St Petersburg Ballet Theatre at the London Coliseum
August 23, 2018
Konstantin Tachkin founded the St Petersburg Ballet to provide productions for tourists who could not obtain coveted tickets for the Mariinsky. In that sense, this Swan Lake fulfils the brief. It has everything that we have come to expect from a ‘traditional’ Russian production.
Many in the audience were there for Irina Kolesnikova, the company’s sole prima ballerina, and wife of its founder and director Konstantin Tachkin. She doesn’t disappoint in the slightest but is let down a production that all the technique and acting in the world could not make it come to life.
The narrative takes a serious hit. Poor Denis Rodkin not only loses most of the usual Siegfried solos to another dancer (not even Benno) and is left without any dramatic raison d’être. There is no tension with his mother and he seems to drift into acceptance of his marriage, wander absent-mindedly into the forest, encounter the swans without any sense of surprise and, most bizarre of all, make his vow after Odette has left the stage and only because he is forced to by Dmitri Akulinin’s Rothbart.
Rodkin is a wonderful dancer with cat-like landings and tours en l’air to die for; he has some of the neatest endings I have ever seen. Without any sense of character though, it becomes empty showmanship. He simply doesn’t have enough to do to create any spark between Siegfried and Odette/Odile or any sense of tragedy in their fate. He should also do something with his hair which flopped around most distractedly.
While the Jester frequently attracts hostility outside Russia; it is perfectly apt for this type of production and Sergei Fedorkov does not disappoint. His stunning technique appears almost nonchalant as, in addition to multiple turns at varying speeds he casually flips upside down as if from nowhere and somersaults off stage right. His is probably the most definable character on stage, which speaks volumes.
The corps de ballet deserve special mention as they are excellent. Nay a wobble from any of them on those interminable bars spent standing on one leg and their costumes are first class.
One aspect of this and other Russian productions that I do detest is the Soviet-era happy ending. It goes completely against the music to choose anything other than a tragic outcome. This is particularly true when, as is common in Russian productions, the black swans appear in the final act. They make total sense as well as looking very dramatic and suggesting that Odile’s power is dominant.
The programme note was odd too. Presumably, someone thought having one written by a 12-year-old was somehow attractive. Whatever the reason, it made as little sense as the story danced out on stage.
The biggest failure of the evening was the music, though. Conductor Vadim Nikitin took some phrases at such a glacially slow pace that the musicians nearly ground to a halt. Just because Kolesnikova can hold every balance for an age does not mean that it is a good idea. Rodkin may have a big jump, and both can knock off multiple turns with panache, but the musical car crash that results in slowing down sections just to show off makes a travesty of one of the loveliest ballet scores ever composed and it is also dull to watch because it breaks faith with the narrative and characterisation such as it was.
It boded poorly when the first oboe ended the initial solo, that should create a tingle down the spine, with a flatulent quack that sounded as if one of the swans were laying an egg prior to making her opening entrance. The remainder of the playing was lacklustre and unbalanced. The solos were so flat throughout that they almost modulated into another key before meandering back again and then away until the ending of the section put us all out of our misery.
There was much applause from behind the stalls at various times but, in the end, this was an unsophisticated, unsatisfying evening all round.