Review and photos: Big performance spills over Swan Lake stage

| July 15, 2013 | 3 Comments
St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's Swan Lake in Johannesburg.

Beautifully convincing corps de ballet, but sometimes uninspired solos. Photo by Sarah Weyman.

Despite being the second largest theatre (in terms of seats) on the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s international tour – which includes 50 cities so far in 2013 – the Teatro at Johannesburg’s Montecasino doesn’t have a particularly large stage, made even smaller by the ballet company’s beautifully elaborate sets. Add the corps de ballet of 24 swans and there is little space left for the principals and soloists.

However, we don’t think any stage on the planet could restrain prima ballerina Irina Kolesnikova. Her stage presence is so dramatic and magnetic that everything else fades into unimportance as she glides onto the scene.

Irina Kolesnikova as Odette in Act II.

Irina Kolesnikova as Odette in Act II. Photo courtesy of SPBT.

And ‘glide’ she does. As the anguished Odette, her movements are feathery soft and smooth, and her portrayal was so touching and absorbing that my little heart actually ached in empathy of her pain.

As Odile, however, her wicked deception was fierce and electric (as were her fouettés). When her evil con was revealed and she laughingly threw Siegfried’s love on the floor, I caught myself whispering under my breath what the rest of the audience was surely thinking too: “Bitch”.

In fact, the split-personality contrast of Irina’s dual roles had the ballet newbies next to us confused and amazed, asking “did she really dance both white and black swans?”; followed by their excited wide-eyed realisation: “oh my god, so she has to dance and act!”

Yes, that’s how prima ballerinas roll.

But not everyone in the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre (SPBT) cast manages to get that right – although you’ll probably only notice this when Irina is off stage, because you’re not really watching anyone else when she’s on.

Letting the flock down

The strongest contrast to Irina’s masterful performance was probably her principal partner, Dmitri Akulinin performing Siegfried. A little like Neo in The Matrix, he seems to only ever have one expression. Whether he’s happy, sad, angry or triumphant, it’s the same wooden look.

Swan Lake final fight scene with Dmitri Akulinin and Von Rothbart.

Swan Lake final fight scene with Dmitri Akulinin and Von Rothbart. Photo courtesy of SPBT.

In his favour though, Dmitri does have strength and his pas de deux partnering was perfectly seamless, just don’t expect dramatic solos. Unfortunately the same can be said for most of the male soloists, who lacked personality, precision and punch. Particularly the jester (Erkin Rakhmatulaev) and tutor (Dmitri Shevtsov) appeared a little too rehearsed, occasionally anticipating the others’ gestures too soon, effectively stealing any sense of spontaneity.

The notable exception here would be Rothbart performed by Dimchik Saikeev, who was powerfully menacing, further enhanced by his excellent costume changes and eerie red-eyed make-up. But even Rothbart and Odette’s presence couldn’t save the final fight scene from Siegfried’s unconvincing triumph. “Oh. Look. Um. I think I tore off Rothbart’s wing.”

Four little swans in perfect timing.

Four little swans in perfect timing. Photo by Sarah Weyman.

Flying in formation

Acting skills aside though, when it comes to drama, SPBT still delivers plenty with their grand sets, bejewelled costumes and then there’s the corps de ballet of mesmerising swans, so perfectly in time and in sync, moving together as if by Russian magic.

The four little swans were particularly brilliant with their strong and fast footwork and their tick-tock, up-down, left-right movements. See more photos from their rehearsals below.

Though the stage did, at times, seem a tad small for SPBT’s big production, Montecasino’s impressive Teatro is perhaps still the most appropriate venue for Swan Lake, with seats rising all the way up to the clouds. And with Tchaikovsky’s haunting melodies delivered by the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, it made for a rich and dreamy ballet experience.

If you haven’t done so yet, I’d suggest you make quick about booking those tickets (here), as 75% of the seats were already sold prior to opening night. It may be a while before you get to see such a grand performance of Swan Lake in South Africa by such a ballet company in high demand around the world.

Also, find out all the fascinating behind-the-scenes facts in this Swan Lake ballet infographic.

Have you seen this ballet yet? What were your thoughts? Whether you agree or disagree, tell us in the comments below.

The best of the Swan Lake rehearsal photos…

Click on the first photo to open the gallery.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Performance

About the Author ()

Hi, I'm Robynn, and I'm a student of the potential of the body, the marvels of the mind, and the beauty of it all combined in ballet. As the editor, BodyMindBallet is where I get to learn, to share and to enjoy this wide world of dance - and with every day I gain an ever richer respect for the athleticism of dance and the skill of performance artistry.

Comments (3)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Kirsten says:

    I went to the Friday night performance of Swan Lake and I am an avid lover of this particular ballet. So I was very inspired by the beautiful sets and costumes. On the whole I felt the dancers were strong and accomplished, however there was no room for them to perform. The Teatro at Montecasino was a bad choice of venue for the beautiful swans. So the dancers seemed limited and there were no grand lifts or solo performances, particularly the men. As in two jumps they would be off the stage!! Siegfried was a droll character and blended into the background, though it is true that Irina is so perfect and flawless in her role that you don’t notice who she is dancing with. Rothbart and Siegfried’s less than manly fight was a let down too. Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen up in Johannesburg but I felt that this wonderful ballet company had their wings clipped……………..

  2. Neal says:

    I must admit I also felt that the ending lacked punch, and was somehow over too quick. I concede that the music might not allow for it, but I was hoping for some extra jousting and squaring-off between Siegfried and Rothbart before the inevitable mortal blow. It just seemed too easy, not much of a fight really considering the build-up to that point. But I must say that overall the ballet performance was seriously impressive. I’m not really complaining at all. I’ll definitely go again and again and again… Thanks SPBT for a beautiful performance!

    • Robynn Burls says:

      Thanks Kirsten and Neal for sharing your thoughts. :)
      I’m sure the lack of oxygen is a completely valid concern for the dancers (with oxygen tanks waiting in the wings), and I had wondered if that was part of the reason for those long, extended breaks between solos in the ballroom scene. I’ve been told it takes the dancers about a week to acclimatise to the altitude, so I wonder how different the performances will be this week?
      And yes, I agree, the ending seemed more of an accident than a “manly fight”. Some extra jousting could certainly help remedy that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *