St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Ballet presented a ravishing guest performance of ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Danish Opera from January 13-16, and then returned a day later with a new production: a triple bill of ballets by Ballets Russes choreographer Michel Fokine. While the dancers were completely otherworldly in ‘Swan Lake’ – for long stretches of the evening it was easy to forget that the ethereal creatures on stage were in fact human beings – the second programme brought them back down to earth as ‘merely’ an extraordinary ballet company.
The programme began with the restrained ‘Chopiniana’, which Fokine choreographed in 1908 as an abstract celebration of the romantic ballet to orchestrated music by Chopin. It features 25 female dancers – primarily as alive decorations that seam the stage in ornamental poses, long tutus and with a baffling motionlessness – and one male dancer who partners the solo ballerinas. As the first and only Brit to be accepted into the ballet company, Xander Parish mastered the part with fabulously calm precision.
After the all-white ‘Chopiniana’, ‘The Firebird’ from 1910 set off the abundance of bright colours that was so iconic for the Ballets Russes. In the ballet based on motives from Russian folk tales, the subjects of Kashchei the sorcerer danced their infernal dance in comical costumes that featured shreds on heads and arms. Alexei Repnikov vibrantly conducted Stravinsky’s striking first composition for the Ballets Russes.
In the orgiastic Arabian nights tale ‘Shéhérazade’ (also 1910), bright embroidered costumes with beaded headpieces stood out against the scenography in blues and greens. Yekaterina Kondaurova made an enticing Zobeide amongst the other women in Sultan Shariar’s harem, and as the Golden Slave, Danila Korsuntsev filled the stage with his intense presence and enormous jumps.
The magnificence of Fokine’s three ballets wasn’t just due to the dancing: the costumes featured unparalleled playfulness and detail, even if their contemporary incarnations might be somewhat gimmicky and boldly revealing where the original designs were inventive and seductive. In addition, both Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ and Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Shéhérazade’ are works of music that are frequently played as concerts rather than accompaniments to ballet. Together with the dancers’ splendid performance, the evening was an overload of aesthetic delights.