Thursday, October 29, 2015

SWAN LAKE - The Imperial Russian Ballet

Music: Tchaikovsky. Choreography: M.Petipa & L.Ivanov (Revised G.Taranda)
Canberra Theatre, October 21

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Imperial Russian Ballet corps de ballet.

A regular visitor to Canberra over the years, The Imperial Russian Ballet Company, a company of some 40 dancers,  which constantly tours the world presenting programs of popular ballets from the classic ballet repertoire, has built up a large following  in this city.  

The founder and artistic director of the company is Gediminas Taranda, himself a former Bolshoi Ballet soloist, but also a gifted choreographer and director. He sources his soloists and dancers from major ballet companies and ballet schools throughout Russia.

The ballet being toured this year is “Swan Lake”, one of the most enduring of all ballets, having been first performed in the Bolshoi Theatre in 1877.  The Imperial Russian Ballet Company’s version is based on the Petipa/Ivanov original, but includes the happy ending decreed  during the reign of Stalin in the 1930’s.  Sensitively adapted by Taranda to allow extensive touring, this production successfully preserves the integrity of the ballet, as well as providing a superb showcase of pure Russian ballet style and technique.

Through extensive use of painted backcloths, minimal props, and superb costumes, the production looks sumptuous. It is also beautifully danced by this handsome company in which the ensemble dancers are particularly notable for their accurate placement, attention to detail, and ability to connect with the audience.

The ballet is presented in two acts, each containing two scenes. The first scene, involving almost the entire company, takes place in the palace garden where Prince Siegfried (Nariman Beckzhanov) is entertaining friends at his coming of age party.

Taranda has eliminated much of the mime from this act and included rather more dancing than usual for the prince and his friends. These dances, choreographed in various combinations, and eventually involving the entire ensemble, are quite lovely, and performed in graceful, flowing, muted- toned costumes which the dancers manipulate to accent details of the choreography.  High point of this act is a spectacular solo for the Siegfried, which gave Beckzhanov the opportunity to display his virtuosic technique. Two Jokers, (Denys Simon and Alexandru Hihtii)  who also re-appear in the second act ballroom scene,  also provide some especially dazzling dancing.

Lina Seveliova and Nariman Beckzhanov
Sigfried and Odette
The second scene is the famous lake scene in which Siegfried discovers the Swan Princess Odette (Lina Seveliova).  Taranda has wisely allowed this scene to remain as Petipa and Ivanov conceived it, with the swans costumed in traditional white tutus with only the addition of a few sparkles to separate Odette from the others.

Seveliova is the perfect swan queen and very much the Russian ballerina. Her dancing is musical and her phrasing captivating.  She has an extraordinarily pliable back, reminiscent of Makarova in her heyday, long rippling arms, high extensions, a beautiful extended line and exquisite placement. In the famous pas de deux she performed several spectacular high overhead lifts without a hint of strain, effortlessly achieving the appearance of weightlessness.

 Bechzhanov also impressed in this act with his attentive partnering as well as his bravura solos. Maksim Marinin cut a fine figure as the evil sorcerer, Baron Von Rothbart bringing elegance and assertiveness to his interpretation. Again the entire corps, including the four cygnets, despite a punishing touring schedule, danced with precision and accuracy, highlighting the careful attention to detail obvious in their preparation.

For the dramatic third act Ballroom scene, the colour palette for the costumes is brighter and richer. Taranda again demonstrated his flair for attractive choreography and intelligent staging, taking full advantage of the opportunities offered to showcase the strength of the other dancers in his company.
Anna Pashkova brought great presence and musicality to the Russian dance, while Natalia Zheleznova, Elena Zhadan and Maria Repetieva showed off their polished techniques in the Hungarian and Spanish dances.  The male dancing throughout was uniformly strong.

Lina Seveliova and Nariman Beckzhanov
Sigfried and Odile

Appearing also as the black swan, Odile, Seveliova immediately grabbed attention with her striking entrance on the arm of Von Rothbart . With eyes flashing and bravura dancing she was the antithesis of the swan queen, attacking the technical difficulties of the black swan pas de deux with style and confidence.  Particularly interesting in this scene was an arresting male duet in which Von Rothbart  mirrored the movements of Siegfried.

Finally, the return to the lake and the swans for the final scene allowing Siegfried to  free  Odette from the clutches of  Von Rothbart and presumably live happily ever after, drew this fine production of “Swan Lake”  to its inevitable conclusion.

When the cheering subsided, most of the audience had plenty of time, while waiting to escape the chaos of the carpark which has now become an inescapable part of a visit to the Canberra Theatre Centre, to reflect on the quality of the production they had just witnessed,  as well as anticipate the new production of  “The Nutcracker” which The Imperial Russian Ballet Company  will bring to Canberra in 2016,

The Jokers
Denys Simon - Alexandru Hihtii

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