thu 25/07/2024

Giselle, Royal Ballet/ Swan Lake, Russian State Ballet of Siberia | reviews, news & interviews

Giselle, Royal Ballet/ Swan Lake, Russian State Ballet of Siberia

Giselle, Royal Ballet/ Swan Lake, Russian State Ballet of Siberia

Two companies far apart in values and standards - pity the audience

The Royal Ballet's 'Giselle': 'One of the finest classical productions there is'© Bill Cooper/ROH

The chasm between the top-class ballet available to London-area ballet-goers and the low-grade stuff peddled in the regions is the field where the battle to save ballet’s soul is nightly won or lost.

Nothing could be more dispiriting than to see the Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s Swan Lake in Oxford one night, and the Royal Ballet’s Giselle in London the next, knowing that for many unaware Brits without easy access to the capital, Birmingham or Edinburgh the phrase “Russian ballet” implies some shamanic edict of unchallenged natural superiority. Far from it.

One can start with the productions: after all, with various casts on offer, of different levels of skill and art, it’s the production that for most people will dictate whether they go home impressed. A good production survives a poor cast: the Royal Ballet’s Giselle is one of the finest classical productions there is, its settings by John Macfarlane of marvellous autumnal outdoors spookiness and quaintness, Jennifer Tipton’s lighting as dappled and mysterious as could be desired in any tale of the supernatural, and its performers, from top to bottom of the cast, know what they’re doing and are coached to do it damn well so as to lure the audience into Giselle’s rustic, haunted world.

Both stories are tales of a single fatal day. Giselle takes place on the day of the vine harvest, when peasants celebrate with a day off, their masters take a festive day’s hunting, and the young Duke dresses himself as a peasant to amuse himself by seducing one of the village girls. But he picks the wrong girl: Giselle is blameless, sheltered and enchantingly sweet, and when his cover is blown by a forester, she breaks under his betrayal, and suddenly he feels conscience. The formerly carefree young lord sleeplessly ranges into the forest to find her grave, where he is seized by the ghosts of all the other, less forgiving Giselles in the world and forced to dance himself to death. His Giselle challenges the rules to help him beat off her vengeful sisters, and disappears while he survives to live in a new consciousness of his actions.

Odette/Odile’s duality is an endless mirror into female wishes as well as a mode to search the differences between spirituality and fantasy

Swan Lake is also the tale of one day in a young aristocrat’s life, but this time he is dead by the end of it. Trapped in dull court routine, with a dynastic marriage threatened, he escapes to the wild outdoors (or possibly his inner world) and encounters swans just as they are magically turning back into girls, briefly permitted release from their evil slavemaster’s daytime tyranny. The Prince and the swans’ Queen are two fugitives, attracted to each other. But the evil genius makes the young man forget his new love by fashioning a doppelganger to seduce him into betrayal. In this story deception costs the life of the young man, his attempt to re-avow his broken love to the Swan Queen not working to set evil to rights.

Arguably both sexes get the thick end of the moral accusations in both these stories: men are deceivers led by their desires, women let themselves too easily be seduced into their fantasies. However, there are far deeper complexities and truths too: Albrecht, while he may be too worldly to kill himself in remorse as Siegfried does in Swan Lake, is undoubtedly a wiser and sorrier man at dawn, and Giselle’s forgiveness of him once she so painfully reaches the other world is a beautiful reflection of the wholesale absorbency of utmost love. Siegfried’s deception has much to do with the oppression of material imperatives and the urge to seek interior imaginative places to go into, however dark. Odette/Odile’s duality, like the role of the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, is an endless mirror into female wishes as well as a mode to search the differences between spirituality and fantasy.

These are so endlessly fascinating as themes of exploring human nature, one’s own and those other options that are offered by fine performers and productions, that they do explain at least in part why the New Theatre, Oxford was filled on Tuesday for the Siberian Ballet’s Swan Lake. But it was mortifying to hear from the very first notes such incompetent playing by the skeletal company orchestra (only 29 players in total), and to see from curtain-up performers of such half-baked technical and theatrical standards.

1895_Swan_Lake_PreobrazhenskayaThe designs are traditional, in a pop-up calendar way, rather than in creating an imagined place on stage (pictured right, the corps of swans in the original 1895 Swan Lake production) and the producer has edited and abridged the story, pasting things here and there, so that it will end with Odette sorrowing by the lake for the drowned Siegfried, with her opening music looping back in circular implications for the narrative. That this makes no sense when Rothbart is also dead by now is to be overlooked, along with the dismemberment of Tchaikovsky’s music both on the page and from the pit.

