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Swan Lake

by on 13 January 2023

Compelling Charm

Swan Lake

Nerubashenko Ballet at Richmond Theatre until 15th January, then on national tour until 31st April

Review by Michelle Hood

The production company presenting this ballet, Nerubashenko, is perhaps an unfamiliar name in the world of touring ballet.  However, the pre-publicity also alludes to the participation of Smirnov-Golovanov Productions.  This relates back to Victor Smirnov-Golovanov who was the founder and Artistic Director of Moscow City Ballet.  Although he died in 2013, he was survived by his wife, Ludmila Nerubashenko, who has given her name to this current touring company.  Ludmila succeeded her husband in 2013 as Artistic Director of Moscow City Ballet but, given her Ukranian birthright, and the current Russian-Ukraine war, has set up a new company with other dissenters from Russian ballet circles. 

Politics aside, Nerubashenko Productions have gathered together a talented group of performers who are now embarked on a lengthy UK winter tour with a repertory that, as well as Swan Lake, also includes The Nutcracker.  Also associated with the company is their Artistic Director, Marina Medvetskaya, a Georgian prima ballerina previously involved with the St. Petersburg Classic Ballet Theatre, who is responsible for selecting many of the international dancers appearing in the show.

Given the pedigree of the production team, audience expectations run high.  For me, with a love of ballet gained at an early age, my pulse starts racing as soon as I enter the auditorium.  Even before the orchestra strikes up, I have a sense of childish excited anticipation – even remembering how I used to dream of being that white swan in that white tutu with that perfect arabesque.  Although I was awarded a place at White Lodge in Richmond Park, my ballet dreams were never fulfilled, leaving me to watch and admire the artistry of others.  However, it gave me an appreciation of the dedication these performers have given, the endless hours of practice and rehearsal and, sadly, even the injuries involved in bringing this unique form of story-telling to the stage. 

So, even when entering the auditorium at Richmond Theatre I was already tingling with excitement of watching Swan Lake as the orchestra starting tuning up.  However, mindful of the many pitfalls facing a touring company, compared with resident companies such as Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells, I was concerned that this could be an underwhelming production.  Given the limitations of a production being “on the road” and inhabiting many different stages, which mean the sets need to be simple and transportable, lighting plots need to be basic and, given the different dimensions of every stage, the choreography possibly needs to be modified  – it means a lot of hurdles need to be overcome.  And indeed, given the rake of the Richmond stage, another challenge for the dancers to contend with.

Despite all these potential setbacks, Nerubashenko’s Swan Lake is a delight with an athletic group of dancers with the physicality, artistry and creativity to faithfully interpret this classic Tchaikovsky masterpiece.  Director Marina Medvetskaya has chosen a conservative and traditional interpretation so – no prologue with Odette meeting the evil Rothbart – and spoiler alert – choosing the option of the happy ending rather than the original tragic ending. 

And now a few individual plaudits for the principal dancers.  Ulan Beisenbayev’s Jester was full of mischievous fun – a great comic role and danced with great athleticism, overt theatricality and a gamut of eccentric facial expressions.  Daler Zaparov’s Baron Rothbart exuded evil intent and was danced with great strength and agility.   Yerkin Rakhmatullayev gave a solid workmanlike performance as Siegfried and I enjoyed his interaction in his dances with the Jester.  The pas de deux between Siegfried and Odile was magnetic – perhaps the poetic core of Swan Lake.

As for the performance of Kateryna Floria as the white swan Odette and the black swan Odile – simply flawless.  And indeed, perhaps a word about the tutus – the black tutu of Odile was perfect and didn’t even move an inch while she danced.  A mesmerising performance.  Plus, a quick word on Hanna Pearce’s portrayal as the Queen and, while not a dancing role, just a note on her excellent authority and stage presence.   

The ensemble numbers worked well for the most part.  However, I felt at times the placement and port des bras needed a little more attention and, at times, the corps de ballet were not altogether.  However, I was struck at just how quiet the corps de ballet were given all those block shoes leaping up and down on the stage.  Without doubt, the dance of the four cygnets was a delight – indeed, most charming and very spirited.  Also great fun were the national dances – the Spanish, Hungarian and Neapolitan sequences were excellently drilled and thoroughly enjoyable.  The 24 piece orchestra added to the intensity of the evening with Tchaikovsky’s score as compelling and timeless as ever. 

The production company may well have changed its identity, and been renamed from Moscow City Ballet to Nerubashenko for political and marketing purposes, but it still brings quality ballet at affordable prices to audiences outside of London’s West End.  I certainly wish their brave endeavour well in a future outside of Russia.

Michelle Hood, January 2023

Photography courtesy of Nerubashenko Ballet

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