Russian State Ballet of Siberia

Acclaimed ballet company returns for the UK Tour 2020, with Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake
New Theatre, Oxford, Mon 24th - Wed 26th February 2020

Formed in 1981, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia has quickly established itself as one of Russia’s leading ballet companies and has built an international reputation for delivering performances of outstanding quality and unusual depth. The soloists and corps de ballet are superb, and never fail to delight audiences with their breathtaking physical ability and dazzling costumes. This tour's Artistic Director is Sergei Bobrov, and the Music Director and Chief Conductor is Anatoly Tchepurnoi.

‘It is always a pleasure to bring the unique traditions of Russian Ballet to British audiences. Touring across the UK with a full company of dancers as well as highly skilled musicians is always exciting, for me, it is very special to have the power of a symphony orchestra bringing the choreography to life on stage.’ - Sergei Bobrov

Coppélia: Every toy has a story, especially in this charming comedy of errors, a witty combination of antics and abracadabra, set in a doll maker’s workshop. This light-hearted tale of mistaken identity and confused lovers follows mischievous Swanilda, her impetuous suitor Franz and the eccentric toymaker Dr.Coppelius as they are brought to life by sparkling choreography and the animated score of Delibes. Coppélia is perfect for first-time ballet goers, families, and everyone in between.

Sleeping Beauty: A favourite fairy tale, this is the classic story of love and innocence, mystery and magic, set to Tchaikovsky’s sublime score. Stunning choreography, sumptuous costumes and wonderful sets form the fantasy world in which the Lilac Fairy struggles against the evil Carabosse.

Swan Lake: The great romantic ballet 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. From Odile, the temptress in black tulle who seduces the Prince by spinning with captivating precision, to the spellbound purity of the swan queen, Odette, who flutters with emotional intensity, the dual role of Odette/Odile is one of ballet’s most unmissable technical challenges.

February 26, 2020
From Krasnoyarsk to Oxford with love

The Sleeping Beauty, Tuesday 25th February 2020

In Oxford this week is the Krasnoyarsk Ballet Company, known on tour in Britain as the Russian State Ballet of Siberia. Krasnoyarsk is plumb north of Mongolia, and a halfway stop on the Trans-Siberian railway between Moscow and Vladivostok, with 4,000 kilometres to either of them by sleeper car. The travelling company are away from home from mid-December to early April with few days off en route. It's a tough schedule for these Siberians.

This was my second The Sleeping Beauty experience within a month since seeing the Moscow City Ballet at the Waterside at Aylesbury. One difference was instantly revealed with the set of noble pillars and rococo wrought-iron gates - not unlike the Trinity College pair - leading through to a grassy sward and palace beyond. This set and its successors, including a chandelier-lit interior and further exterior aspects, were back projections; detailed but a little hazy in outline, and latterly featuring a view in murky lime green and brown. The Muscovites, I think bolstered by a shower of metropolitan roubles, had travelled with huge, studiously-painted set boards, making an individual statement of artistic intent, whereas the Siberians' offering here was comparably generic.

The plot is too well known to require a summary here; suffice it to say that the production could have been followed quite easily by the many children sitting around me were they reasonably conversant with the story, and whereas the Muscovites had inexplicably omitted the suggestive moment where Prince Florimund awakes Princess Aurora with a kiss, that event was delicately rendered here.

Costumes, naturally a vital element, featured fairies in pastel colours with wings later transmogrified into courtiers in more vivid shades, while the King was resplendent in rainbow colours and a gigantic bow. The wicked, spell-casting Carabosse stood out in black and silver, with an ermine-lined scarlet cloak which he swirled about him as he whirled across the stage in a passion; a splendid effect, though possibly repetitive. I'll draw a veil over the wigs, which looked as though garnered from a nearby haystack.

The orchestra of a generous 26 players under Anatoliy Chepurnoy, happily here in full view rather than down in a pit, featured paired brass and wind instruments. It was led by the excellent first violin Lidiia Bazhanova, who delivered her solo in the Act II Entr'acte with supple ease. She and the timpanist told me how their delight in the composer and this piece for them forbids any jaded feelings of déja vu over dozens of performances. Although the Overture and opening March were truncated, the string section was strong and the harp and timpani distinctive, whereas the twin flutes were oddly strangulated.

