Photo courtesy of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.
When we set out to attend Friday evening’s performance of the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet’s production of Swan Lake, it was with a mixture of excitement and skepticism. After all, one can’t thumb one’s nose entirely at a world-famous, centuries-old ballet company known for its flawless and captivating performances—but also: was it really that big of a deal? Having seen the National Ballet of Canada’s Swan Lake once before, and having thoroughly enjoyed it, there didn’t seem to be much room (or need) for improvement or alternatives.
The evening proved otherwise.
Walking into the Sony Centre, the difference struck us immediately. Everywhere we looked, men, women, and children were dressed to the nines, not a pair of jeans in sight. Hearkening back to when it was customary to dress for the theatre, opera, or ballet, it signalled that the city’s attendees of this production were taking it quite seriously—and it was very refreshing.
Set against the backdrop of the renovated Sony Centre for the Performing Arts—which, with its bright lights and flashing TV screens, looks more like a movie theatre than a performing arts centre—it was difficult, but not impossible, to imagine being transported back to the Russia of yore. As we took our seats, the imposing size of the modern auditorium and the old-school, homespun fabric of the seats lent an almost schizophrenic atmosphere. But then, as the curtains went up, everything became quite clear, the décor and surroundings all but disappearing.
The dancers’ precisely executed movements, the sumptuous costumes (whose high quality could be appreciated even from the balcony), and the set designs were unlike anything we’d seen before. The audience was full of palpable joy, punctuated by burly men yelling encouragement at prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina as she attacked her fouettés, with as much enthusiasm as they looked like they might throw at a hockey game. Not for a moment breaking out of their roles, the dancers commanded our respect and awe, reminding us of their power over our senses and imagination, if just for one evening.
In short: an ethereal experience.