One supposes the seasoned public is also expected to be blind to the quality of dancing. The Siegfried was not, as billed, the victor of the promising-sounding All Russian Ballet Competition 2010, Dmitri Sobolevsky, but an apology for a dancer - Vyacheslav Kapustin, I was told by the management - girly, soft-legged and overpromoted in a manner that Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are quite ruthless in parodying. I doubt young Ekaterina Bulgutova, cast as the Swan Queen, would get out of a British corps de ballet with her skills, though she does have one of those fine-boned Russian physiques that promise so much. A man sitting behind me was pointing out to his companion that Raymond Gubbay promotes this company's comprehensive UK tour: “So his name should guarantee good quality, shouldn't it? Because this isn’t good quality, is it?” I can't disagree. And I am sorry to say it, as I understand Siberia's problems from my recent visit to this company's base in Krasnoyarsk, but they should not be degrading their own aspirations or those of their paying audience by touring performances as bad as this one.

Polunin last night was the finest Albrecht I can think of having seen since Irek Mukhamedov 20 years ago

So last night, even to watch an uninteresting leading lady like Roberta Marquez as Giselle in Covent Garden was such a quantum leap upwards - given the scale difference in production and company values - that it seemed an undeserved blessing to see a fabulous male performance by a new young star.

You’ve heard my encomia for Sergei Polunin before as he climbs through the male repertoire. Albrecht is the pinnacle of classical male roles, not only for its dramatic demands but its relentless combination of featherlight partnering skills and highest solo virtuosity. Polunin last night was the finest Albrecht I can think of having seen in Britain since Irek Mukhamedov 20 years ago, much younger than the Russian was when he came to this production, but with a grandeur and solemn grace you see hardly anywhere in the world.

He is taller and finer-built than the great Mukhamedov, with long limbs, a heartrendingly craggy face, and high, shapely jumps that made me hold my breath while he finished them off with tapered elegance. While poor Marquez was giving the Mad Scene her all, one couldn’t not watch Polunin giving a mental scene of his own, a thin-skinned, naive Albrecht reacting twitch after twitch as conscience and shame poured into him. Perhaps he slightly overdid the final dramatic collapse as Albrecht faces his own death, but this was a young man’s fervour as he inhabited this supreme role, and in every way Polunin has become what one dreams of finding in a ballet artist: someone not only capable of breathtakingly perfected technical finesse but a magnetic and searching personality who promises to tell you new things each time about this familiar but shape-shifting art.

He was assisted in every last degree by a vibrant musical performance of Adam's watercoloured score under Koen Kessels’s baton, rich with frissons, hauntings, colour changes, emotional starts, narrative cliffhangers and dansante sweetness, crowned by a sumptuous viola soloist in Act Two.


Russian State Ballet of Siberia Nutcracker was wonderful at new Wimbledon Theatre. One of the most delightful I have seen, with superb dancing, dazzling costumes and a simple but imaginative fairytale set. Snowflakes, Arabian dancers, Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince were exquisite to watch!!! And a hearty fight between mice and toy soldiers for small boys to enjoy. Orchestra a bit patchy, but dancing was beautiful. I will be going to see it again at Ayelsbury, it was so, so lovely.

I've just seen 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Don Quichotte' and 'Swan Lake' performed by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia and I was very happy with the artists' performances. Some of them, like Arkady Zinov (Mercutio in 'Romeo and Juliet'), Maria Kuimova (Lady Capulet in 'Romeo and Juliet' and Odile/Odette in 'Swan Lake'), Anastasia Kazantseva (Mercedes in 'Don Quichotte' and the Spanish Bride in 'Romeo and Juliet') are very good, and I was extremely impressed by Dmitry Sobolevsky's virtuosity and expressivity as Basil in 'Don Quichotte': some of his leaps made the audience gasp audibly! And he is only 19: unless he injures himself badly, he can only get better, so keep his name in your diary! OK, so sometimes the dancing wasn't very 'clean': the corps de ballet were not very well synchronized, the dancers were slightly off balance on landing, and in one instance a male dancer nearly dropped his partner. But this is a live stage performance, not a video where scenes were shot again and again until everything was perfect. I've seen performances at the Royal Opera House and even with top dancers, there will always be the potential for 'glitches'. Also some dancers are not technically perfect, but make up for it in other ways. Thiago Soares, for instance, isn't very 'clean' but he has an extraordinary stage presence and good acting skills. My violin teacher managed to see one of Rudolf Nureev's last performance, and she told me that, even though he was no longer technically perfect, his 'genius' more than compensated for it. I once attended a recital by the violonist Itzhak Perlman: at one point his bow attacked the string from a wrong angle and he produced a 'goat-like' sound, and at another point he missed an 'harmonic' (when you don't stop the string with your finger, but let the finger barely touch the string, to produce an eerie, magical sound - lots of these at the end of Ernest Chausson's 'Poeme'). Yet he is one of the best violonists in the world. The orchestra was much better than what the author seems to imply, although definitely on the small side. The first first violin, Antonina Rogatkina, plays in tune (I have absolute pitch), gets a really rich sonority out of her instrument, crystal clear on the E string, mysterious and almost viola-like on the G string, and she has a very good vibrato, which she doesn't overuse: I would gladly have had her as my violin teacher (I studied the instrument for 12 years). The oboe and clarinets were also very good (very important for Tchaikovsky). The one thing I found irritating was that some of the people in the audience acted like they had never been to the opera in their lives, but I've met with the same attitude in London, Paris, Berlin, Wien. The best audience I've met with was at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam: some of them had even brought the score!

