The sheer lushness of the St. Petersburg Theatre’s production of Swan Lake is staggering. The production values are high – superb sets with mere cloth depicting a royal ballroom, its walls a series of interlacing arches; branches overhanging the lake where the swans reside. The lighting, subtle and evocative, equally matches the fairy tale ethos of this production. The solo and small group variations are, as one would expect from a major Russian ballet company, stunning. There is so much beauty in this show that it should be overpowering but the variations are so distinct in style and tone, that one remains caught in the web that has been spun for us. The choreography is superb and there are dances here to please all tastes. Running across them all like a wild card is the acrobatic and mischievous performance of Seiyu Ogasawara as the jester.
All theses things are worth the great attention they elicit, but unless the Swan/Odette is not a dancer at the top of her game, the ballet falls flat and you might as well listen to Tschaikovsky’s resounding music at a concert or on a CD/via a digital download. From the moment Irina Kolenikova steps on the stage you cannot and do not want to take your eyes off her. Her technique is flawless but she also has what only a few artists – the great ones – have: an ability to evoke a huge and compelling range of emotion with her body. The pirouettes, the arabesques are all pitch-perfect but what mesmerises are her arms. How can arms express so much? In the first half, Kolesnikova evokes the extreme sadness of a caged being. Hers is a double bind: She is, like many fairy tale heroines, under the spell of an evil being who has taken her away from the world, transformed her to a beastly non-human state- here, a swan, only allowing her a respite back into a human form for a few hours each night. She is also locked in beauty, with no-one to admire and share the beauty she has. it We might expect the sadness to make her frail but that is not how Kolesnikova plays her, She plays her as so strong you feel she could break rocks with her bare hands, and there is something about this tension- of sadness and strength together- that is fascinating.
The curse says: Only true love and true fidelity can save her. But stuck in a lake, her chances of meeting a handsome prince to save her are, one would hazard, slim. And then one comes along, eager to hunt, only to find that it is his own heart that is pierced.
Siegfried is a Prince of the realm and his widowed mother has decided enough is enough and he must wed. But Siegfried is the picky sort. He doesn’t take to any of the ladies his mother puts out for his show. And then he meets Odette. Denis Rodkin’s grand jetes are a marvel to watch but if this production has a weakness it is that, fine a dancer as Rodkin is, we do not, or, at least, I do not, believe in the deep quality of his love for the Swan/Odette. In one sense, this matters; this is, after all, a love story and we must feel the chemistry sizzle and burn between the two main players. On another level, it is not as significant as it might be in, for instance, in a play or film because the greater half of our attention is on the sheer virtuosity of the prima ballerina. Additionally, though this is a love story it is more a story of transformation, and that story is Odette’s.
When the Swan/Odette becomes the black swan, Kolesnikova metamorphoses not into power – the usual reading – but into joy. Again, the interpretation, almost feminist here, throws us.
Timur Gorkovenko conducts the always splendid ENO orchestra with confidence and panache.
Irina Kolesnikova is a powerhouse and I can’t imagine an Odette I’d rather watch. Beg or borrow to get a ticket.
- By Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- Founding Director: Konstantin Tachkin
- Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- Cast includes: Irina Kolesnikova, Denis Rodkin, Seiyu Ogasawara
- English National Opera
- Until 2 September 2018