In a splattering of mainly four and five-star reviews it was, perhaps surprisingly, the Financial Times‘s Clement Crisp, maybe the hardest critic to please, who showered compliments over the company without restraint:
The world's stages are littered with productions of Swan Lake, the majority of which – as I know to my cost – are horrid and foolishly optimistic. One alone I find wholly engrossing, heart-touching, noble in its response to narrative as to Tchaikovsky's score, and that is the version staged by the Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, with which the company opened its London season on Monday.
Its virtues are those of the troupe as a dance-ensemble: elegance of means, nobility of expression and that historical resonance that announces every step, every dramatic attitude, is the fruit of long years of thought, aspiration and reverence for the art, which this ballet celebrates. I treasure the Mariinsky's scenery and costumes, which frame the piece so discreetly.
Debra Craine for The Times was all eyes for the company's regal star-ballerina, Lopatkina:
Uliana Lopatkina, produced the kind of performance for which she is duly famous.
Her Odette is an exceptional portrait of a maiden trapped in a swan's body by Von Rothbart's spell and trusting in Prince Siegfried's love to set her (and her fellow swans) free. Lopatkina's extravagant long limbs move as if in mourning for her lost self; the famous love duet aches with suffering. She is the loftiest dancer I've ever seen, and her beauty so otherworldly as to be virtually untouchable. Yet as Odile, the evil temptress who seduces Siegfried, Lopatkina shed her fragility and found a malicious strength in her dancing.
Though the Telegraph‘s Mark Manahan was under-whelmed by her prince:
In Daniil Korsuntsev she had, I'm afraid, a milksop of a prince. With a facial expression that ran the gamut from quite wan to slightly wanner (“Wan Lake”, indeed), he was a dependable enough partner but entirely unmemorable otherwise – for overall drama, attack and elevation, Andrey Ermakov's evil sorcerer Von Rothbart put both him and Alexei Nedviga's Jester in the shade.
But, like everyone, he was completely in agreement with the sublime qualities of the Odette/Odile:
Lopatkina, however, is very special indeed. The grande dame of the Mariinsky, she is a dancer both in complete command technically and incapable of making a lazy or unconsidered movement. At the lake, in her first encounters with Siegfried, her Odette's attitudes and arabesques seemed to evanesce into the night mist; in Act 2, as the wicked seductress Odile, she halted every extension of every long limb with such steely abruptness that she seemed to stab the air around her.
Not only, too, did she execute exactly 32 gorgeously phrased fouettés (for a tall, skinny girl, she turns amazingly). She also did so with a very rare fidelity to the beat of the music, so much so that one forgave her her amusingly Russian pause straight afterwards to take a bow.
And Judith Mackrell in the Guardian:
Lopatkina is, beyond argument, both singular and sublime. Her exaggeratedly pliant limbs and grandly attenuated adagio are unmatched by any dancer on the planet. To many, her interpretation of Odette, a princess locked inside an enchanted tower, remains definitive.
And the Independent‘s Zoë Anderson:
As the betrayed heroine Odette, she dances with mournful softness, her phrasing long and steady. As Odette's wicked double, the black swan Odile, she spins with fierce accuracy. In one whirling sequence, there's a burnished precision to the way she flings up one curved wrist.
She's still a stylised, remote presence. This is not a dramatic Swan Lake; the company dance with calm refinement, not urgency. There's a lovely spring to the corps de ballet's detailed footwork, with buoyant little jumps – yet they've been grander in the sweeping lines of swans.
Ah yes, those Swans! Maybe they have been grander, but Craine was impressed:
The company's inestimable corps de ballet of swans, the production's glorious backbone, shimmered in the moonlight, a marvel of precision, timing and heavenly white tutus.
The Evening Standard's Sarah Frater puts it nicely:
Sublime is not a word you can overuse to describe the lake side scene in Swan Lake. Most ballet companies do it pretty well, but the Mariinsky elevates it to another realm, with row upon row of perfectly even, perfectly aligned dancers, each a downy-soft swan maiden, and all moving in hypnotic harmony.
It's not so much a line-up of pretty girls, as an aura for Odette, the swan who is really a princess bewitched by an evil magician and who can only be released.
Judith Flanders writing for the Arts Desk shared doubts about the production and the dramatic pacing pacing that almost all the critics noted:
“Subdued”, indeed, may be the best word for the evening. The performances were never less than very, very good; but it was hard to become involved with what was happening on stage. Perhaps if the Mariinsky had a real artistic director, who could relaunch some of these Soviet-era classics, morale would improve.
But, as Crisp reminds us:
How fortunate we are to see this company. In a season marking the Golden Jubilee of its first visit to London, now – as then – we are in the presence of great Russian art.
Photos: top, Uliana Lopatkina's Odette and Daniil Korsuntsev as the Prince by Marilyn Kingwill; bottom, Uliana Lopatkina and Daniil Korsuntsev in the Mariinsky Ballet's Swan Lake by Robbie Jack/Corbis
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.