In recent years, Singapore has seen various Swan Lakes, from Matthew Bourne's irresistibly bold all-male version to the Bolshoi Ballet's psychodrama. St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's offering is closer to the original libretto and choreography, which date back to 1895. The ballet, with its central dual role of Odette-Odile, has been an enduring vehicle for ballerinas to exhibit their technical prowess and dramatic flair.
Irina Kolesnikova, the indubitable jewel in this company's crown, is in a league above the rest of the company. Headlining its international tours, she is a regal dancer schooled in the Russian tradition, with an expressive back and secure classical technique. She lends her white swan an athletic boldness, but with crucial mime sequences replaced by dancing, there is too much back story to fill in even with the passion she imbues.
Kolesnikova undergoes a remarkable transformation in the ballet's third act, portraying Odile with a previously unseen attack and cunning coquettishness. While she handles the role's rigorous technicalities admirably, Kolesnikova shows clear preparation for certain challenging steps, thus diminishing the wizardry of a spiralling pirouette or a razor-sharp transfer between partners.
Despite all her gifts, it is insufficient to have one star carry the entire ballet. Swan Lake places incredible demands on all its dancers, and the corps de ballet of St Petersburg Ballet Theatre unfortunately do not make the performance look as effortless as it should. More often than not, the dancing falls on either side of the beat of Tchaikovsky's soaring music rather than on it.
This is a company capable of amplitude, but lacking in refinement and soul. As courtiers and peasants framing each scene, the dancers, if not stiffly frozen, are gesturing perfunctorily. In the ballet's renowned white acts, the female ensemble does not achieve the stunning unison which captivates and mystifies not only Dmitriy Akulinin's rather undistinctive Prince Siegfried, but the audience as well. Iurii Baryishnikov's Rothbart is a monstrous crow, who eventually perishes because Akulinin rips off one of his wings. Galina Solovieva and Semyen Pastukh's designs are gilded in gold, with some splashes of garish colour.
A venue which has mostly staged commercially viable musicals since its inception, the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands is presenting its first ballet in Swan Lake. It seems to be no surprise that St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, which is a uniquely commercial entity independent of state funding and private sponsorship, is its first balletic visitor. The company's repertoire consists only of ballets in the classical canon - warhorses guaranteed to fare well at the box office. While a sold-out run is heartening, one wonders why this is unprecedented in Singapore.
The audience at Marina Bay Sands is starkly different from the one at the Esplanade Theatre - there is a largely social inclination to the event as people converse and clink glasses, even in the theatre. But this informality crosses the line, as the chatter carries on even when music blares through the speakers, though the curtains are still down. This is not the typically reserved, disciplined ballet audience. Thus begs the questions: where have they come from, and will they attend another ballet?
Swan Lake is sold out.