To those used to the standards of different (read: ‘better’) companies, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s Sleeping Beauty might not quite make the grade. Used as those viewers may be to companies who don’t need to tour as much, who enjoy facilities (as well as living arrangements!) which are constant, who regularly watch world-leading artistic standards from world leading exponents, they might then judge the company the poorer by comparison. Wouldn’t everyone seem the poorer?
That this company brings ballet to regions and towns and cities which might know the art form only live cinema transmissions or from watching Youtube clips is a fact to be applauded. I saw dance students in the audience at the Regent eager to see their nascent art-form danced with maturity and attainment, by dancers used to the virtue of long training and hard work. Expectations were largely satisfied.
So of course, being a touring company who must adapt to a different theatre nearly every two or three nights, the RSBoS’s production values aren’t the highest. Dmitry Tcherbadzhi‘s backdrops look slightly psychedelic (Act II’s woodland glade so psychotropic as to suggest the dancers there had been eating certain mushrooms therein). Yes, the Doric columns on the wings were fabric, and the illusion wobbled when a dancer bashed into one, setting it rippling in distinctly un-marmoreal splendour, but this is a touring production which can’t practically tour with grand sets or accoutrements. Yes, also I thought some of the mens’ wigs looked a bit tired. (And as to the bizarre shoulder escutcheons they were sporting, the less said the better. Even the Queen (Vera Surovtseva) was sporting these great sproutages of lace and wire, distorted and grotesque, as fairy-tales themselves often work on reality). By and large though, the costumes (by Tcherbadzhi too) were actually rather nice, the peasant outfits from Act II lovely, and notable was Yaroslava Nagumanova’s skirt, a hybrid between bell and tutu, semi-structured to move from pleats the only, and looking wonderful as a result. (That it showed Ms Nagumanova’s noticeable fine standard of dancing was an added bonus. Simple chained turns had added luxury of motion and progression: tightly controlled fabric allied to tightly controlled technique.)
I enjoyed choreographer Sergei Bobrov‘s innovations in the Prologue, the blooms and whirl of fairy lifts were well done, and for audiences, little wings made it rather apparent just who we were looking at here. (He really put the ‘fairy’ in ‘fairytale’!). Not hard to miss Olesya Aldonina as Lilac Fairy though, her long line stood out – as unfortunately did her slightly dour expression at times. I like my fairies to be munificent, benevolent, and Ms Aldonina’s fairy didn’t quite seem to be feeling those things on the day. The tempo for her variation was also noticeably slow which didn’t help matters too much, but it was not a big problem, she danced with good expression, her generous arms scooped gathering forces of goodness and she fluttered out travelling pas de bourrées of delicacy.
All fairies (Mana Kuwabara, Elena Lapina, Yana Tugaeva, Chitose Tscuhia) danced nicely, and yes, some pointing for ‘Pointy Fairy’ could have been sharper for instance, or fingers more mobile for Canary’s variation but I have memories of other dancers who have more time to study and perfect those small elements. It became apparent here that in all the dancing one wished for a bigger stage for the dancers to relax into longer chains of turns and steps. Commonly they had only begun to do so, wen they foudn themselves out of room.
Pavel Kirchev‘s Carabosse was malevolent without appearing pantomimic and overcooked. A little more mobility in the face would have helped; some better work from the eyes, or expressions showing greater internal narrative.His mime was a bit rushed, especially the “when she grows up” section but nevertheless, it was a nicely given characterisation, though I could have done without the costume choices for his bizarre rat-ish entourage.
Act I brought the arrival of our Aurora, Anna Fedosova. She quickly showed her prowess in the allegro register, possessing a cleverness of attack and lovely light hands which made her stand out from the crowd. Her Rose Adagio saw a flower-head come loose and fall away, and featured some very close partnering work on the supports for Aurora’s balances. I would have preferred more of an open partnering here, but perhaps this closeness was to shorten the balances, and to mask support? In all elements Fedosova was secure. Her variation here was greeted with applause from our half full theatre, which tapered away and stopped, for her only to bow again and for applause to start again. Rather awkward, but how easily one forgets: each relevé, each turn, each position is effort, and even the smallest of jumps is a physical cost, which sums up to fatigue. Perhaps Ms Fedosova wanted that small chance to catch a breath.
Act III saw our introduction to the young Daniil Kostylev as Prince Désiré. Mr Kostylev seems a little too young for the role as yet (the site lists him as a member of the corps de ballet) and his Désiré was slightly anonymous. I found little investment in his variation, or sense of its narrative. He is to be commended for dancing the role, and suffered only from my opinions formed by watching others.
The vision scene was rather truncated, but Fedosova showed herself as a dream-bound Aurora very nicely. No real journeying scene was in evidence, and Lilac Fairy’s intervention to get to the castle was a bit perfunctory.The curtain fell for a scene change (backcloth change) only to rise a short time after to reveal four cavaliers holding Aurora all on bended knee. It seems not only was she doomed to sleep for ever, but without so much as a bed to do so! The awakening scene was more a case of bringing live statues to life, this Désiré had the solution to hand without thinking about it, and the wedding was a foregone conclusion, to make way for the fairytale character’s variations.
Mana Kuwabara’s sunniness carried over from her Violente Fairy into her Princess Florine. She had lovely landings and a birdlike delicate line which became her. Her Bluebird (Georgiy Bolsnovskiy) suffered from some “corkscrew arms”as he worked through his entrechats and the second variation would have benefited from more discipline in his arm placement. It seems hard for a tall man to show Bluebird’s lightness, hence the challenge of the role, which Bolsnoskiy clearly tackled with no reservations.
Chitose Tschcia’s White Cat was cutely done. Her tiny feet lent a touch of believability to the role and her characterisation was strong. No tails in the costume for her or her Puss-in Boots (Denis Pogorelyy) which I missed, but his very Russian shrug at is failing to capture his dream-girl brought a laugh from all.
Of Yaroslava Nagumanova I have already spoken, and of her dress too. She was stand-out in all she did. There was clarity of intent, a gift for acting and comedy, which made her a treat to watch. Alexy Balva‘s Wolf was undistinguished by having been made to wear a hat with a big protruding wolf snout on it. Easier to dance in one may think, but rather odd to see. Cinderella (Anna Adreeva)’s Prince (incorrectly listed as Kostylev again) was noble and tall, and I found myself thinking him more suited for Désiré at least in mein.
Separate, brief stumbles from Fedesova and Kostylev in the Grand Pas showed just how unforgiving their schedules must be. I didn’t really like the red glitter in Prince Desire’s hair, but celebrated the fact there were no fishdives – until the end, where one was attempted, just about passed, and then quickly resolved to avert slipping. Aurara’s ending of diagonal turns was lovely, as was the final pose at curtain call. The Regent had enjoyed a ballet not so much regal as trouper.
Musically I was satisfied. In the introduction, more majesty from the brass, more opulence from strings would have been appreciated. As it was, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia Orchestra sounded more confident than when I had heard them in Nutcracker a few weeks ago (in Norwich). One or two moments of slippage, of sections not quite in agreement with each other were apparent, conductor Alexander Yudasin‘s control of their very modest (touring) forces otherwise secure. I missed the huge gong crash of Lilac Fairy’s enchantment falling on the Kingdom. Normal cymbals didn’t quite cut it. Still, I was grateful for the live music. A few other touring companies must resort to pre-recorded music for reasons of cost, and that’s always a shame.
If you miss the ballet, or wish to see your first live, a show from the Russian State Ballet of Siberia is a good place to go.