01 Aug 2017

At the beginning of the lakeside scene in the Mariinsky Ballet’s production of Swan Lake, tiny mechanical swans stagger jerkily across a painted backdrop. But the second these stage toys are replaced by graceful ballerinas, kitsch is superseded by something close to holiness.

It’s a moment of magic that might serve as a metaphor for a production that is a compelling mixture of the old-fashioned and the divine. The original choreography by Petipa and Ivanov was revised in 1950. It has a happy ending that involves the onstage destruction of the evil Rothbart’s costume, leaving him without a sleeve and writhing on the floor while the bewitched Odette and her handsome Prince Siegfried stand triumphant. Mime has been pared back. The Queen Mother looks like a Disney princess in a pointy wimple.

Yet it’s a wonder. When those swan girls of the corps de ballet swoop across the stage in flawless, absolutely understood unison, creating a fretwork of perfectly placed legs and arms, heads and hands delicately inclined and shaped, you reach the heart of why a visit to London by the Mariinsky is such an event, and why it is one of the world’s great ballet companies.

A late injury meant that the first cast Odette/Odile was Viktoria Tereshkina, one of this generation’s most complete ballerinas. The strength of her technique, her sheer physical justness, means that she takes every technical challenge in her stride. The shapes she makes as she floats her leg in arabesque and attitude seemed carved in the air; her arms are so fluid and so sensuously defined they appear to be in constant motion.

The role of Prince Siegfried was brilliantly danced by Xander Parish, the British dancer, who was made a company principal after starring with the dazzling Viktoria Tereshkina.

The opening performance of Don Quixote was also led by Tereshkina. She was partnered by Kimin Kim, the South Korean dancer. He is sensational as Basil, with light, sharp elevation and genial charm.


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