I would wish the wonder of ballet to fall upon everyone who attends a show, but it's a desperate pity that so little top-class ballet does tour the UK, and the gap between Bolshoi, Mariinsky and most touring Russian companies is dismaying. Maria Kuimova & Dmitri Sobolevsky (whom I've seen in Siberia) are certainly better than the leads I saw.

Tonight in Stoke at The Regent, from early in the performance of Sleeping Beauty, 4 of us found the on-stage chatter distracting. Not that of the King and Queen, but early on a CdB female talking out of the side of her mouth to a male courtier - was just bearable, but, in Act III, mid-stage courtiers were speaking to their male companions during the dancing of the principals. These 2 girls seemed to have a dislike of the principal male and seemed hyper-critical of principal female. More than once they were apparently suppressing laughter. They appeared mocking and to have a lack of respect for fellow dancers, and for the paying audience. One can forgive the Maypole almost been allowed to fall on the male carrying it away, can forgive Bluebird male seeming to be full of 'flu. Wooden dancing and faltering moves by the male CdB. My word, what is going on with this company off stage? The director should give those young dancers some advice, including the astronomic amount a seat actually costs. I have never felt like asking for my money back but tonight I feel cheated, cheated of being allowed to concentrate on the fantastic dancing of the principals.

This is an interesting article, but why is the name of the author not given?

I don't think the author knows much about ballet my friend. She probably hasn't been outside the M25 in her life. i've seen Semenyaka, Bessmertnova, Lopatkina, Zakharova and Osipova live and the Siberian State Ballet are not bad.

I've just come from seeing "Swan Lake" in Cardiff. Despite a poor audience in terms of numbers and enthusiasm the RSB made great efforts and the small orchestra played well. The costumes were gorgeous and I was moved by many of the performances. Who except a ballet snob cares about a few technical inadequacies ? I paid £13.00 (OAP) to be entertained, had a good view of the performance, and it was worth every penny.

Having been to Cardiff the other day to see Swan Lake by the State Ballet of Siberia I thought I might provide some independent comments for anybody who might have been dissuaded from going to see it in the coming weeks by the disparaging article above. The State Ballet of Siberia production is to me a refreshing deviation from the stock standard Mariinsky or Bolshoi production in that there is no Jester and no Crossbow, and the Von Rothbart character appears in the first scene as a human evil genius aristocrat who lures Siegfried to the lake. This enables psychodrama and nice continuity for Von Rothbart’s subsequent re-appearance with Odile in Act II Scene 1 back at the castle. Interestingly, the girls who perform their national dances here are the ones proposed as brides to Siegfried whom he of course rejects for Odile, which makes sense as otherwise the national dances are just like appendages to the story. I won’t go any further and spoil the ending except to say that Von Rothbart who clearly has it in for Siegfried from the very beginning of course gets his just rewards, and poor tragic Odette ….. These are to me interesting and refreshing professional artistic modifications to the heretofore somewhat disjointed and puzzling Swan Lake story where the hook-nosed Von Rothbart character always suddenly appears out of nowhere for no apparent reason at the lake in Mariinsky or Bolshoi productions. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the ballet was written and changed many times in pre-revolutionary Russia and Tchaikovsky was a fervent nationalist and royalist. The ballet was also used as a political tool by the Soviets, so its complicated. Kirill Litvinenko is really excellent and malevolent as Von Rothbart. He is tall and angular, and certainly no caricature. Vyacheslav Kapustin is fine and believable as a 21 year old virgin heir apparent; he was described as an apology for a dancer, girly and soft-legged by the reviewer above so he must have a twin or been weight training and shaving over the past year. Finally, Ekaterina Bulgutova was quite lovely as Odette and although she managed around 30 fouettes as Odile, I think she found it quite challenging. It must be quite difficult to transmogrify back and forth from Odette to Odile for a young dancer. To say that she would find it hard to get out of a British corps de ballet with her skills as the reviewer wrote is a terrible, uninformed statement to make for somebody who is supposedly a professional ballet journalist. The State Ballet of Siberia is however a small young company with a small orchestra. They and their Swan Lake should be encouraged by experts of the media who are experts because they are expected to understand the genesis of a ballet like Swan Lake, encouraged and not disparaged, and my advice to you is go see some refreshing home grown talent from Krasnoyarsk. In the spirit of the above review, it would be much more rewarding than trudging all the way to boring old London to see the umpteenth, boring production of boring old Giselle. God, the management can’t even produce a home grown Queen of the Wilis. Let’s be clear, Tamara Rojo is Spanish and was stolen from Scotland, D’Arcy Bussell is half-Australian and now lives in Sydney and even Margot Fonteyn was half-Brazilian. When the management of her beloved Royal Ballet nurtures an English or British Ulanova, Plisetskaya, Semenyaka, Bessmertnova, Makhalina, Lopatkina, Zakharova or Osipova from the corps de ballet that’s when I’ll finally cherish what this particular reviewer writes. She’s probably miffed because they took the mickey out of her in Krasnoyarsk by referring to the fact that the Royal Ballet was only founded in the 1930’s by Ninette de Valois who was an Irishwoman who came from the Ballet Russe, whereas the Mariinsky has been going for 300 years. She shouldn’t take it out on the great British public who are fortunate not to live inside the M25, by dissuading them from seeing the State Ballet of Siberia. To repeat that famous line about critics – I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Pretty soon it will be behind me.

