St Petersburg Ballet Theatre



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South Africa     2013 2007 2006 
Despite being the second largest theatre (in terms of seats) on the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s international tour – which includes 50 cities so far in 2013 – the Teatro at Johannesburg’s Montecasino doesn’t have a particularly large stage, made even smaller by the ballet company’s beautifully elaborate sets. Add the corps de ballet of 24 swans and there is little space left for the principals and soloists.

However, we don’t think any stage on the planet could restrain prima ballerina Irina Kolesnikova. Her stage presence is so dramatic and magnetic that everything else fades into unimportance as she glides onto the scene.

And ‘glide’ she does. As the anguished Odette, her movements are feathery soft and smooth, and her portrayal was so touching and absorbing that my little heart actually ached in empathy of her pain.

As Odile, however, her wicked deception was fierce and electric (as were her fouettés). When her evil con was revealed and she laughingly threw Siegfried’s love on the floor, I caught myself whispering under my breath what the rest of the audience was surely thinking too: “Bitch”.

In fact, the split-personality contrast of Irina’s dual roles had the ballet newbies next to us confused and amazed, asking “did she really dance both white and black swans?”; followed by their excited wide-eyed realisation: “oh my god, so she has to dance and act!”

Yes, that’s how prima ballerinas roll.

But not everyone in the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre (SPBT) cast manages to get that right – although you’ll probably only notice this when Irina is off stage, because you’re not really watching anyone else when she’s on.

Flying in formation
Acting skills aside though, when it comes to drama, SPBT still delivers plenty with their grand sets, bejewelled costumes and then there’s the corps de ballet of mesmerising swans, so perfectly in time and in sync, moving together as if by Russian magic.

The four little swans were particularly brilliant with their strong and fast footwork and their tick-tock, up-down, left-right movements. See more photos from their rehearsals below.

Though the stage did, at times, seem a tad small for SPBT’s big production, Montecasino’s impressive Teatro is perhaps still the most appropriate venue for Swan Lake, with seats rising all the way up to the clouds. And with Tchaikovsky’s haunting melodies delivered by the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, it made for a rich and dreamy ballet experience.

If you haven’t done so yet, I’d suggest you make quick about booking those tickets (here), as 75% of the seats were already sold prior to opening night. It may be a while before you get to see such a grand performance of Swan Lake in South Africa by such a ballet company in high demand around the world.

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