The Snow Maiden

Reviewer's Rating

I’m slightly reluctant fan of the Russian State Ballet of Siberia. They come through Oxford about once a year on their tours and lately I always try to attend. They are quite old-fashioned, one might even accuse them of being provincial; their sets, costumes and approach would not have been out of place in the 1960s or even the 1930s at Sadler’s Wells. Maybe one reason I like them is because they always remind me visually of those old photographs of ballet that you see in histories and biographies.

And yet, once always comes away feeling one has seen the actual work, the ballet itself. The orchestra is good so the music is always competently and sometimes brilliantly played. There is a Russian lilt to Tchaikovsky ballets they always bring; and the other works are quite stylishly played. The dancers are clearly well-trained and committed. They are a reliable troupe and they always give pleasure to sold out audiences when I see them.

If you don’t expect Covent Garden or the New York City Ballet, if you accept that the choreography does not show any influences of Balanchine or Marie Rambert, but if you are out for a pleasurable evening of watching good professionals dance, you should give them a try when they come to a theatre in your town. You are also supporting several Siberians in being able to spend time in the UK. Nigel Farage, of course, will be thrilled that they all go home again at the end of the tour. Meantime, you learn a few things about the old Imperial Ballet approach.

They do a nifty Swan Lake and Giselle, for example; and this time they have also brought their recent production of The Snow Maiden. There is a version of this tale done as a ballet by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, but The Snow Maiden they are touring at the moment is a simpler telling of the story through ballet and the source of the music is essentially incidental music to the play and other bits and pieces by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. I have never seen it before and found it quite captivating.

In both versions the theme is the universal movement of the seasons from winter to Spring; and there is a kind of Little Mermaid story. Ekaterina Bulgarova was a very attractive Snow Maiden the night I went, very skilled; and I like her mother, Spring, as danced by Polina Bulycheva as well as Georgiy Bolsnovskiy as Let, who gets the girl in the end. But I was quite bowled over by Georgiy Bolsnovskiy as Mizgir (very passionate, very high leaps; a little clutch and grope in the acting department) and was especially delighted by Anna Fedosova as Kupava, the bride. She is tallish and willowy and seemed to flow sinuously. She can act; and when she is on the stage, she effortlessly is the centre of attention. The scene of the wedding, when Bolsnovskiy is partnering her was an enormous pleasure. These are gifted dancers.

The sets were evocative enough; and the moment at which the Snow Maiden melts was brilliantly theatrical and even elicited a gasp from the audience. The audience would have gone on applauding for several more curtain calls, I also felt, if they had been allowed to (someone turned on the house lights to signal them to stop); and there was a wonderfully festive feeling about the whole evening with lots of young girls getting to stay up late on a school night to be introduced to this rarely-performed version of the Russian fairy tale. I am now looking forward to their Swan Lake. I remember it as being very entertaining and not a little moving.

The company continues touring until the end of March; and then returns, I believe, next October. Watch out for them.