Taking a ballet company on an international tour isn’t cheap, and one thing which often ends up on the “nice but not essential” list, is an orchestra. Thankfully, St Petersburg Classic Ballet found the money to bring the Hungarian Sinfonietta Orchestra along with them – and they almost stole the show.
Not for nothing did the orchestra get the loudest applause of the night. Under the firm but gentle leadership of conductor, Igor Shavruk, they delivered Tchaikovsky’s magical and fun Nutcracker score with real flair.
Which is not to say the dancers themselves didn’t deliver the goods. Founded by Marine Medvetskaya in 1996, this relatively young Russian company has no shortage of technically strong performers.
But Glasgow Royal Concert Hall is just that – a concert hall. Meaning the conditions are perfect for an orchestra, less so for a ballet company. Watching narrative dance in a theatre, your gaze falls only on the dancers, with the orchestra heard but not seen in the pit below.
Here, both were in full view – and when an orchestra is this good, you can’t help but steal the odd glance their way.
Medvetskaya has assembled a strong company, performing accessible works for a mainstream audience, without compromising on integrity. On this, the company’s first UK tour, St Petersburg is delivering not just The Nutcracker, but Swan Lake and Giselle – crowd-pleasers all.
Inevitably, with such a large cast (more than 30 dancers plus orchestra) something had to be left back at base – in this case, a change of set. A large tree and festive decorations give Act One a suitably Christmassy feel – but there is no transformation when we enter the Kingdom of Sweets in Act Two.
What they clearly did find room for is costumes, and lots of them, each one more beautiful than the last. From the guests at the Christmas party through to the Sugar Plum Fairy, everyone looks gorgeous. Long silk gowns, frock coats and stiff white tutus make this Nutcracker as traditional as they come, while the large radio controlled mouse wheeling around the stage produced more than a few chuckles.
But of course when it comes to Russian ballet, what we’re really hoping for is the kind of dancing the country’s world-renowned training produces – which we largely get. Natalia Romanova is enchanting in the lead role of Clara, gently maturing from teenage girl to young woman. The corps de ballet is, as you might expect, almost regimented in its delivery.
The decision to add four male dancers to the Act Two pas de deux, thus reducing the Prince to something of a spare part in places, is questionable. And at times, you wish the whole company would just throw off its cloak of tradition and show some personality.
Sometimes, however, and especially at Christmas, a beautiful ballet-by-numbers is just what the audience is after.