’s mood, to bring us into the world of an enchanted princess longing for freedom. She seems more interested in cutting to the end of a step than in shaping and developing it. Her legs reach sky-high, but she needs more power through the body.

As the black swan Odile, Odette’s wicked double, Skorik has attack and swagger. This is a broad reading: when she fools the prince by imitating Odette, she breaks off to leer in triumph. Her vampy solo had some shaky moments, but Skorik whips through the famous 32 fouetté turns with dazzle to spare.

Her prince, Timur Askerov, is bewitched by this Odile. Responding to her, he launches into delighted, bounding jumps, his phrasing both eager and velvety. Askerov is less vivid in earlier scenes.

His prince makes a gracious host at his birthday party, but there’s little sign of the romantic melancholy that would make him wander alone in the forest. His steady partnering needs more emotional connection with Skorik’s Odette. Askerov’s dancing is polished and well-projected.

Skorik and Askerov are both first soloists, both in their mid-twenties. This cast showed tempting glimpses of other rising dancers. Kimin Kim gave a princely performance in the first act pas de trois. This 21-year-old Korean dancer has long, elegant lines and a warm stage presence: he’s an exciting new face at the Mariinsky. There was zesty dancing from Nadezhda Batoeva, another up-and-coming dancer.

Kim and Batoeva brought a fresh energy to a stately performance. The Mariinsky corps de ballet is superbly disciplined, its steps and groupings perfectly synchronised. Swans, courtiers and national dancers sway and flow with shared refinement.

What was missing, in this performance, was the sweep and passion of Tchaikovsky’s score. Under conductor Boris Bruzin, there was some heavy-handed playing from the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre.

Until 14 August. Mariinsky season continues until 16 August. Box office 020 7304 4000