This summer the London Coliseum welcomes back St Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Ballet, which made its debut at the venue in 2008, with a programme of five works. The first of these, Swan Lake, is a revival by Mikhail Messerer of Alexander Gorsky and Asaf Messerer’s production of 1956 at the Bolshoi Theatre, and has an intrinsically Russian feel about it. The dancers reveal a special affinity with the music, and the choreography demonstrates an exquisite attention to detail, meaning that there is always something to catch the eye wherever that might choose to wander over the stage.
During Act Ones festivities different groups of dancers do different things simultaneously. Partners cross over each other in lines, and a smaller group can suddenly emerge from out of the corps de ballet. In the process, fresh dynamics are constantly introduced to the stage, and these create a sense of continuous movement throughout the first act.
The dancing is light and elegant, but when lines of dancers advance towards us, their legs kicking forward, it cannot be said to lack bite. The way in which the performers engage with what is happening, embracing the fun of the occasion as they swirl off at the end of Act One, also helps us to see them as individual characters rather than just anonymous beings.
Unlike many companies that visit the Coliseum, the Mikhailovsky Ballet has brought its own orchestra with it. This certainly produces dividends as, under the baton of Pavel Bubelnikov, it feels in total harmony with the dancers, generating a beautifully balanced and measured sound, and demonstrating a sure command of tempi. The sense of control that the orchestra exerts only makes it all the more exciting when it produces moments of utter ferocity, such as at the end of Act Ones pas de trois which sees the dancers respond in a flurry of hyper intensive activity.
Marat Shemiunov is a fine Prince Siegfried, who cuts through the air with agility and grace and lands as cleanly as one could think imaginable. In Act Two his rapport with Ekaterina Borchenko’s Odette is captivating as we sense the initial tension, which derives from fear, between the two. Borchenko succeeds in capturing both Odile’s fragility (at the start of their pas de deux it is almost as if her own movements are creating the sound of the harp), and ultimate strength, as she stretches lyrically and achieves the perfect angle with every limb movement. The Danse des petits cygnes also demonstrates dynamism and precision in equal measure as the quartet dance at a series of different angles to the front of the stage.
Act Threes ball also sees many things happening simultaneously as the national dances typically involve a small ensemble and a central couple. It is also an inspired move to put the Spanish dance after Odiles entrance as its flashy and seductive style mirrors the black swans own nature. In portraying Odile, Borchenko does not overhaul her natural style of dancing, as many ballerinas tackling the dual roles do, but simply utilises the underlying strengths to her technique in a different way. This makes it far more believable that Siegfried could actually think he is looking at Odette, and Borchenkos 32 fouetts have a textbook precision.
The final act is also effective as it achieves a strong balance between allowing Odette, Siegfried and the Evil Genius (Vladimir Tsal making the part far more than just a character role) to confront each other as lone characters, and enabling the scene to possess a swirling intensity, courtesy of the corps de ballet. I do not normally favour endings to Swan Lake that see the lovers live, as they tend to feel less profound, but on this occasion a happy ending provides the perfect close to an evening of exemplary ballet.
The Mikhailovsky Ballets season at the London Coliseum continues until 25 July and features Swan Lake, Giselle, Cipollino, a Triple Bill and Laurencia. Further details can be found at www.mikhailovsky.ru/london2010