CITY PRESS REVIEW: Just cos it’s Russian ballet doesn’t make it great

2017-10-15 00:00
The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre

Johannesburg - For heaven’s sake, Siegfried, evil Rothbart has captured your beloved and turned her into a swan, he has duped you into betraying your declaration of devotion for her, and he now threatens your lives! Given that relieving him of one of his wings means disempowering him, your apathy in mildly tugging it off and dropping it was more terrifying in its lack of passionate energy than any evil. Rip it off and fling it down, dammit!

St Petersburg Ballet

Sorry; let me bourrée back a bit. I revere ballet, especially the Russian variety because of its capacity for excellence, its pivotal role in the history of the art and its creation of many of the finest dancers. When I watch Russian ballet, I expect brilliance. And I’ve experienced it, at the Mariinsky Theatre and on film. I say “experienced” rather than “seen” because one should be moved. There should be so much energy coursing through a dancer’s body that it’s palpable, compelling. The artistic director, répétiteur and dancers should revere their art and audience.

The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, presented at Montecasino, Joburg, a month ago were disappointing.

Maria Velikaya danced well, with appropriate despair and hope as Odette, and malevolent sparkle as Odile, so it was odd that she fumbled her fouettés (a series of turns with a whiplash motion of the raised leg) half way and improvised an ending. Oleg Eromkin’s Prince Siegfried was pleasant but lacked conviction. Sometimes the landings of his leaps were clumsy and he hopped during his pirouettes (turns on one leg). Simpler choreography, executed finely and with panache, would have been better. Dmitri Akulinin’s Rothbart was suitably powerful and menacing.

The corps de ballet were good with their timing and balances, if a bit wooden, but … the flapping. Girls, it’s ballet: you are not required to actually take flight; a gentle undulation of the arms suffices.

Another worthy dancer, in both productions, was Sergei Fedorkov as the festive jester, as Harlequin and in a pas de trois (dance for three people). His energy reached out beyond the proscenium and his jetés (type of leaps) and pirouettes were accomplished and exciting.

From pink frills to mischief and battles, The Nutcracker could be described as a pantomime ballet, appealing to youngsters. Irina Kolesnikova and Margarita Avdeyeva were lovely as the older and younger Clara, respectively. The national dances were commendable, the brief Chinese dance being particularly charming.

However, there shouldn’t have been reminders of basic stagecraft, with flaws such as a headdress falling off; men’s costume neck ruffles flying up into their faces when they jumped; wispy wigs; a wand looking somewhat like an egg lifter, losing the lifter bit and rendering it more like a meaningless stick; and a tentative skirt appearing from the wings and then retreating. And the dancers should not come off their pointes or look disinterested instead of projecting out to the audience.

It’s no easy feat, attending to the myriad aspects of staging a classical ballet. But that’s what is required and if you’re going to put in the effort, why not do it fantastically well, leaving the audience exhilarated.

While much of the time Russian ballet is the best in the world, sometimes it isn’t. Just because it says “Russian ballet” and costs hundreds of rands a ticket doesn’t mean you’re getting the real deal.

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