The Mariinsky kicked off their 3-week stay at the Royal Opera House with Swan Lake. An obvious, and right, choice,
Immutable is the Mariinsky's root foundation in classical tradition. Everything they dance speaks of “schooling”. Whatever more modern works the repertory now embraces, the classic ballets provide the company's signature — none more so in the avid public's mind than Swan Lake, and the iconic image of the swan corps de ballet in their impeccable, poetic formations. So Swan Lake was, of course, the season's opener, and the magic of that ensemble in white is as mesmerising as ever.
There are two overwhelming reasons to see a Mariinsky Swan Lake and both were glittering on Monday night. 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.
And the ballerina, Uliana Lopatkina, produced the kind of performance for which she is duly famous.
The Telegraph agreed,
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.
though was less impressed 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.
It was Lopatkina who stole the most column inches – a ballerina difficult to ignore with her extraordinarily extended limbs and legato movements that few since Makarova have managed. The Independent noted,
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.
And The Evening Standard said,
Lopatkina is tall and slender, and moves with a pliancy that makes her limbs look almost boneless.
The Guardian, too, showered her with praise,
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.
Certainly there are moments where Lopatkina's performance gives off the electric shock of genius, her eyes dark flashes of fear, her dancing a slow, exquisite resistance against the Prince's promise of freedom.
The Observer‘s Luke Jennings had an interesting take,
Perhaps the greatest achievement of this production is that of Nina Ukhova, one of 10 credited Mariinsky ballet masters and mistresses. For 35 years Ukhova, something of a legend in St Petersburg, has been the company's chief corps de ballet coach, and her dedication is evident in those peerless ranks of swans. Every back has the same soft-swept arch, every arm the same airy line from shoulder to fingertip, every neck is identically poised, every gaze parallel. The effect is ravishing. Even that hackneyed old show-stopper the Dance of the Cygnets assumes a hypnotic character as the petite foursome, arms interlaced, drill out implacable and perfectly co-ordinated pas de bourrée.
The Arts Desk had some doubts about the production,
One feels that the company knows how old-fashioned this production is, and they are not happy to be in it.
And about the performances,
“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.
But the Financial Times‘ Clement Crisp who wrote a “love letter” to the company with his review, awarding this Swan Lake 5-stars. For Mr Crisp this is rare indeed,
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.
And he concludes,
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.
We are indeed.
Photo: Uliana Lopatkina's Odette and Daniil Korsuntsev as the Prince, © Marilyn Kingwill
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.