Good night Irina
With its hokum story and endless mime, the first act of St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s La Bayadère is not something to lose sleep over, particularly with its old-fashioned scrim sets, square-cut costumes and dreadful wigs. Once we hit Solor and Gamzatti’s pre-nuptial celebrations in the second act however, things really took off.
Star of the show was Bolshoi Principal Denis Rodkin and his extraordinary jump. ‘Soared’ is an overused word in ballet reviews but it has to be admitted that Rodkin did indeed soar. He sprang, he floated and he zipped through the air like a hang-glider. His variation in the Act II pas de deux was absolutely electrifying, a masterclass in technique and poise. He also made an excellent foil for his Gamzatti, Ukranian Ballet Principal Natalia Matsak, a lady who moved with such smooth luxury that I was rooting for her rather than the designated heroine Nikiya.
That was also because Irina Kolesnikova’s Nikiya was basically her Odette from earlier in the week, only in saucier outfits. Kolesnikova’s default demeanour is a stern detachment that rids Nikiya of her vulnerability and you just don’t feel for her emotionally. Her technical prowess is unquestionable though and, just like in Swan Lake, the command over her body was remarkable and her power of stillness on pointe formidable. The grand pas with Rodkin was faultlessly exciting but didn’t have the magnetic chemistry of Rodkin with Matsak.
Unusually for a ballet, the most famous part of La Bayadère doesn’t belong to the Principals but instead the female corps. The Entrance of the Shades in Act III is one of the great choreographies with its long and winding line of tutu-clad ballerinas. The corps here made a bit of a hash of it to be honest with heads and legs bouncing up and down like a field of oil wells but, in their defence, they must have been knackered (this was their 12th show in 10 days and their 2nd that day) and once they were able to move more freely again they improved enormously. The Three Shades of Anna Samostrelova, Ludmilla Mizinova and Miho Naotsuko also gave a very tidy series of variations.
The orchestra were decent and Gamzatti’s sparkling tiara (that could easily find gainful employment as replacement for the Oxford St Christmas lights) provided a further highlight. Some really lost looking extras, a missing serpent and an especially awful lavender costume for Solor all added to the entertainment. It was a strange mix – the sublime with the ridiculous – but one that’s great to watch.
La Bayadère runs at the London Coliseum until 23 August 2015. The Coliseum website has tickets.