Mariinsky triple bill, Royal Opera House, London – review

Not a seat to be had for the Mariinsky’s triple bill, which offered a bold mix of work beginning with Mikhail Fokine’s The Firebird. The 1994 production (the Russians came late to the Ballets Russes repertoire) uses the original 1910 designs (rather than the 1926 Natalia Goncharova ones favoured by the Royal Ballet). Alexander Golovin’s fantastical forest and Bakst’s principal costumes with their gaudy palette of mauve and turquoise have a pop-up storybook magic and the rear wall made from the petrified corpses of knights gives additional force to Stravinsky’s sublime resolution.

Monday’s Firebird was Anastasia Matvienko, partnered by Andrei Yermakov, who combines elegant technique and manly manners with the looks of a young Steve McQueen. The stage-filling Danse Infernale has acquired a certain amount of fancy Russian embroidery – lots of split jumps and double tours from the Bellyboshkies – but if Fokine had had a corps this good to play with, he too might have been tempted.

The Mariinsky’s strength in depth was also apparent in Alexei Ratmanksy’s exhilarating Concerto DSCH. Set to Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto (zestfully played by Vladimir Rumyantsev), this all-too-short ballet is a feast of supercharged classicism. The breathless energy of the allegro movements reads at times like Soviet pastiche but the witty and poignant interaction of couple and trio hints at infinite dramatic possibilities.

Viktoria Tereshkina and the soaring Yermakov made dazzling leads. Nadezhda Batoeva relished her saucy pas de trois, flanked by Filipp Stepin and Korean boy wonder Kimin Kim, who played in the air like a starling. Plenty of “bravos” and “bravas”: whatever happened to “encore”?

Ratmansky’s fizzing finale followed a disappointing Marguerite and Armand. Frederick Ashton’s ballet, created for Fonteyn and Nureyev in 1963, went into cold storage 10 years later but was exhumed for Sylvie Guillem in 2000 and has been up for grabs ever since. Diana Vishneva has all the qualities for a fine Marguerite and the contrast between her windblown pas de bourrée and the limping pointework of her death scene was painfully expressive.

Sadly, her advertised Armand (Vladimir Shklyarov, her Romeo on opening night) was replaced by the efficient but lacklustre Konstantin Zverev. Armand, with his surging runs and weather vane arabesques, needs to be danced and played without a safety net (cf Kristina Shapran and Sergei Polunin on YouTube). Anything less and Dumas’s story degenerates into cheesy melodrama.

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