Review – Coppelia, Russian State Ballet of Siberia, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 28th January 2020

83889505_514489085853548_7127031167198429184_nIt’s a happy welcome back to the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, who graced us with their presence last year when we enjoyed their Snow Maiden. For 2020 they have returned with productions of Sleeping Beauty on Monday and Swan Lake on Wednesday, but we plumped for Coppelia on Tuesday, because we’ve only seen it once before and I did feel like I needed a refresher.

CoppeliaBased in Krasnoyarsk they bring an enticing whiff of the Steppes to our shores, blending innate elegance with technical expertise and a delightful observance of all the conventions of the Grand Russian Ballet. These conventions tend to get unrecognised by us Britishers, but I’m always amused and impressed by the performers’ ability to break off from a dance to take a spontaneous round of applause (always received with utmost humility) and I love the way they walk a wide circuit of the stage to receive gracious acknowledgement gestures from the dancers clinging to the edges. During the next week I shall wave graciously at Mrs Chrisparkle when she comes out of the shower. If it’s good enough for the Siberians, it’s good enough for us.

Swanhilda and her friendsIt was good to be reminded of the content of Coppelia, because it’s a charming and surprisingly funny ballet, with the age-old simple story of boy meets girl meets automated doll. Girl gets jealous but when she discovers her rival is no more than some painted wood, she tricks boy into believing that she is the doll. Truth is revealed, they flee from the ire of the Doctor who has made the doll, there’s a long wedding sequence and they all live happily ever after. No dying swans here. A university friend once pointed out the similarities between the choreography in the video that accompanied Toni Basil’s Mickey and Coppelia. How we scoffed and mocked him for his pretentiousness. But, on reflection, he’s completely right.

Corps de BalletScenery-wise, it would be fair to say the Russian State Ballet of Siberia travel light, but they make up for it with some wonderfully stunning costumes. The ladies are resplendent in beautiful dresses, a mix of bold and subtle colours and styles that bring their own vivacity to the stage. Similarly, the gentlemen are bedecked in smart tunics and strongly coloured shirts; Egor Osokin’s fantastic red military suit as the Burgomeister stood out, as did Ivan Karnaukhov’s Doctor Coppelius’ bright blue cloak creation. The whole thing genuinely is a treat for the eyes, and that’s even without considering the dancing.

The CompanyThe evening started curiously; the lights went down and then there was a long pause before anything happened. Some desultory applause started at the back of the auditorium and at first I thought it was a few disgruntled punters taking the mick. But no, they could see from their vantage point that Maestro Anatoliy Chepurnoy had mounted his podium, although in the front stalls we couldn’t see him. Suddenly his little head popped up over the railing, and with some encouraging hand gestures exhorted us into a rousing round of applause. More! More! his wavy hands were saying, so a few pantomime-style whoops and cheers came from somewhere behind me. Satisfied that we’d greeted the audience with the fervour they deserved, he decided to get on with the conducting.

Franz and SwanhildaDelibes’ score is crammed with luscious tunes all the way through, none more luscious than its opening number, the famous Mazurka which gets your feet tapping and your legs entrechatting. They’ve played about with the sequence of the music a little bit; nevertheless, it sounds great, despite the couple of duff notes played by the horn towards the end of the first Act. They’ve also removed some of the spookier aspects to the story, making Coppelius less of a Doctor Evil and more of a crotchety old fop. No matter, it works well with Alexander Gorsky and Gennady Malkhasiants’ revised choreography.

Elena SvinkoIn the lead role of Swanhilda, Elena Svinko is outstanding. She was a magnificent Kupava in last year’s Snow Maiden and once again she brings elegance, skill and a terrific presence to the stage. She uses her expressions to tell the story so well that we completely understand the character and motivations of Swanhilda. She also always looks like she’s having a really wonderful time on stage, which is always a bonus for the Russian ballet. She is matched by Marcello Pelizzoni as Franz, a fresh-faced youth with impressive agility and style, who’s also a superb storyteller. Was he really only born in 1999? That’s amazing – this young man is truly going places. Together the two leads created an excellent partnership.

Marcello PelizzoniI enjoyed Ivan Karnaukhov’s semi-villainous Coppelius, flouncing theatrically around the stage; Mariami Kuloshvili didn’t have a large role to dance as the Coppelia Doll but when she brought it to life it was very entertaining. Miryam Roca created a very vivacious Town Celebrity character, and she was nicely accompanied by Egor Osokin’s dignified Burgomeister. The Fairy was danced by Anastasia Osokina with all the grace and charm that we saw last year, and I particularly enjoyed the trio danced by Nerea Astorga, Sofya Eremina and Arianna Guastaferro. The six Corps de Ballet dancers who played Swanhilda’s friends were totally enchanting, particularly bringing out the character and humour in the scene where they break into the Doctor’s toyroom.

There were one or two slightly dicey moments; a male member of the Corps had a worried look on his face throughout the whole of one dance and when it came to an end he wore that relieved expression you see on a pensioner when they’ve reached the top of an escalator and congratulate themselves on having got that far. It may have been the same chap who in the second Act dropped his hat early on and then kept giggling about it with his friends. There was also a moment when I had to stop Mrs C laughing when Mr Karnaukhov got the hem of this cloak caught under the door to the Doctor’s studio, and you could see frantic shiftings of material from the other side in an attempt to liberate the offending garment, whilst dancers battled on regardless. Inevitable, when a company only plays one performance of a dance at a theatre, that these little issues will emerge. But, on the whole, it was a high-quality performance and everyone seemed happy with how it all went, especially once they’d found Mr Chepurnoy to join them for the final curtain. After their visit to Northampton the company continues its tour to Wolverhampton, High Wycombe, Wimbledon, Southend, Canterbury, Brighton, Halifax, Oxford, Leicester, Basingstoke, Swindon, Ipswich, Bournemouth and Sheffield. I always enjoy seeing these dancers – and I’m sure you would too.