The Sleeping Beauty in Marius Petipa's traditional choreography offers lots of scope to sub-principals in cameo rôles, notably in the divertissement section before the end where such folk tale luminaries as Little Red Riding Hood (with unfeasibly benign wolf), Puss in Boots and Cinderella's Prince Charming pop up. Some of the pairings featured dancers of substantially varying heights which was a little unfortunate, but the standard throughout was high.

Especially notable was Ivan Karnaukhov's male Bluebird, of immense energy and whose leaps seemed spring-loaded. Elena Svinko was a tall Aurora, showing off her jetés and arabesques with fine pointe work, and Marcello Pelizzoni's Prince commanded the stage with his succession of lifts in the culminating Pas de Deux. At curtain call, while his amour was all smiles and deep curtseys, he took his applause with grace and grave dignity, inclining his head only slightly. This was an artist acknowledging the significance of his work.

February 25, 2020
Clever and fresh

Coppélia, Monday 24th February 2020

The Russian State Ballet of Siberia are currently touring around the country, and are in Oxford for just two more nights, offering a novel, pleasing distraction from dreary February. I went along as a complete novice to the art form, having read that Coppélia is a great place for the uninitiated to start, though judging from the chatter around me in the auditorium, the audience’s level of experience ranged from similar levels to me, right through to seasoned aficionados. Whatever our expectations, we were all equally captivated by this colourful, joyous performance.

Ballet seems, to my untrained eyes and ears, unique as a narrative art form, in that it can transcend language barriers and is thus well-suited to international touring shows. Despite some high-tech flourishes and touches of neon amongst the set and costumes, I felt almost transported to another era, and simultaneously grateful to experience Oxford's rich cultural diversity from a new perspective. The simplistic nature of the story lends itself well to being rendered non-verbally, and allows more space for emotions and motivations to be explored through movement.

Franz and Swanilda are betrothed, but Franz’s attentions have been drawn away from his beloved by another, exquisite girl, Coppélia, who has caught his eye from her seat in the window of the house of the devious scientist Dr Coppélio. He is rightfully admonished by Swanilda, but the ‘grass is always greener’ attitude fittingly corresponds to an unrealistic reality: Coppélia is in fact a convincingly lifelike mechanical doll, made by Coppélio. When the doctor loses his house key, it is conveniently found by Swanilda, who, accompanied by some friends, breaks into the house, in order to trick her beloved by posing as the doll when he inevitably comes a-courting. Coppélio returns home, discovers the trespassers, and attempts to capture Franz, who is saved by his fiancée. All is forgiven by the final act, and we are treated to a cheerful wedding scene.

Eschewing the modern ballet trend for simpler costumes, this production is a riot of colour, with the bright outfits complementing the majestic sounds produced by the orchestra as they bring Léo Delibes’ energetic score to life. The dancing is by turns fluid, bouncy, mesmeric, mischievous and reverent – but throughout it remains exciting and impressive, particularly the gravity-defying leaps and the wince-inducing extended pointe work. The principals are all stellar: I particularly enjoyed the camp villainy of Coppélio, complete with twirling cane, and the dignified indignation of Swanilda. When she and Coppélia acted as dolls, they demonstrated some of the true potential of the art form: though this is a device that has been used in the ballet for the 150 years since it debuted, it still felt clever and fresh. My only criticism here would be that the eponymous Coppélia felt somewhat under-utilised. This is possibly a constraint of the source material, but the scenes with the most action (in terms of the narrative) seemed to be over a lot quicker than the more contemplative celebrations, so that the pacing deprived her of more limelight. Another highlight was a fabulous visual gag enabled by the set of Coppélio’s front door, as a long line of dancers hopped inside, seemingly swallowed by a tiny space.

The entire company had an opportunity to shine, and did itself justice with brilliant choreography and near-permanent smiles. I would have to agree with the assessment that this choice of show is great for beginners, but I have no doubt that the future performances of the run – Swan Lake and the familiar story of Sleeping Beauty – will be equally engaging, and would encourage anyone to book a ticket if you're after an evening's entertainment that's a bit out of the ordinary.

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