Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London

The world’s stages are littered with productions of Swan Lake, the majority of which – as I know to my cost – are horrid and foolishly optimistic. One alone I find wholly engrossing, heart-touching, noble in its response to narrative as to Tchaikovsky’s score, and that is the version staged by the Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, with which the company opened its London season on Monday.

Its virtues are those of the troupe as a dance-ensemble: elegance of means, nobility of expression and that historical resonance that announces every step, every dramatic attitude, is the fruit of long years of thought, aspiration and reverence for the art, which this ballet celebrates. I treasure the Mariinsky’s scenery and costumes, which frame the piece so discreetly.

I love the orchestral sound, eloquent from the Mariinsky musicians under Boris Gruzin’s baton. And I worship, the far side of idolatry, the corps de ballet: a legion of swans who move on a single, impeccable impulse, a protean ballerina; with soloists whose academic style is the fruit of ballet’s near three centuries in Petersburg; and national dancers who live vividly in their music – all nurtured by teaching and coaching of unrivalled wisdom.

It seems I am writing more of a love-letter than the critical review of a performance dictated by my responsibilities to the readers of this newspaper. But I found in this Mariinsky performance an inevitability of means of expression, which defines the identity of Swan Lake and of the ballet troupe itself – and we must love the best when we see it.

As Odette/Odile, Uliana Lopatkina proposed an interpretation radiant in understanding. Movement spoke with the music’s voice; long, serene phrases wrote the Swan Queen’s story, then revealed the smiling malevolence of von Rothbart’s creation, Odile, all in dancing of exquisite linear grace. At the heart of this magnificent staging, Lopatkina superbly existed. I salute the attentive Siegfried of Daniil Korsuntsev, and the elegant bravura of the first scene’s trio, with Maxim Zyuzin notably fine, not least for his impeccable feet.

How fortunate we are to see this company. In a season marking the Golden Jubilee of its first visit to London, now – as then – we are in the presence of great Russian art.

Royal Opera House

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