The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, both artists and support staff, have arrived, lock, stock and barrel, or more accurately, dancers, sets and costumes, for a tour of South Africa, presenting both Giselle and Swan Lake. This is a return visit as they were here last year with the critically acclaimed and sold out tour of Swan Lake.
Giselle is seen by many as the supreme Romantic ballet. It has been a favourite with audiences since its premiere in Paris in 1841. All the necessary features are present: a varied and striking score, pretty costumes, superb choreography, contrasting sets, a simple plot which is easy to follow and in which the dance develops naturally, the charm of young beautiful dancers and a fabulous corps de ballet.
The music by Adophe Adam is partly the reason for the success of the ballet. It is colourful and distinctive. Much ballet music is inconsequential, but the music for Giselle is a precise orchestral portrait of what is happening on stage. The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra sounded very good under the baton of Vadim Nikitin, with the SPBT’s concertmaster, Mikhail Chausovski.
As delightful as the ballet and its music are, it is the ballet company of Konstantin Tachkin (there is more than one company using the words “St Petersburg” and “Ballet” in their name, but the name to look for in programmes is “Tachkin”) performing this work which provided much of the charm of the production.
Giselle demands mime and acting skills of its dancers to tell the story. This aspect was exceptionally well done. One never doubted Berthe’s (Olga Ojogina) concern for her daughter’s delicate health. Giselle’s (Irina Kolesnikova) retreat into madness before her death was superb. Hilarion’s (Dymchik Saykeev) despair at the death of Giselle was also magnificently conveyed.
While the athleticism of the male dancers is a principal attraction in most ballets and Dmitry Akulinin (Count Albrecht) is both a superb dancer and very easy on the eye, it is the female of the species who get the attention in Romantic ballets. Irina Kolesnikova creates beautiful poses, harmonious lines and her strength, lightness and suppleness create the ethereal, airy, remote ‘wilis’ perfectly. The peasant pas de deux by Sabina Yapparova and Andrey Yakhnuk enthralled me.
While big city audiences do get to see some very good principals from time to time (some of our dancers are very good, and Edouod Miasnikov also brings out some top Russian dancers for a “highlights” concert each year) it is a rare opportunity for South African audiences to experience the difference between a “so so” company and a great one, a really top-notch corps de ballet.
It is here that the SPBT shines so brightly. It not a group of independent dancers making up the whole, but rather a complete corps de ballet comprised of a group of dancers. They move as one because they are one. Of course, the very nature of the SPBT is that Giselle is probably danced a hundred or more times a year. Comparisons with local ballet companies who get to perform any particular ballet not more than eighteen or twenty times in a three or four year cycle (hopefully ballets are not recycled more often than that) are blatantly unfair, but it is wonderful to see the precision and uniformity from this more experienced company.
The only disappointing aspect of the production was the lack of a spooky atmosphere in the second act, otherwise everything else – sets, costumes, music, programmes, staging, the theatre itself and most particularly the dancing – was wonderful. It is little wonder that the tour sells out, leaving late bookers disappointed. It is very good entertainment.
Konstantin Tachkin’s St Petersburg Ballet Theatre tour continues in Pretoria – State Theatre: March 14 – 17, Bloemfontein – Sand Du Plessis Theatre: March 21 – 24, Cape Town – March 28 – April 1 2007 and Durban – Durban: April 25 – 29. Bookings at Computicket.