Jhe Russian State Ballet of Siberia may be based 3,500 miles away, but arguably it does more to promote ballet in the UK than many of our own companies. This is her 18th UK tour, zigzagging across the country with a small troupe of dancers, a live orchestra and a bagful of classical ballets, mostly the obvious (Swan Lake, Nutcracker, etc.) and a lesser-known story, The Snow Maiden.
Not to be confused with The Snow Queen, it is the Russian folk tale of a magical snow maiden who wishes to live and love among people, but when given the capacity for human emotions, she melts in the sun . There’s plenty of potential for a ballerina to explore the limpid fragility of her icy form and her emotional transformation, but Natalia Bobrova in the title role remains pleasantly emotionless throughout (her dancing is perfectly enjoyable).
Georgy Bolsunovsky puts in the most dramatic effort as the arrogant merchant Mizgir, an authorized boor who chooses a woman from a line of villagers but then drops her for the supernatural Snow Maiden (the shades of La Sylphide). When everything goes wrong, he finds anguish and enthusiasm in his grand allegro. And like her poor ex, Elena Svinko manages an elegant sadness alongside her beautiful long lines.
The choreography of artistic director Sergei Bobrov and Mark Peretokin is not spectacular, even if it has great lifts. There is a general lack of brilliance – even on a small stage you can dance with energy and joy – and the drama is light. They are embarrassed by the score, made of incidental music that Tchaikovsky wrote for a play of the same title (plus a few other choice excerpts); it lacks the composer’s magnificent melodies and the magical affinity between music and steps. In the first act in particular, the sound is turgid at times, quite the vibe of an orchestra halfway through an 84-date tour.
But the thing is, it’s an 84-date UK tour. You’ll never get the Bolshoi to do that, or the Royal Ballet. At under two hours, Bobrov and co keep things tight, with great costumes and a snowy CGI backdrop. If you take it for what it is, it’s a perfectly useful evening at ballet.