Stanislavsky Ballet, Royal Festival Hall, London

Too old and too cold

Jenny Gilbert
Sunday 30 December 2001 01:00

Think Moscow, think ballet, think Bolshoi. But for Muscovites there has long been a second option: the Stanislavsky Ballet, conceived in the 1920s as counterpart to the famous Moscow Arts Theatre whose "method acting" revolutionised dramatic craft. Unlike the Bolshoi, the Stanislavsky was banned from touring during the Soviet years – hence its unfamiliarity. But what a tantalising prospect: the promise of dramatic coherence and inner motivation applied to classical movement, Russian-style. Just the thing for a sophisticated London audience.

But not, alas, in the form of Vladimir Bourmeister's hoary 1961 ballet The Snow Maiden. Why the company agreed to make this creaking vehicle carry their UK debut is a mystery, considering the company is currently run by Dmitry Bryantsev, Russia's leading contemporary dance-maker. Granted, Snow Maiden does have a certain historical cachet, being the first work ever created by a Soviet choreographer for a company in the West (and that company was London Festival Ballet, now ENB). Plus it's sort of wintry. And perhaps it was thought that Bourmeister's being grand-nephew of Tchaikovsky might put bums on seats. But in the event the bums couldn't wait to leave them.

Aficionados of fairytale may know The Snow Maiden as the legend of an old couple who so long for a child that they fashion one out of snow. This version begins with a grown-up Snow Maiden frolicking under the tutelage of Grandfather Frost – Russia's equivalent of Santa Claus. She falls in love with a mortal but the marriage comes to grief with the coming of spring when the Snow Maiden melts. This may sound cloying, but in essence the story resonates with the winter-solstice symbolism rooted in Russia's ancient pagan culture. With better choreography, it could have been sublime.

But Bourmeister's imagination does not stretch beyond bog-standard ballet vocabulary. Snowflakes dutifully flutter and scurry in neat lines that fail to coalesce into anything more interesting. Solo male characters leap and twirl apropos of nothing (so much for Method Acting). Pas de deux are uninventive and much too long. Even the music (bits of lesser-known Tchaikovsky, wrenched out of context) is unconscionably dull.

The show is saved by the presence of two rather fine ballerinas, in particular the stunning, doe-eyed Natalia Ledovskaya in the title role. And some very pretty scenery – though you could probably make something roughly similar yourself using folded white paper and scissors.

'Snow Maiden': Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (020 7960 4242) to Wed; Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet's 'Swan Lake': RFH, Friday to 12 Jan

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