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SWAN LAKE (article first published : 2006-04-29)

Okay, this is an official announcement! I don’t think I ever want to see Swan Lake again. Certainly not another prima ballerina in the part of Odette/Odile!

The reason is that Irina Kolesnikova was so sublime in the St Petersburg Ballet production currently running at the Playhouse that I’m not prepared to take second best. What a performance! This is an extremely demanding role as it requires the dancer to cope with Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s taxing choreography but she has to act as well. Not just one character, but two: the melancholy, suffering Odette and the brilliantly sparkling and sexy Odile. Irina Kolesnikova sailed through both characters – it was hard to believe it was the same person. She breezed through the dreaded 32 fouettés - and more, it seemed (I couldn’t count that fast!) - with a crispness and efficiency that was astounding.

The programme notes remind us that the ballet’s origins were unsuccessful. It was first presented in 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and what reviews still exist describe the music as “undanceable and the choreography lacking in imagination”! The ballet was sidelined with new management at the Bolshoi in 1883 and only revived in 1894 after Lev Ivanov’s staging of Act II as a tribute to Tchaikovsky (who had died the year before) that Marius Petipa decided to restage the complete ballet at the Marinsky in 1895.

It’s years since I’ve seen the full ballet so it was good to reconnect with this remarkable choreography that deals with a woman trapped into the body of a swan and only allowed to be human for a few hours each night. The movements are so completely swanlike – the bent wrist (indicative of the bird’s neck), the swayed arm, the elegant turn of the head and the little shuffle of feathers as the bird settles.

Odette can only be saved by a man’s undying love and into the picture bounds the young and virile Prince Siegfried, played at the performance I saw by Dmitriy Akulinin whose skills and iron control made for riveting watching. Odette is under the spell of the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart – a powerful performance by Dmychik Saykeev - and her life is a far cry from Siegfried’s comfortable and sophisticated existence at the palace with his mother, The Queen (a nicely regal and commanding Alexandra Kravtsova), his doddery Tutor (a delightful Pavel Kholoimenko) and The Jester (an outstanding performance by Dmitry Shevtsov).

Thanks to Edley International for bringing to South Africa Konstantin Tachkin’s St Petersburg Ballet Theatre in this production of Swan Lake. After seeing so many compilation programmes which at least allowed South African audiences to enjoy ballet over the past few years, it was sheer luxury to sit back and enjoy a full length ballet with its own costumes and sets. It was exciting to feel that – apart from the ballet itself – we were closely in touch with its Russian roots. The programme featured names we couldn’t pronounce, let alone spell, but the pure essence of classical ballet reigned supreme.

The costumes were superb. We were seated close enough to be able to appreciate the beadwork and sequin patterns. The sets were excellent – particularly Act 2 Scene 3 which was sumptuous and beautifully lit with candelabra featuring swan neck designs. The ghostly lake scenes were memorable for their crystal crisp lighting.

The live support of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Alexander Kantorov and leader Mikhail Chausovski allowed dancers and audiences alike the added luxury of not being on the unstoppable “assembly line” of backing tracks. When the dancers breathed, I swear Alexander Kantorov breathed with them - so close was his accompaniment.

Apart from the splendid full-colour glossy programme, there is promotional material on sale so that you can savour the work of Irina Kolesnikova long after the curtain comes down.

If you can still get tickets for the remaining performances head for Computicket on 083 915 8000 or online at www.computicket.com Last I heard there were still some tickets available for Monday’s show. Cancel everything else and grab ‘em! – Caroline Smart




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