Oxana Sharoba in <i>The Dying Swan</i>.

Oxana Sharoba in The Dying Swan.

A Festival of Russian Ballet. The Imperial Russian Ballet Company.

Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre,  September 17, 18, 19.

Season sold out.

I can’t remember when I last saw a program of ballet as diverse as A Festival of Russian Ballet. There was something for all tastes: a truncated version of the ever popular Nutcracker; The Dying Swan, that short, very classical piece everyone identifies with Anna Pavlova; something contemporary in Ne me quitte pas danced to a song by Jacques Brel; some Russian folk-inspired pieces; a bit of cross-dressing; and even a brief, breezy piece inspired by the Melbourne Cup. This was ballet for all.

The opening act was a version of Nutcracker in which pretty much the entire first act was replaced by the fatherly figure of Herr Drosselmeyer and his Nutcracker doll, well-known from the traditional Nutcracker, strolling across the front of stage while a voice over told the story of the ballet in just a couple of minutes. Drosselmeyer, played by Vitautas Taranda, really set the tone of the rest of the evening by engaging with the audience, especially with some young people in the few first rows. When the curtain went up we were catapulted into the middle of the traditional story and then saw bits and pieces of the second act with Lina Seveliova and Nariman Bekzhanov as Clara and the Prince respectively. For the rest of the evening, following the mood established by Drosselmeyer, the dancers of the Imperial Russian Ballet Company never once forgot that they were performing for an audience.

The second act, Bolero, danced to the well-known music of Maurice Ravel, had choreography by N.Androsov and was a strange mix of oriental-looking arm and hand movements, folkloric-style lines of dancers and a kind of Western contemporary mode of moving. Its odd storyline about darkness, light and the Godhead could have been dispensed with and the ballet left as an abstract piece of energetic dancing.

The best dancing came in the third act. I admired the fiery performance of a section from Don Quixote, especially the dancing of the leading man, Constantin Tcaci. In Gopak, a folk dance from Ukraine, Denys Simon also showed off a particularly Russian set of moves, and Carmen Suite was a feisty display from the female corps de ballet.

I found much of the dancing somewhat devoid of real expressive power, despite the use of strong facial expressions. But as we left the theatre the principal dancers were out in the foyer, still in costume and full make-up, signing autographs. With this company the audience mattered and the inclusion of a surprised young member of the audience in the final moments of Nutcracker was a charming moment.