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St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre

'Swan Lake'

by Kate Snedeker

February 14, 2008 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland

The St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre ended its 2007-08 UK tour with a single performance of "Swan Lake" at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.  Led by prima ballerina, Irina Kolesnikova, the company gave Edinburgh audiences a solid, if not entirely inspired- looking performance of the classic ballet. 

The production, which the company has alternated with a number of other full-length productions on tour, is Konstantin Sergeev's revised staging of the Petipa and Ivanov choroegraphy.  With refreshingly lush sets (Smeyen Pastukh) and costumes (Galina Solovieva), this Swan Lake is visually pleasing, but a number of odd staging and tempo choices and a lackluster orchestra made for a less than completely satisfying evening.

Sergeev's "Swan Lake" is stripped down in all but length (an overly long three and a bit hours), concessions to a busy touring schedule.  There's no Benno, surprisingly little mime and a sparse array of courtiers at Siegfried's party.  Though Vyacheslav Sunegin's jester veers towards the annoying side of cute, Sunegin was by far the technical and artistic stand-out among the men, if not the whole cast.   A dancer in the true demi-caractère mold, Sunegin was outstanding in the bravura sections without sacrificing any precision.  Unlike Pavel Kholoimenko's poor daft tutor, who was all caricature and no character, Sunegin's jester had personality.

And it was the personality he supplied that seemed to otherwise go missing from this performance.  The corps was outstanding, but the production looked like it had been done one too many times.  The dancing was there, but the heart was not.  The orchestra didn't help; the live quartet for “La La La Human Steps” the previous night had far more energy and passion than the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre's full orchestra.   Tchaikovsky's score has some of the most memorable musical moments in classic ballet, but they didn't sing during this performance.

What did sing was the corps. In true Russian fashion, they danced truly as one.  Given that there had been a performance the previous evening and the theatre has no large rehearsal room, the dancers must have barely had time to do even a quick spacing run-through.  Yet, barring one or two obvious moments, both the group dances in Act 1 Scene 1 and the swan corps sections were in perfect harmony.  The women’s arms rose and sank, a flock flying together.  It was a shame, however, that the first scene at the lake and later scenes were marred by a tempo that could only be described as painfully slow.  I did not recognize much of the music in the final act – whether because this version used very different music or because it's music that has been excerpted from the versions I've seen.

Least inspiring were the two leads.  Kolesnikova does not lack technique, but the overly slow tempos took the electricity out of her pas de deux with Oleg Kharyutkin.  She also relied heavily on milking the applause, including during her first entrance when she struck a sustained arabesque that looked as utterly out place as the stretched-out music sounded.  I was much more convinced by her deliciously evil Odile than her nicely danced, but rather un-swan-evincing Odette.  Kharyutkin was a superb partner, with not a finger out of place in the pas de deux.  However, his solos betrayed fatigue, and his second act (ballroom) solos looked watered down and the steps sloppily finished.  He's an elegantly proportioned dancer with a beautiful line, and I strongly suspect that his performance was attributable to the length of  the long tour, not a lack of technique.

Happy ending aside (I find it much more moving when Siegfried has to pay a price for his betrayal), the production lost its momentum in the pivotal Black Swan pas de deux.  Each section was separated by very, very long silences whilst one wondered when the other dancer would re-appear.  It looked odd, but worse, completely drained the pas de deux of its narrative power.  It wasn't a seduction, but a series of solos by dancers who were paying more attention to the audience than to each other.  Kolesnikova whipped off the 32 fouettés (counting double rotations), but with much travel to the front of the stage and  less than elegant technique.  By the end, there had been so many gaps in the action, that there was no spark. I've seen pas de deux with less technical pizazz, but much more emotional power.

Credit goes to Dymchik Saykeev for imbuing his Rothbart with power, despite his lack of height and the requisite silly-looking costume.  A big prize should go to the costume designer who can actually make Rothbart look believable – as if any Queen is going to let a painted and feathered stranger into her castle, let alone sit on her throne!

Some like the happy ending, but to me it makes ballet fizzle.  That aside, this was a competently danced, but un-fulfilling Swan Lake.  The dancers don't lack talent, nor do the sets lack lushness.  I wish I could have seen the production a few months ago when the dancers were fresh, for it might have made a big difference.  With a few tweaks here and there to improve the flow and restore tempos, this could go from just a solid touring production to something more special.

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