Swan Lake | St Petersburg BalletLeft – Irina Kolesnikova and Dmitri Akulinin. Cover – (Soloists) Irina Kolesnikova and Dmitri Akulinin

What is the sound of two dozen pointe shoes shuffling? This is just one of the myriad things that caught my attention while watching St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake. I had the pleasure of sitting quite close to the stage on opening night at the Maj, and so the dancers’ breaths, their facial expressions, and their unison footfalls became just as interesting to me as the rest of it. It was wonderful to see the graceful, powerful, gravity-defying choreography, the scores of costumes, the evocative set, but the experience was heightened by an acute awareness of how these young human bodies must train for years on end to get to this point. En pointe.

Not only that, but I was also struck by just how remarkable and important tradition in the arts can be. Yes, the arts need practitioners who are driven to push boundaries and alter the creative landscape of their practice, but St. Petersburg Ballet is banking on tried-and-true practices that are more than a century old. They are relying on the idea that a work can hold its own legacy, that this work is greater than the sum of its parts, greater than the composer, the choreographers, or the company alone. They are placing value on an art form in the faith that it will always have worth in the public’s eye, even when that public’s eye is constantly scanning for the next great thing.

Irina Kolensnikova as Odette-Odile is playing the role of a lifetime, and she has mastered it. She is graceful but strong, and those lovely arms which must resemble wings are outstretched both in agony and ecstasy. We see how torturous it is for Odette to live her fate; Irina doesn’t let a single flick or flutter, pirouette or fouetté happen arbitrarily. When she becomes Odile, her agonised expression transforms into one of aggressive, fierce delight. It is as Odile that she gives us the famous sequence of fouettés that is beloved by audiences, who can’t help but applaud such a marvel of human ability. This audience began to applaud Kolensnikova before she even got halfway through the sequence, but I can’t be certain if she made it to 32. I wasn’t counting.

Dimchik Sakeev is certainly fearsome and imposing as Rothbart, and Erkin Rakhmatulaev is a lovely bounding, twirling Jester. The famous Cygnets dance was flawlessly quick-footed, and so tightly are they wound together that you wonder how they aren’t constantly kicking each other in the shins. Dimitri Akulinin was a handsome Prince Siegfried, and although Siegfried is firmly placed in the shadow of the swan princess, Akulinin is a gentle, but firm support as the role demands. The company is rounded out by other featured dancers and soloists, and of course the beautiful corps of swans.

In fact, this is one of the most enchanting things about this ballet, and one that gave me pause; each ballerina dances beautifully in her own right, but seeing the swans’ movements multiplied by the dozen, one dancer mirroring the next, is something altogether astonishing. At times, they are made to stand frozen on stage, as still as Swan Lake itself, while the prima ballerina takes the centre. And if you scan the swans while they wait, poised like statues, not a toe nor a finger is out of place. Then, as the music changes, and it’s their turn to move, you can hear the sound of two dozen pointe shoes shuffling.

St Petersburg Ballet presents
Swan Lake

Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre
Dates: 31 July – August 11, 2013
Bookings: 132 849 | www.ticketek.com.au

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