Sadly for many, the world of ballet will always be negatively associated with the psychotic actions and mental state of the ballerina in the Oscar winning film Black Swan. However this summer, it is the white swans—all 32 of them—who are showing London audiences the impressive beauty of their classical ballet training.

© Natasha Razina
© Natasha Razina

The corps of the Mariinsky Ballet are reputedly the finest exponents of these fanciful creatures—young girls turned into swans by an evil magician—and they have been pulling out all stops, offering moments of pure visual loveliness. Their dedicated eight years tough training—most are graduates of the famed Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg, the birthplace of Russian ballet—can be seen in the elegant military precision of their dancing. There can be few more glorious moments in the theatre than the perfect straight rows of swans, who, with grace and finesse, weave their intricate patterns across the stage, their delicate hands, and quivering feet moving as one harmonious whole. In the last act, they are bathed in pink morning light by the water’s edge as they wait for their queen to return. Some stand, heads tilted with one arm artistically held high, like the long neck of the graceful bird, others lie in groups on the floor their tutus fluffing up and catching the rays.

The corps also serves well in the first act as young peasants enjoying the festivities of the Prince’s birthday and in the ballroom of Act II (Act III in other productions), as foreign dignitaries performing lively national dances.

The Mariinsky Ballet, (formerly the Kirov Ballet) is celebrating its 50th year of visiting the UK under the patronage of Lillian and Victor Hochhauser. First seen during the chilling era of Soviet communism—(and made memorable by the defection of the rising star Rudolph Nureyev at the airport in Paris just before the company set off for London), the company brought traditional classical ballets, and spectacular drama ballets danced by fabulous superstars. Slowly over the years, it has opened its repertory doors to western choreography and now boasts many works by today’s ‘hot’ choreographers. But it’s still the classics that sell well here in Britain, and this year’s box-office is again proving the point.

Swan Lake opened the three week season and on Wednesday, the third night, (the first two nights saw performances by prima ballerina Yuliana Lopatkina and then the promising rising star, Viktoria Tereshkina) it was the turn of Alina Somova to show her interpretation in the dual roles of Odette/Odile. First seen here two years ago when she danced Juliet, Somova, who graduated in 2003, received mixed reviews for her unique style. She has natural beauty with blonde hair, a sweet smile and luscious long limbs. But she has gymnastic tendencies – like Sylvie Guillem—which allow her extension to go way past the acceptable ‘six o’clock’ (straight up) height. The shooting up of the leg meant that she missed the slow unfurling legato required, which spoilt the aesthetic nuances. Today she is coached by ex-ballerina Tatiana Terekhova, who has ‘tamed’ her extension somewhat—but not completely. At times during the ‘white acts’, Somova gave the impression of a confident athlete rather than a soft and frightened woman. However, the audience didn’t mind. They saw a beautiful swan in pristine sparkly tutu with an ability to balance, leap and bourree smoothly as though on roller skates. They loved her high legs and speedy turns, especially when, as the flashing -eyed seductive Black Swan, she spun with dizzying speed in her 32 fouette turns—doing singles then triples as the audience cheered her on.

Her Prince Siegfried was Evgeny Ivanchenko, a soft unforced mover and leaper, but oh so dull! His expression never changed throughout the ballet and there were two classic moments of his lack of interest: when realizing he has been tricked by Von Rothbart and Odile, he simply toddled rather than raced off to the lakeside to plead Odette’s forgiveness. And in the final dramatic moments of the ballet and his battle with the evil magician, he half-heartedly chased him, and finally snapped off one of his wings, dangling it like a duster as the magician writhed on the floor.

Worthy of mention was Andrei Ermakov who portrayed Von Rothbart showing impressive high-flying scissor-sharp jetes, though sadly there is less for the evil magician to do in this production than usual. (This production by Konstantin Sergeyev was staged in 1950). Ilya Petrov was the Jester, usually a maddeningly irritating figure but here played with sensitivity and great energy. And plaudits too to the trio who danced the Pas de Trois in the first act (Yana Selina, Valeria Martinyuk and Alexei Timofeyev) who demonstrated the neatness and perfect placement of their ebullient Russian training.

The Mariinsky tour continues with various programmes but Swan Lake returns with different casts on August 6th, matinee.