Review: Russian State Ballet and Orchestra of Siberia’s Swan Lake, Playhouse

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What must life be like in a Siberian ballet company?


One can’t help but wonder if life is lived in black and white, like an arty documentary, the snow outside contrasting starkly with the black polo necks of brooding choreographers as they command their troupe to repeat their steps over and over until their feet bleed.

Do people discuss Dostoyevsky over chessboards of an evening, blowing cigarette smoke into the air to punctuate their points and drinking liberally from a vodka bottle?

Certainly the performers live their lives on stage in black and white. The post interval lighting of Swan Lake casting a muted blue hue over the swans as black and white merge and separate.

In the second act of the opening half, there are brilliant white flurries of ballerinas, recalling the busy energy of Degas sketches. Their stiff white tutus swirling into one and other as they formed small groups on stage.

In contrast, the celebrations for our hero Prince Siegfried’s birthday burst with colour and resplendent clothes, enhancing the stark differences of black and white, and good and evil, as the story plays out.

Yet a brooding air and downbeat pathos hangs over even the joyous elements of this production. There doesn’t seem to be much humour or conflict in the choreography, leaving the drama flat.

Perhaps it’s caused by a deviation in narrative – gone is the crossbow gifted to the prince to go hunting, replaced with a necklace and instruction to find love.

While this and the evil Von Rothbart’s unusually early appearance in proceedings helps set the scene, it doesn’t explain how we suddenly find ourselves on the edge of an enchanted lake.

The use of the regional dances as the introduction of prospective brides during the ball scene also aids the direction of the story yet we are left confused by the appearance of Odette through a wall.

It’s presented in much the same way as Dr Nick Riviera explaining to Homer Simpson that rubbing high-fat food on a piece of paper will make it transparent – has Odette been rubbing Krusty burgers on the castle wall so she can see in? Von Rothbart certainly does a lot to conceal her. It seems that such odd contrasts have robbed the story of its emotional grit.

• Run ends tomorrow. Nutcracker ends Saturday.