Four they’re jolly good fellows

Review – The Snow Maiden, The Russian State Ballet of Siberia, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 8th January 2019

Russian State Ballet of SiberiaIt’s always a pleasure to catch some classical ballet from time to time; and as neither Mrs Chrisparkle nor I had ever seen The Snow Maiden, this visit from the Russian State Ballet of Siberia seemed like a golden opportunity. I always say (stop me if you’ve heard it already) that dance done well is the finest thing you can see on a stage; and dance done badly is the opposite! Although we haven’t seen this dance company before, I had no doubt that they were going to do a good job; previous visits to the Royal and Derngate by the Moscow City Ballet were various kinds of exquisite. However, I do recall a time when Mrs C and I saw a production of Swan Lake in St Petersburg – ok, it wasn’t the Mariinsky, but we had high hopes – and it was just appalling. Bored dancers going through the motions with no thought of artistry so that Japanese tourists could take photos. So we’re always a little bit concerned about dipping our pointe shoes into the murky world of lesser known Russian ballet companies.

in the frost forestBut there was no need to be worried about the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, or to give them their other name, the Krasnoyarsk State Ballet. They’ve visited the UK sixteen times since their first Christmas season in Cardiff in 2002, so I’m surprised I haven’t come across them before. For their current UK tour they have six full length ballets to tempt us with, three of which were performed during their brief three days at Northampton. They’re clearly a hard-working bunch, with only a few days off during their lengthy tour, details of which will follow at the end.

the-snow-maiden-russian-state-ballet-of-siberiaProduction values are commendable. Their relatively simple but extremely effective and attractive sets, with gently moving images like snowfall or water ripples, actually made our Tuesday night audience gasp with appreciation when the curtain went up – you don’t get that with Rambert. Anatoliy Chepurmoy’s sizeable orchestra gave Tchaikovsky’s tunes plenty of attack; full, live music to accompany a ballet always seems to create a greater sense of occasion, for audience and performers alike.

mizgir regretsOne doesn’t tend to go to the ballet to witness an intricate tale; but, as far as story-telling goes, this company did a very good job. The Snow Maiden runs away from the snowy forest because she wants to live life with real people; doesn’t seem unreasonable. She chances on a village where she is invited to join the youngsters watch a young merchant, Mizgir, choose a bride from the single village girls. He chooses Kupava, and all seems well at first, until the Snow Maiden bursts on the scene and she completely steals his heart, much to Kupava’s distress. If he liked it, then he should have put a ring on it. She runs away (again) and meets her mother Spring (the beautiful and graceful Anastasiia Belonogova), who bestows on her the capacity to love. But Spring warns the Snow Maiden that she must stay out of sunlight. Mizgir finds her, falls in love with her all over again, but as soon as she is revealed in the sun’s rays, she melts away. And the moral of this tale is: never forget your Factor 50.

snow maidenFor our performance, the role of the Snow Maiden was danced by Anastasiia Osokina, who, according to the programme, isn’t a soloist but a member of the Corps de Ballet. If that’s the case, her career is definitely on the up. However, I think that might be a mistake in the programme as she appears to have been dancing with the company since 2003 with many notable roles to her name. Whatever, she’s an exquisite dancer with superb expression (something you can sometimes miss with Russian ballerinas) and a joy to watch. When she first meets Lel, the young shepherd danced by Daniil Kostylev, they shared one or two ever so slightly ropey balance moments which I can only put down to slight lack of rehearsal – unsurprising with their performance schedule – because separately, they were as sure-footed as mountain gazelles.

KupavaWhere the ballet really came alive for me was the extensive pas de deux between Ivan Karnaukhov’s Mizgir and Elena Svinko’s Kupava; partly because that is the most luscious of Tchaikovsky’s tunes in this particular ballet (was it borrowed from another of his works, because I can’t locate it on any recordings!) and partly because Ms Svinko’s elegant displeasure at the Snow Maiden’s butting in and stealing her merchant was gripping! Both dancers filled the stage with their superb technical prowess, Mr Karnaukhov leaping from end to end, and Ms Svinko channelling her emotions in the sumptuous grace of her dance. Mr Karnaukhov was also fantastic in the second Act, where his athletic dancing movingly told the character’s mental agony at the Snow Maiden’s unexpected and puddly departure.

snow maiden1After all those high emotions, next came the appearance of the three clowns, led by Maxim Ikonostasov, who provided an amusing and thrilling interlude before the final scene. Looking at it from a dramatic point of view, it’s ironically amusing how quickly Kupava gets over her disappointment. There are a few disconsolate tableaux, and the inevitable graceful salutary waving of the Corps de Ballet on the sidelines, before Lel makes his mark and takes advantage of being Last Man Standing. Their final pas de deux together was typical of the usual classical Russian Wrap-up of a ballet, with some terrific leaps and pirouettes which really impressed and entertained.

Lel and Snow MaidenBritish provincial audiences may not play along with the Russian practice of lengthy rounds of applause after each element of dance, which is why the show comes down earlier than you might expect. But it doesn’t mean we didn’t appreciate it; and the applause at curtain call was sustained and hearty! If you fancy a spot of classical Russian ballet without having to pay Covent Garden prices, I’d really recommend the Russian State Ballet of Siberia. Their UK tour continues until 16th March, taking in – deep breath – Norwich, High Wycombe, Bournemouth, Darlington, Swindon, Wimbledon, Southend, Brighton, Bristol, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Hull, Leicester, Basingstoke, Ipswich, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Halifax and Oxford. And then they get a day off!