The level of several of the Russian touring companies may have increased considerably since they started swarming out in the wake of perestroika, yet when it comes to basic matters such as identifying groups and crediting artists it is often still the same old story of carelessness, neglect and confusion. On the other hand, in order to boost the box-office appeal, the names and prestige of the more famous troupes Kirov and Bolshoi are still used far too liberally for their own good.
A ballet company announced as St. Petersburg Ballet is currently visiting Belgium and The Netherlands with “Swan Lake.” According to their official website, though, the group was founded as The Russian Ballet Theatre in 1990 by former Kirov Ballet character dancer and repetiteur Boris Bruskin and is now run by his wife Galina Petrovskaya and son Alexander, both ex-Kirov dancers as well. As a pick up troupe of St. Petersburg dancers the Russian Ballet Theatre has been touring continually in Western Europe and Japan churning out at a steady tempo “Swan Lakes,” “Sleeping Beauties,” “Giselles,” and, when the season requires it, “Nutcrackers”.
No information whatsoever is given as to how many dancers this company counts and we remain even more in the dark about its principals, except that they are recruited from the Vaganova Academy while occasionally soloists of the Kirov Ballet are said to appear as prime time guest stars.
In a performance of “Swan Lake” in the Flemish town of Bruges, it was the female corps de ballet which shone as the true asset of the Russian Ballet Theatre. Excellently trained and well rehearsed, these dancers knew what straight lines are and moved in exemplary fashion during the lakeside Acts. More importantly, perhaps, within the given context, the ensemble seemed fresh and inspired. Likewise, the pas de trois and the national dances in the 3rd Act were all expertly done, again emphasizing the excellent schooling of the dancers.
The staging of “Swan Lake” was basically the authoritative Konstantin Sergeyev version from 1950, which is to this day danced by the Mariinsky. It boasted the same clarity and concern to let the choreography speak for itself. Odette’s pantomime was edited and, of course, there was the jester and the happy ending after Rothbart had been defeated by having one of his wings torn off. Overall the production looked fresh and was surprisingly elaborate for a touring company. The sets were acceptably evocative while the costumes, dominated by reds in the palace acts, looked anything but cheap.
According to the cast sheet the roles of Odette-Odile were to be danced by Veronika Ivanova and Anastasia Kolegova. It turned out to be one and the same ballerina, apparently Kolegova, who appeared in both—although nobody seemed worried by the fact that some members of the audience might be interested in knowing whom they were really seeing that night. She's a technically solid dancer, physically gifted and with an attractive plastique, but whose cool and distant attitude revealed nothing more than the basics of her character in the White Act. As Odile too she seemed very little concerned about seducing the prince or anybody else in the theatre. It was one of those performances where one sensed the real potential of the leading lady, even if it remained hidden for most of the time beneath the surface of the lake.
The company lived up to its promise by casting Evgeny Ivanchenko as prince Siegfried, on this night the only real Kirov soloist in town—even though he danced in his Bolshoi Siegfried-costume, a reminder of the days he used to partner Anastasia Volochkova. A reliable partner but a dullish dancer and obviously still afraid to give anything dramatically, Ivanchenko marked in common Mariinsky fashion time between his dance numbers.
Musical support was given by the The State Symphonic Orchestra Capella St. Petersburg under Alexander Chernushenko. In a country where ballet is as a rule performed to tape, the presence of an orchestra to accompany dance is always a pleasant surprise. The Capella St. Petersburg offered a reasonable standard of playing, but apparently took the pit short of strings. Dominated by woodwinds and brass, they revealed unheard sonic effects in Tchaikovsky’s score.
Overall, a pleasant enough “Swan Lake”—and as a production far superior to the farce-version by Jan Fabre danced by our own Royal Ballet of Flanders—largely carried by the excellent corps de ballet of the Russian Ballet Theatre. Yet if these smaller Russian companies want themselves to be taken really seriously, they might consider beginning to credit their artists properly.