Review: St Petersburg Ballet’s Swan Lake – Irina Kolesnikova alone worth the trip to Macau

Prima ballerina Irina Kolesnikova is far and away the best thing in a tweaked, simplified version of Swan Lake at The Venetian Macao, in which the overall standard of solo dancing never rises above average

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 12:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 2:57pm

The most successful of Russia’s many international touring ballet companies, St Petersburg Ballet Theatre is continually on the road worldwide and this winter sees them bring Swan Lake to Singapore and Macau before they head down to Australia and New Zealand for a Christmas run of The Nutcracker. The troupe’s greatest asset is its prima ballerina, Irina Kolesnikova, and her Odette/Odile was by far the best feature of Swan Lake.

Strictly no-frills in terms of sets and costumes (as you’d expect, given the exigencies of touring) and in Macau performed to recorded music, the production is the traditional Soviet-era version, complete with Jester and happy ending.

Some passages have been simplified and there were some odd changes to the end of the Black Swan pas de deux – the Prince did a simple manege of jumps instead of his usual fouettés and the coda where he normally dances with Odile was replaced by an additional solo for the ballerina, presumably to showcase Kolesnikova more.

Small though the stage at The Venetian is, it looked very thinly peopled – Prince Siegfried and the Queen Mother had depressingly few courtiers, and the Hungarian and Polish dances needed more performers to make an impact.

All this is understandable for a touring company and St Petersburg Ballet is to be commended for its dedication to bringing full-scale productions of the classics to new audiences. The dancers’ discipline and ability to adapt to different venues are admirable. The corps de ballet were clean and accurate as the swans.

Yurii Baryshnikov as Rothbart and Farukh Sadyrkulov as the Jester did a creditable job and among the women, the lyrical Maria Velikaia stood out as one of the lead swans.

That said, the overall standard of solo dancing never rose above average. While Dmitri Akulinin made a handsome Prince and partnered well, his solos were well below par. To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, to fail to finish one double tour en l’air may be regarded as a misfortune, to mess up three in a row looks remarkably like carelessness.

It’s worth pointing out that, while the company’s headquarters are in St Petersburg, few if any of the dancers other than Kolesnikova are graduates of the celebrated Vaganova Academy there. Talent can come from anywhere, training is another question, and it’s a common mistake to assume that simply being from Russia (or other parts of the old Soviet Union) as most of St Petersburg Ballet’s dancers are a guarantee of quality.

I once jokingly suggested that Hong Kong Ballet should change its name to the Hong Kong Russian Ballet to attract a bigger audience. Their Swan Lake, last seen here in August, offers far higher standards of dancing and production than this one. It’s sad to think that many people who went to Macau (and paid more for their seats, not to mention the cost of ferry tickets) because of the St Petersburg name probably didn’t see their own home company’s superior version.

However, what Hong Kong Ballet does not have is a ballerina of Kolesnikova’s calibre and star power. A splendidly statuesque dancer with gorgeous fluidity of arms and back plus dazzling technique (her 32 fouettés were bang on the spot), she dominated the stage and her performance was well worth the trip to Macau.

Swan Lake, St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, The Venetian Theatre, Macau. Reviewed: December 2