Swan Lake

13 January 11 words: Jared Wilson
It’s definitely no small event when these Russians come to town.
St Petersburg Ballet perform Swan Lake at the Royal Centre
St Petersburg Ballet Theatre perform Swan Lake at the Royal Centre

For all you Swan Lake novices out there (of which I was one until  I saw this performance) this is a ballet in four acts about love and anthropomorphism. It was fashioned from a series of nineteenth century folk tales by Vladimir Begichev and Vasiliy Geltser and set to a score by the great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This particular production was put on by St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, a company that has been held in high repute internationally since it formed in 1994. With a touring party of at least two dozen performers (and around the same amount in the orchestra) it’s definitely no small event when these Russians come to town.

Prince Siegfried (Dmitry Rudachenko), a young prince full of bright spirit and enthusiasm, has come of age.  Along with his present – a crossbow for hunting – his mother delivers the bombshell that it is time for him to marry. Siegfried is not best pleased but his mother insists and informs him there will be a selection of potential brides from which he must choose at his coming of age ball the next day.

That evening at twilight Siegfried sees a flock of swans flying towards the lake. He takes his crossbow and is about to shoot when the swan princess transforms into an beautiful young girl – Princess Odette (Alla Bocharova). However, she is under a spell cast by the evil sorcerer Rothbart (Sergei Davidov). By day she must live as a swan and can only regain human form at night. The rest of the swans are under the same spell and only a vow of eternal love to Odette will set them free. On hearing her story, Siegfried falls deeply in love and they spend the night dancing together. Siegfried is about to vow his undying love for Odette when Rothbart appears. The sorcerer returns Odette to her feathered form and reluctantly she follows him back to the lake.

Nadezda Ivanova in Swan Lake
Odette in Swan Lake

On the night of the ball Siegfried can think of nothing but his new love. Several young noblewomen his mother has chosen are presented to Siegfried but he rejects them all. Then, two mystery guests arrive; Rothbart and a beautiful young woman who appears to be Odette. However, the girl is actually Rothbart’s daughter Odile, who has been disguised to trick Siegfried. Completely unaware, Siegfried dances with Odile and is so beguiled by her that he pledges his eternal love. Triumphant, Rothbart then shows Siegfried a conjured image of Odette in her swan form still imprisoned in the lake, declaring her forever in his power. Horrified by this trickery, Siegfried flees from the ball.

Back at the lake he finds Odette and she forgives him but explains she will now remain under Rothbart’s spell until her death. Siegfried declares he would rather die than marry Odile and a fight ensues between him and Rothbart. Odette throws herself into the lake and Siegfried follows her. In the climax of their sacrifice, Rothbart and his powers are destroyed and the rest of the swans are set free. As the sun rises Siegfried and Odette ascend into heaven together, united for eternity.

This production was a joy from start to finish. The performance of Rothbart by  Sergei Davidov was particularly enjoyable as he showcased the character’s evil and cunning with his body language and facial expressions. Rudachenko and Ivanova were excellent as Siegfried and Odette, too – the former reminiscent of a young Christopher Dean, but without the skates. Special mention must go to Mikhail Ovcharov as the Jester, who danced with a perma-smile like Little Britain’s David Walliams and performed a perfect series of pirouettes, prompting cheers from the audience as well as a slighty dizzy feeling from me.

It was good to see in this company that several of the corps de ballet were a little more curvaceous than the stick-thin females often portrayed as "normal" for a ballet performance. This only added to, rather than hindered, the allure of their dancing. Perhaps the only down-side of this production was that, at times, it didn’t feel like the orchestra pushed it quite enough and the expected crescendo of Tchaikovsky’s score only really came through right at the end. Still, it was a top night out, and as a newcomer to Swan Lake, and ballet in general, I would definitely go again.

St Petersburg Ballet Theatre perform Swan Lake and Cinderella at the Royal Centre until Saturday 15 January 2011.

St Petersburg Ballet website
Royal Centre website

Tell us what you think