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Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet review - Xander Parish lacks the spark of wildfire | reviews, news & interviews

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet review - Xander Parish lacks the spark of wildfire

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet review - Xander Parish lacks the spark of wildfire

Heritage company fail to set stage alight in good, but not great, performance at the Royal Opera House

Birds of a feather: the Mariinsky corps de ballet in Swan Lake.© Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters

It's a Cinderella story: Xander Parish was plucked from obscurity in the Royal Ballet corps and trained by the Mariinsky to dance the greatest roles in the repertoire. Now, not only is he the first Briton to join the historic Russian company, he has also just been promoted to Principal after last night's performance of Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House.

To make the move on his home turf like this seems like the crowning move in a canny publicity campaign that has seen Parish in newspaper interviews and on the Today Programme in recent weeks. The hype around him has been carefully built over a longer period, with a guest appearance at English National Ballet in January occasioning cries for him to be brought back to London and properly recognised as the "finest British-born danseur noble on the world stage".

Xander Parish as Siegfried, Viktoria Tereshkina as Odette, and Andrei Yermakov as Von Rothbart in 'Swan Lake' with the Mariinsky Ballet. Photo by Jennie Walton.Now I like a good rags-to-riches trajectory as much as the next person, and I would love to be able to rave about Parish now and say it's all true. But the performance I saw on stage last night simply does not warrant it. Parish has a splendid figure, yes. He holds himself well, and he partners extremely well. He can jump high and big with those long, slender, oh-so-elegant legs. He has clearly worked like crazy during his six years of intensive Mariinsky training. But these things alone do not a principal make, or at least not a world-class one. It has to come from inside: without that spark of wildfire at the heart, you are only ever a good dancer, not a great one. Parish (pictured right with Viktoria Tereshkina and Andrei Yermakov; photo by Jennie Walton) may yet prove to have it - for a few moments right at the end, when Siegfried thinks Odette is dying and faces up boldly to Rothbart, there was a sudden intensity of commitment in his expression and his movement that had been lacking in the rest of the performance. But it was too little, too late to redeem what had been up till then only a good, and not a great Swan Lake.

Parish is not solely responsible for that. The whole company seemed to be cooking only on medium, not high (with a few exceptions). Their Sergeyev production boasts beautiful, if slightly faded designs, and the same mood seemed to pervade the dancing: the character dances in Act III (here called Act II), which other companies present with such fizz, were unremarkable. Even the jester (Yaroslav Baibodin) looked like a danseur noble uncomfortably shoehorned into a soubrette role, inviting unsympathetic comparison with the fizzing performance of Vyacheslav Lopatin in last summer's Bolshoi tour.

Tereshkina really shines as OdileViktoria Tereshkina, a late substitute for the scheduled Odette/Odile, Oxana Skorik, brought some welcome charisma to the stage. Animated from the inside the way Parish is not (or not yet), she is fundamentally, metabolically a principal. Even subdued, her naturally imperious quality makes her Odette less fragile than some. There is a reservoir of mistrust in this swan-woman that doesn't let her succumb fully to Siegfried's love, and Parish is not the Siegfried to overcome that: during the White Swan pas de deux, he looks at her like a partner watching for his next hand-hold, not a lover giving of his heart. As Odile, though, Tereshkina really shines: the meaning of that seductive, knowing choreography is quite obvious. Each flash of a leg up into attitude derrière is a flagrant provocation, both shocking and mesmerising, and her brief gesture at imitating Odette's vulnerability is evilly, satisfyingly manipulative.

Andrei Yermakov as Rothbart is a dancer to do justice to the role's excellent costumes, some of the best in a production blessed with many splendid outfits. The lakeside Rothbart is a sort of disco-goth Hermes, in a black catsuit with painted silver feathers and a little pointed helmet; wearing it, the lithe Yermakov leaps and twists like a demented crow tumbling on the breeze, otherworldly. His court appearance, in black and gold doublet with a black lion mane and a headdress like Sauron's, is no less satisfying. Nadezhda Batoeva, a first soloist who danced Kitri on Tuesday and appears as Gamzatti on 10 August, impressed me in the pas de trois with her willowy elegance and stunningly arched feet, but not with her musical interpretation, which was a curious blend of the langurous and the clipped, such that she always seemed to arrive rushed at the end of a phrase.

The corps de ballet performed their exhausting role in the white acts with the discipline and grace one would expect. There is always a frisson of delight in seeing the exquisite Mariinsky corps do Ivanov's choreography, fielding so many swans (32!) with that curious regularity of height that one seldom sees outside Russian companies. But I missed the intensity of emotional involvement that other companies manage to get out of their swans, who after all are not just background ("surplus girls in the moonlight", as South African choreographer Dada Masilo so memorably puts it), but Odette's friends, women sharing her terrible fate, and - as their choreography conveys - both protective of her and suspicious of Siegfried. They were not aided, it is true, by either the Drigo arrangement of the last act or Boris Gruzin's heavy conducting throughout; the funereal pace at which he took the oveture had me squirming in my seat, thinking wistfully of what Koen Kessels can do with the same score.

A Mariinsky Swan Lake should be, can be, such a wonderful thing. One wants so much for it to be the best that there is. But the best Swan Lakes I have seen in the last two years were both by British companies, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, who may lack the Russian company's stunning pedigree, but who invest heart and soul in what they do. It may indeed be time for Xander Parish to come back to Britain, but he might just learn a thing or two here that he hasn't picked up in Russia.

@hweibye

Comments

Is the mostly boring role of the Prince in Swan Lake a good one to judge a dancer by?

I've seen a few of XP's performances in London & St Petersburg & IMO your comments are spot on !

I found this to be an entertaining review - and agree with observation re: the awkwardly calculated Press-buzz surrounding Xander's (subsequent!) return to the British scene. However the suggestion at the end, that the Mariinsky does not invest 'heart and soul' into its work while the Royal Birmingham Ballet does is unrealistic. Rather like a yappy, albeit plucky pup nipping at the feet of a (heritage, pedigree) Borzoi (?!). This is not to suggest the BRB is not a fine company. Parish is not perhaps the greatest sizzler on the Russian stage atm, but I think the Royal Ballet should do the right thing, diffuse this strange Soviet-era tension and give this excellent dancer a bash at, say, Marguerite and Armand, a role which he is able to dance, and does dance, with a good deal more emotional breadth.

Thank you for an honest review (one of the few). Being a big ballet fan I could never (and cannot still) figure out the fuss they make around Xander Parish. Being quite a mediocre dancer he has never been truly adored by the sceptical Russian audience (only in a couple of parts - like Albert in Giselle - he is actually good). The worse he is on stage the better reviews he gets in press... Astonishing. I suggest there was a big bet involving a lot of money having been put on it: whether Fateyev can create a star out of this dancer. Otherwise why bother? Suppose ROH invites him back and realises that he is not as good as he is said to be...he will go back to holding spears....?

Mr. Parish looked away from the Royal Ballet in order to have a life, a life that he wanted and believed in, in dance, and he understood that that would not happen under the then management. Clearly he made the right decision. Our critic feels that he does not have everything she wishes a dancer in his position should have and as such is a reflection of her personal taste. A reflection of my personal taste is that when I see Mr Parish I see a dancer who took control of his life and career and if he's as bad as the sneerocracy seems to think - at least it's as a principal of a great company rather than in the back row of a company whose school consistently fails to provide it with leading dancers. This is a man who has worked, and is still working, to get where he is.

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