ON Sunday evening I watched Liverpool on TV give away a two goal lead in their FA cup tie against the lower ranked Shrewsbury Town side.
When they were two goals in front, they relaxed a team sure of their position and skills. Watching the first half of this ballet I had the same feeling. The St Petersburg Classic Ballet, like the Liverpool side, were full of class players (dancers) but there was little urgency or bite in their presentation.
Looking for a reason for this, another similarity to the FA Cup game emerged –t he pitch (stage) on which they were playing. The pitch at Shrewsbury was very rough compared to Liverpool’s Anfield ground. In Russia and on most of the continent, ballet companies have the luxury of some very big spaces compared with the limited room available at Bath’s Theatre Royal.
Being a company that regularly tours abroad, this change of space should have no affect, but the choreography, individual dancers and corps de ballet did at times during Act 1 one give the impression of being over cautious.
This mood also appeared to invade the orchestra pit, where the Hungarian Sinfonietta, conducted by Guntars Bernats, playing of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score, particularly in Act 1, at times lacked drive and bite. A little menace was added when Mouse King Arturs Skutelskis led his troops in their attack on Clara and the Nutcracker Prince.
Yulia Yashina was never fully convincing as the wide eyed dreaming romantic schoolgirl Clara, but as the story developed and the young women emerged, she added a polish to her presentation that reflected the true quality of her dancing skills. She also successfully undertook the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy (the reasons for which are not mentioned in the programme or cast list.)
The partnership between Yulia and Vadim Lolenko as the Nutcracker Prince developed slowly, and there was a question about Vadim’s fitness when he allowed another dancer to take over the final few lifts with Yulia at the end of their last dance.
Despite this they grew considerably as a partnership from a slightly uncertain opening encounter.
If you were not a regular ballet goer and did not know the story of the Nutcracker, then the choreography in Act 1, where the story is principly told, would not have made everything clear to you. Dr Drosselmeier lived up to his description as a mysterious guest, but is he a goodie or a baddie – or both at different times? In Evgeniy Silakov skillful hands, the good Dr popped in and out of the action in several guises, all presented with great aplomb.
The second half of the ballet does little to enhance the story, but does give individuals and the corps de ballets some wonderful set pieces within which they can display their talents. The popular set of dances from Arabia, Spain, China, and Russia have the advantage of some wonderfully descriptive Tchaikovsky melodies and, in common with many who have gone before them, the members of this company were not going to let such ballet gems escape their grasp.