I applaud you! Very well said!

I have just seen Siberian Ballet thrre nights running at Blackpool grand theatre - La Fille Mal Gardee, The Nutcracker and SwanLake - Alexander Kuinov was excellent as Widow Simone and it was interesting to see a different version(from the Frederick Ashton) of a very old Ballet. The perfomance of the Nutcracker was excellent and it was again good to see a slightly different version with the role of Sugar Plum Fairy written althought the dance is incorporated into the role of Marie - danced wonderfully by Natalia Bobrov. The young artistic director Serei Bobrov seems to be trying hard to bring something new to these performances and that should not be discouraged. Howver bravery in this field often goes awry the performance of Swan Lake did not come anywhere near the standard of the other two. Arkady Zinovev as Seigfried seemed more confindent than when I saw him in the same role last year but he still needs to work hard to improve further - there seems to be a problem with the orchestra - being small 20-24 players at most it has 6 in the brass section and although this did not affect the first two ballets at all in Swan Lake there were moments the brass section drowned out the rest of the orchestra and it seemed out of place to have what at times was virtually a brass band recital in the middle of Swan Lake - anyway the imbalance between the sections of the orchestra may have had a dischordant effect. Although the disappearence of Siegfried ib to the lake was good in terms of special effects- it seemed to dampen the impact of what was supposed to be a tragic ending. Anyway I am sure others present will have seen a diiferent performance entirely ( differing opinions livens the debate so thats ok)

Having seen over 50 performances of the Royal Ballet, La Fille Mal Gardee at Wimbledon was the 'Giselle' performance. I mean it was sweet simple unspoilt beautiful. It was if a beautiful flower had come from the vast Northern Lands. I was 'moved' as much but in a slightly different way as I was with some of those wonderful performances at Covent Garden. Siberian Ballet!. I love you! In future I will go to all your Wimbledon performances

The views of a typical critic. Snobbish! My sister was a ballet dancer for many years so I've seen quite a few. I saw the RSBOS twice at Malvern within two days, Nutcracker & Swan Lake. Yes the orchestra was small but highly effective. How would you expect to fit a full size orchestra in a provincial theatre? The ballets themselves were wonderful and a brilliant evening was had by all! (Judging by the packed house audience reaction). Oh and the tickets? £20 each! Great value.

Have just seen the Siberian company perform Swan Lake. It was excellent and they performed in a way that reflects nothing but credit on the production. Pleasingly I did not have to take out a mortgage to fund our visit. There was only one interval in contrast to the two put on at the ROH. Two intervals ensure that long distance travellers arrive home at 2.00am the next day. Let's have more provincial performances and less carping from clever critics.

I went to a matinee performance of Swan Lake by the Siberian Ballet on Wednesday at the Norwich Theatre Royal and I thought it was excellent. The dancing was superb and the orchestra played beautifully. Lovely costumes too. It is amazing how well they performed on what is quite a small stage.

I went to a performance of The Nutcracker by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia few years ago and I was embarrassed. I paid for the whole family as a Christmas treat and we didn’t rerun after the interval. We usually go to Birmingham Hippodrome which produces an excellent version. But in my naivety I thought this one would be even better. It wasn’t anywhere near in terms of costume, set or dancing. Is the Russian State Ballet of Siberia the same as the Russian State Ballet and Opera House? There are performances under these two different names locally and I don’t know which I should try - if any.

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