The Mariinsky Ballet is undoubtedly one of the strongest ballet companies in the world. Their re-staging of the classic Swan Lake, which opened at the elegant Royal Opera House on Friday evening, blew the modern audiences away. This interpretation is like no other I have seen before, as the Mariinsky strike a unique balance between technique, dramatic dancing and emotional power. The Mariinsky's Swan Lake premièred in St Petersburg in January of 1895 and was choreographed by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa. Konstantin Sergeyev revised the choreography in 1950 and replaced the tragic ending with a happy one. His adaptation is still performed by the company today. Friday night's cast was superb and included Oxana Skorik (Odette-Odile), Timur Askerov (Prince Siegfried) and Vladislav Shumakov (the Jester).

Timur Askerov and Oxana Skorik in <i>Swan Lake</i> © Valentin Baranovsky
Timur Askerov and Oxana Skorik in Swan Lake
© Valentin Baranovsky

The performance as a whole was spellbinding. What made this three hour ballet gripping was the completeness of it all. The principal dancers, the partnering in the grand pas de deux, the corps de ballet's synchronicity, the music, the costuming, sets, lighting and, of course, the emotion that each dancer contributed to the overall performance came together harmoniously and made this version of Swan Lake extraordinary. The dancers were the perfect combination of technique and theatrical conviction; no surprise there as Mariinsky Ballet are known to place great emphasis on character dancing and dramatic training. Skorik's Odette and Odile were sweet and sharp respectively and her journey in the performance was believable and entirely magical. When she arched her back and extended her legs, Tchaikovsky's music came to life. Her limbs whistled onstage and matched Askerov's masculine presence. His lifts and attentive partner work allowed for seamless transitions which highlighted an enchanting chemistry. Another showstopper was Shumakov's interpretation of the Jester. His sharpened legs and razor blade toes were amusing to watch, especially during his solos in Act I. Konstantin Zverev portrayed the character Von Rothbart and his death in Act IV at the hands of Prince Siegfried was most visceral and memorable.

Mariinsky's Swan Lake is a sophisticated adaptation. The costumes are delicate and refined with a golden charisma like no others. The sweet a-length skirts and regal head pieces, fit for a queen, matched the auburn colours of the set. The draping of the dresses added to the beauty of the dancing and the subtle details in the movement. The costumes punctuated the proud chins, swayed backs, waving arms and clicking heels. The set and its palatable colours beautifully framed the mime and theatricality of the dancers. The Mariinsky Orchestra transcended the dancers to a new place with Tchaikovsky's layered luscious music. Perhaps it should be noted that an edition of the score which includes additions by Riccardo Drigo (who edited and orchestrated some of Tchaikovsky's Op.72 piano pieces for the final act) was used. The dancers' ephemeral gestures accented the music and their toes kissed the ground while their arms fluttered, only adding to the climactic musical and theatrical endings. The principal dancers as well as the corps de ballet moved effortlessly, especially in Act III.

Having seen the Mariinsky Ballet before, it appears that each year they get stronger and stronger, as if that were possible. The Mariinsky Ballet is touring and will be at the Royal Opera House in London for three weeks, performing other greats like Cinderella (Ratmansky), a triple bill and The Genius of Balanchine.