Bolshoi Ballet: Swan Lake – review

Royal Opera House, London

There's no doubting the love that many British ballet fans feel for the Bolshoi, nor their sympathy for the company's recent trials. But in spite of such loyal enthusiasm, they will be hard-pressed to ignore some of the direr elements in the company's opening production of Swan Lake.

I've never been a fan of Yuri Grigorovich's versions of the classics. His tendency to move the action through undifferentiated blocks of pure dance, cutting out most of the storytelling and mime, does serious damage to these ballets' delicate texture. His 2001 version of Swan Lake wreaks more violence than most.

Gone is the relationship between Siegfried and his critical, controlling mother, which gives substance to the prince's lonely, romantic angst. Gone is the birthday gift of the crossbow, which sends Siegfried out hunting and creates the poignant powerplay of confusion and fear in his first encounter with Odette. Gone, too, is the piercing catharsis of the ballet's closing moments – in place of which we simply see Siegfried mournfully wondering if it had all been just a dream.

The elision of story and character wouldn't matter so much if Grigorovich were a choreographer of more subtle means. But too often his treatment of the original Petipa-Ivanov dance material turns a deaf ear to the lyricism and detail of Tchaikovsky's score: phrases bristle awkwardly with extra split-jetés and high-thrust legs; ensembles mass into turgidly repetitive numbers made all the more dreary by the monochrome grimness of Simon Virsaladze's designs.

It's left to the dancers to save the stage, and here the Bolshoi come into their own. Certainly, Svetlana Zakharova's Odette may be the finest performance I've seen from her. Her adagio line is exquisitely fine-spun, yet there's a weight in her arms, a wildness in the movements of her head that pitches this Swan Queen eloquently between human and bird. Alexander Volchkov's Siegfried is neatly handsome in act one (especially framed by the scudding grace of Anastasia Stashkevich as one of his friends). In act three, however, Volchkov loses focus, as momentarily does Zakharova, although she recovers to snap through her fouettés at record speed

Oddly, this act is dominated by Maria Vinogradova and Anna Tikhomirova as the Russian and Spanish princesses respectively. Oddly, too, the most consistent performance of the night is Vladislav Lantratov's Evil Genius. Musical, dark and compelling – there's a whole story latent in his performance, just waiting to be told.

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Contributor

Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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