St Petersburg Ballet Theatre

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Russia     2011 2008 
Irina Kolesnikova, Prima Ballerina of the Saint Petersburg Ballet Theatre, whose founder and General Director is Konstantin Tachkin, is one of my favourite Russian ballerinas. Tachkin’s theatre tours overseas for most of the year, but has not been to America yet and performs only rarely in Saint Petersburg. In Europe and other countries, Kolesnikova is well known and loved by the public and by the critics. Since 2007, the company has performed every year at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and always sells out. This time, however, the tour was advertised not as the company’s tour but as the “Irina Kolesnikova Season”. Kolesnikova danced two evenings as Odette – Odile in “Swan Lake”, and one evening as Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty”. Her partner on tour was Evgeniy Ivanchenko, a lead soloist from the Mariinsky Ballet. All tickets, including the Director’s box were sold out long in advance of the tour. Kolesnikova was a huge success.

Kolesnikova has danced “Swan Lake” for many years and I was worried that she had “overdanced” the role of Odette – Odile. However, to my pleasure, her performance in “Swan Lake” looked fresh and, in many respects, surprising, almost as if it was her premier. There are no technical difficulties for Kolesnikova; she freely gave herself to the music and to her own physical and artistic interpretation of the role. There were many surprising moments of improvisation in her interpretation. The ballerina created around herself an atmosphere of a romantic legend, as enchanting in the scenes with the swans as in the Prince’s palace. Her beautiful poses, the beautiful movement of her arms, her captivating grace, musicality, and the cantilena of her dancing…

In his book on “Swan Lake”, A. Demidov wrote that the Odette character is a character “languishing in the slavery of femininity”. That is what I saw when Kolesnikova danced Odette several years ago. However, in Paris new colours appeared in Kolesnikova’s Odette. On the beat of Rothbart’s wings, she abandons the Prince, proudly straightens her back and tosses her head. She cannot prevent herself from subjugating herself to Rothbart’s evil will but her spirit is free. Although the notion, “languishing in the slavery of femininity” still obtains, occasionally the ballerina makes a slight change in the movements of her arms in order to underline the spiritual mood of her character. Thus, in the adagio with the Prince, Odette suddenly lifts one arm in the usual “Swan” manner and the other arm also makes a move upwards, when suddenly, bending at the wrist and elbow it falls down as if to show that her spirit does not believe it will be saved and liberated. This movement is repeated later by Odile in order to dispel the Prince’s doubts.

Kolesnikova’s Odile appears at the Prince’s ball in a state of feverish excitement; but this exaltation suggests trepidation. I feel that she is simultaneously quite the earthbound antithesis of Odette and a sinister persona from gothic romanticism. When Kolesnikova dances Odette it is exquisitely sensual, and when she dances Odile something almost bacchanalian comes to the fore. Then suddenly her face freezes as if it has lost all expression. Odile casts a spiteful, sharp glance into the darkness of the auditorium and you get the feeling that a malicious, occult figure has just revealed itself from beneath the mask of a smiling female face.

The company is dancing K.M. Sergeev’s redaction of “Swan Lake”, the first and last scene of which have become desperately old-fashioned. The nonsensical happy end disrupts everyone who performs in this ballet, Kolesnikova included.

Evgeniy Ivanchenko is not one of those especially emotional dancers, but he is good-looking, noble and well proportioned. Most importantly, his is undoubtedly a blue-blooded prince. Ivanchenko is a dancer “of the old school”; he knows what he is doing on stage, you never see him waiting for his variations, and he is constantly engrossed in what is going on on stage. The way he dances, his poses and gestures are elegant; his jump – high and soft. Not once does he transgress against the beauty of classical dance. As partners, Kolesnikova and Ivanchenko looked fine together.

The company consists of dancers with different levels of talent but performs classical ballets in fine style.

Everything seems to be going as well as it possibly can for Kolesnikova, but her international success notwithstanding, she has one obstacle in her way: a limited repertoire.

The company tours a world in which Russians are expected to perform classical ballets. Therefore, in the history of ballet this marvellous ballerina is at risk of being considered as just one of the best performers of Odette – Odile. Kolesnikova has danced in Peter Schaufuss’ company, in his new ballet entitled “Divas”. Irina danced the role of Judy Garland, the famous American film actress. I read some rapturous reviews, but this ballet is her only experience of performing contemporary dance, just an episode in her biography. She of course is the Swan, the bewitched queen of the fairy tale, in all her gentleness, sensitivity and inescapable sorrow. She is a unique Russian dancer who exists in a different world to the colossuses of the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres. It can be said that she represents Russian ballet in many countries on her own. On her own and admirably.

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