St Petersburg Ballet Theatre

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South Africa     2013 2007 2006 
FOUNDING director of the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre (SPBT) Konstantin Tachkin clearly knows how to win a crowd over, on and offstage. He began the SPBT's performance of Swan Lake by announcing that the tour is dedicated to South Africa's ailing former president, Nelson Mandela. ' As soon as the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra plays the first note of Tchaikovsky's Moderato AssaiAllegro Non Troppo (Tempo 1), the dancers never look like they are warming up, as they get straight into perfecting their grand plies and the obligatory releve (dancing on pointe).

As the love story of Odette (danced by SPBT Prima Ballerina Irina Kolesnikova), a princess who gets turned into a swan by day, and Prince Siegfried (Akulinin) progresses, it becomes clear that Tachkin has instilled the fact that each step performed by the 45-member SPBT has to be perfect, as they represent a part of the story. One false move and the audience can be taken off on a slightly different tangent than he'd intended. As the complete ballet is performed in three acts and four scenes, the lead dancers (also including Sakeev as Rothbart and Erkin Rakhmatulaev as the energetic jester) demonstrate extreme stamina as they maintain their poise, no matter how much Tachkin asks of them.

You do not have to know Swan Lake in detail to understand the emotions coursing through Siegfried and Odette, nor do you have to be familiar with Tchaikovsky's score to enjoy the wonderful music. All that is necessary for you to take in the story is to watch Kolesnikova's face and body, and you are enthralled from beginning to end. To her, this is a chance to live the emotions of despair, exhilaration and disappointment. It would be fair to describe her body as a lead instrument that sets the pace and tone of the score. She has to be one of the most rhythmically alert ballerinas Russia has produced in the last few years.

There is not much to fault the SPBT as they put on an elegant show that is as entertaining as it is engaging. On a more practical level, you have to be a patient ballet enthusiast to sit through all the scenes, as at times the production can feel somewhat drawn out, which is not the dancers' fault.

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