I’m rather conflicted about the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre (SPBT) La Bayadere. On the one hand I recognise some great dancers and dancing when I see it and on the other hand none of it really added up to create a truly satisfying whole. To be honest it felt a bit slapdash and unloved. Bayadere came after a long run of Swan Lake in London and I saw the last performance of the visit, and possibly they were tired and not so prepared for their second London production.
So what was good and what was not? Well the designs and costumes at times looked very old-school Russian, when fabrics were noticeably poorer and colours strange to ‘Western’ eyes – teal and lipstick red for example, and then at other times they were gorgeous to look at. Thankfully the traditional painted scenery was masterful all through. The orchestra were big on volume (and it makes a difference) but what odd tempi at times for us and the dancers. Some of the acting really connected: I thought a lot of Dmitry Akilinin’s Rajah – very believable at wanting his way – and also Gamzatti, danced by the impossibly stunning Natalia Matsak, looked so much the part you wondered what Solor’s problem might be (love I know!). But Dimchik Saikeev as the High Brahmin seemed all huge gestures, as if in a bad silent movie, and the Aya (Gamzatti’s servant), so often a half-bent old retainer was here young, glamorous and tall – looking more like a family friend Gamzatti was at school with perhaps? It felt wrong.
Wise or not, SPBT has submerged its own identity for this and other tours replacing it here with “Irina Kolesnikova – London Season” and the company is not even mentioned on the programmes front cover. At 35 Kolesnikova is probably at the height of her dancing and is certainly worth seeing as Nikiya, the temple dancer who leads La Bayadere. She looks lyrical and is technically most accomplished and her arms are particularly expressive. But sad to say I didn’t believe in her/Nikiya’s plight particularly – there is alchemy that elegant steps and general pained expression alone can’t deliver. Denis Rodkin’s Solor (a warier who loves Nikiya but is forced to wed Gamzatti) was also restrained but I found more realism here. Guesting from the Bolshoi Ballet he brought graceful panache and a fine finish to all he touched, particularly his big jumps. He is though not a big or particularly tall dancer – his fine features rather deceive until he moves. A shame that he and Kolesnikova didn’t enjoy a closer bond. There were also several mishaps on the afternoon, with the snake escaping Nikiya’s basket (at the wedding feast) and falling to the floor for all to see – how would she kill herself we thought? The snake charmer in this production also had problems with his dozy snake and the fight between Nikiya and Gamzatti, culminating in the dagger attack on the later, looked laughably ill-done. Let the steps do the talking we often hear, but it’s just not always enough.
Amidst the less convincing aspects were some standout performances by the three shades, particularly the sunny Anna Samostrelova, who always went the extra mile and my eyes always wanted to follow and also the corps ladies in the famous Kingdom of the Shades section. It wasn’t perfect – getting 24 dancers to hold a pose on one leg is never easy for any company, but they didn’t cheat and being nearly identically sized they created a good vision. There is a good company here but based on this performance I think they look like they need a jolt from fresh eyes. Perhaps it’s as simple as the company feeling they are the lead and what they all do collectively really matters – success isn’t just down to one star principal.