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IT'S easy to dismiss Swan Lake as a hackneyed ballet of girls in fluffy tutus pretending to be swans. But that it is still produced world-wide since its first performance in 1877 is because it deals with fundamental humanist themes.
Good and evil, life and death, nature and culture underlie the narrative of a love which bridges socially unacceptable boundaries, encountering deception, betrayal and redemption along the way. And it has Tchaikovsky’s sublime score and the greatest challenge for a ballerina in portraying Odette/Odile.
Irina Kolesnikova, who is superb in this dual role, is technically flawless, expressing complex and layered emotions and states of mind through every fibre of her body, gesture and facial expression.
Her serious, unaffected expression conveys the virginal Odette’s moral purity and her expression of the moment when her fear of Siegfried and his crossbow suddenly turns into love at first sight is unforgettable. With a sharp turn of the head she looks him straight in the eye with shocked recognition of their mutual destiny.
In this production by St Petersburg Ballet Theatre the company's principal dancer Denis Rodkin, guesting as Siegfried, partners Kolesnikova with confident, stylish ease and a strong stage presence. Their pas de deux generates a palpable emotional chemistry and in his solos Rodkin crosses the Coliseum’s vast stage with spectacularly elegant leaps.
As the duplicitous Odile, Kolesnikova tricks and seduces Siegfried with a sparkling, spiky virtuosity. Perfect pirouettes and triple fouettes are delivered with the social climber’s flashing eyes and insincere, dazzling smile. The contrast with Odette’s fragile serenity is total.
Swan Lake’s ending can be either tragic or happy and its many diverse interpretations reflect its changing sociocultural contexts. This lavish production, with its happy ending, conveys post-Soviet Russia’s preoccupation with a romanticised aristocratic past. Lavish sets for the palace scenes gleam with chandeliers, richly embroidered gold and silver costumes and regal architecture.
The lake scenes radiate mystery, with the mists in the second act gliding across a fat red moon brooding over the waters and they draw gasps and applause from the audience.
It's a fast-moving and sumptuous spectacle, but seeing Kolesnikova is the unforgettable pleasure.
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