A lesser company might have buckled beneath the weight of scandals and bad press that have dogged Moscow’s premiere ballet company in the last few months. But judging by the opening night of their London season, The Bolshoi will carry on regardless. This muted - some might say mutated - Swan Lake may not be the finest ballet in their repertoire but there are few signs of stress within the company in performance.
Maria Alexandrova (Odette) in Swan Lake by the Bolshoi Ballet at the Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
In spite of the drab set of dusty black and dirty gold designed by Simon Virsaladze and Grigorovich’s wholly unnecessary tinkering with the steps and structure - rendering the story virtually incomprehensible - there is much to enjoy. Bolshoi beauty Zakharova has a fine, cool line and expressively elegant arms as Odette, combining a breathtaking precision with an unusually penetrating sense of transformation; she is the swanniest Swan Queen I have ever seen. She deserves a more animated Prince than Volchkov’s Siegfried, whose technique fails to mask a total absence of emotion. This is particularly problematic in the Black Swan pas de deux which fails to ignite the smallest spark of erotic tension.
It is to the lesser characters that one is constantly drawn: Lantratov’s Evil Genius (aka von Rothbart) is superb, unhindered by the customary wings that can transform even the finest character dancer into a ham. Virile and powerful, he shadows Siegfried like a puppetmaster, forcing him to do his bidding. As a brace of The Prince’s friends, Anastasia Stashkevich and Kristina Kretova are a delight, the former’s filigree steps and ebullient personality shining out amid the gloom of the subdued lighting. Likewise, the gazelle-like Anna Tikhomirova brings oodles of character and verve to her Spanish Bride, making the most of a small role.
The corps de ballet are, as always, drilled to within an inch of their fingertips. Sweeping and hopping in unison, flowing like liquid alabaster through their sequences - even the uninspired additions by Grigorovich who also messes around with Tchaikovsky’s score to the extent that there was one sequence I didn’t recognise at all. The Bolshoi orchestra - especially the solo violins - are, however, on song throughout.