“Us St Petersburg dancers feel we have an ownership of the work,” Konstantin Tachkin tells SBS, proudly. He is the director of the world-touring St Petersburg Ballet Theatre.
“For us to know that Tchaikovsky’s great ballets, Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty came out of our city influences us, gives us a sense of pride in these works.”
It’s that sense of pride that the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre will bring to our sunburnt shores in late December. The troupe is set to perform two of Russian masterpieces during their tour – the enchanting Swan Lake and Christmas classic, The Nutcracker.
Both ballets were written and scored by the iconic Russian Romantic-period composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, in the 1870’s. But with each production and revival of classical ballets, though the score is unchanging, directors are free to make the choreography their own.
But that’s where Tachkin differs. An ardent devotee of the “pure, free-flowing, open Russian style” of ballet, his productions will keenly follow the original choreography of the 19th-century masters Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Both are credited for making The Nutcracker and Swan Lake the successes they are today.
Technically, Swan Lake did not premiere in St Petersburg, like The Nutcracker did. Swan Lake made its debut at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1877, where it was a flop. Almost 20 years later, the performance was workshopped by Petipa and Ivanov before being staged successfully at the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg, going on to become one of the ballet's most iconic pieces.
It is for this reason, Tachkin says, The St Petersburg Ballet adheres to the traditional choreography. It’s also a bid to celebrate the “Russianness” of these classic works.
To preserve this “Russianness”, the ballet theatre ensures they recruit dancers trained in the Russian style. Most performers with the company are graduates of the prestigious Vaganova Choreographic Institute in St Petersburg. But Tachkin says he’s always open to finding new dancers from abroad.
“These days so many excellent Russian teachers are invited abroad. So we do find that foreign dancers are moving more and more to the Russian syllabus,” he says. “We are happy to take in foreign dancers and have sometimes taken in ladies from Japan. But no Australians yet!”
All in all, Tachkin hopes Australian audiences take away “continued love of the ballet art” from his theatre’s performances this month. However, if you’re looking for something authentically Russian to watch out for, he has a few suggestions:
“Look at our style, look at the subtle Russian backs of our dancers, the precision of our corps de ballet.”