Russian State Ballet of Siberia

Returning to Oxford for 3 beautiful performances
New Theatre, Oxford, Wed 13 - Sat 16 March 2019

March 18, 2019
Entrancing, heartbreaking and impressive

I will hold my hands up and admit that I have never been to the ballet before. In fact, the closest I have come to watching ballet in any form is watching Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. With that in mind, I was rather excited to attend my first actual ballet, especially as it was the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, no less. As the theatre filled, I took in the tightly-packed orchestra waiting expectantly below the front of the stage. It has been so long since I had the pleasure of listening to a live orchestra, so when the house lights finally dimmed, I was ready to be entranced.

Even before the curtain rose, I had goosebumps. The rich sounds of Tchaikovsky’s score came to life immediately, and I knew we were in safe hands with Conductor Anatoliy Cherpunoy. As the curtain lifted,it is difficult to describe my childlike wonder at the bright, beautiful vision before me. It’s one thing to read a synopsis of a ballet (which I did prior to the show), or even to see televised snippets of the art form, but to have it there, live, in front of you, is something indescribably special.

While I may have little knowledge of the discipline and technicalities of ballet, it was clear to me that the Russian State Ballet of Siberia are experts at their trade. With breathtaking poise and spirit, Prince Siegfried’s 21st birthday celebrations unfolded. Siegfried himself (Marcello Pelizzoni) stood out, not just in his towering stature but also in his powerful yet seemingly effortless movements. Indeed, the entire corps de ballet were magnificent, the stage filled with so much elegant activity that I found it difficult to decide where to focus my attention; such was my desire to take it all in. I’m glad that I did that quick ‘plot synopsis’ search before attending the performance, because while it would have been just as spectacular had I gone in blind to the story, even the tiniest fragment of knowledge made it all the more powerful for me.

The set was simple yet effective: large backdrops artistically depicting the ballroom, castle and of course, the lake, with occasional animations cleverly sweeping across to pick important plot points, for example, the Prince’s first sighting of the swans.

The same primo ballerina traditionally plays the role of Odette/Odile, and this production stuck to that tradition. A beautifully restrained, disciplined performance by Elena Svinko embodied the initial fear and timidity of Odette, while her characterisation of Odile’s Black Swan was intense and exhilarating, her freedom of movement starkly contrasting Odette’s imprisonment. I can understand why the ballet world is so enamoured with the role(s) and the desire to play it.

Overall, my first experience of the ballet left me feeling overwhelmed, heartbroken and inordinately impressed by the mastery and intensity of the company.


March 14, 2019
La Fille Mal Gardee (Wednesday 13th March)

It’s the classic conundrum - you bring a boy home, your mum doesn’t approve. She wants you to hook up with the childish idiot because she fancies his dad and it takes a hell of a lot of persuading to change her mind (I say a hell of a lot, it only took about an hour and a half!) Anyhow, all’s well that ends well, you marry your hotty, your mum goes off that stupid fat guy and you live happily ever after. Ok, maybe not quite the classic conundrum - but this is ballet after all. It is amazing, actually, to have so much story portrayed with only facial expressions and movement.

The only thing to remind one that the movements of the dancers weren’t completely effortless was the harsh thud on the stage floor as their feet made contact with the ground. The performers made a beautiful juxtaposition with the orchestra, a reminder that we were watching live theatre. This effortlessness is of course already a joy to watch, so mixed with a slapstick style comedy, and the result is an audience laughing out loud. Especially my plus one - I’ve never brought along such an enthusiastic review buddy before! The village idiot (potential groom) was really the comedic star of the show. His dim and gawping face was framed by a painted orange head of hair, clashing violently with his fuchsia dance leggings.

It felt a shame to have a computerised backdrop. In such a grand theatre (I always forget its Art Deco interior, going for that alone is almost enough!), and with a performance from such a removed, bygone time (an idyllic, pastoral time - you know, the kind that probably never existed), why introduce an animated chicken pecking its way across a huge screen, whose jerking movements are reminiscent of 1990s computer games?

But there was so much that was positive about the show that I won't dwell on that. Top dances included the protagonist and her mother incorporating the tambourine in their movements - playing their instruments with high kicks. Another was the clog dance. This was no classic ballet, in fact (though admittedly not knowing a huge amount about ballet), the performance incorporated a lot of other styles of dance - there was even a maypole scene!

All in all, we had a great night: it was ballet panto, it was inclusive and unintimidating in what can be an intimidating genre of dance.

The organiser says:

The Russian State Ballet of Siberia has established itself as one of Russia’s leading ballet companies and has built an international reputation for delivering performances of outstanding quality and depth. The soloists and corps de ballet are exceptional, delighting audiences with their breath-taking physical ability and beautiful costumes as each storyline unfolds to the live accompaniment of the orchestra.

La Fille Mal Gardée

Recreated by Alexander Gorsky, this remains one of the oldest ballets still regularly performed. A gentle tale of love thwarted, unrequited and found. It is a masterpiece of comedy. With plenty of ribbons, romance and rivalry, La Fille Mal Gardée conjures up a world of pastoral simplicity where a farm boy woos a flirty farmer’s daughter and they find inventive ways to avoid her mother. Complete with virtuoso pas de deux, maypole and clog dances, this classic ballet will send you home happy, delighting those enjoying it for the very first time as well as those who want to see it again and again.

Cinderella

The world’s favourite rags to riches fairy-tale where dreams can come true is a magical mix of Prokofiev’s energetic score, lively choreography and colourful costumes.

Whilst her mad/bad stepmother and her ill-mannered daughters prepare for the Royal Ball, graceful Cinderella can only dream of dancing with the dashing Prince. Later that evening, her rags become a glittering gown and she is swept magically to the Ball. From that very moment the Prince is smitten, midnight strikes and one lost crystal slipper later, he must now embark on a journey to find his lost love….

This magical modern classic will delight the whole family.

Swan Lake

The greatest romantic ballet of all time is brought to life by Tchaikovsky’s haunting and unforgettable score. From the impressive splendour of the Palace ballroom to the moon-lit lake where swans glide in perfect formation, this compelling tale of tragic romance has it all.

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