The miracle that is Olga Smirnova

Leo Schofield writes for dancelines from London

“It’s unspeakably bad for so many reasons that the injured Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin cannot be in London to see his company perform, and one is that he can’t see his protégée Olga Smirnova revealing herself to us as destined to be one of the great ballerinas of this era.”

So wrote a London dance critic. In the event Filin did make the trip from Moscow and although, after the appalling acid-throwing incident, he may not have been able to see his rising star he would certainly have been able to hear the roar of applause that greeted her curtain call.

The Bolshoi had scheduled a mere two performances of Balanchine’s three-act ballet, Jewels, in which the ballerina role in Diamonds was to be shared by their superstar Svetlana Zakharova and Smirnova, but Smirnova danced it on both evenings.

I saw the second performance and so missed Filin’s emotional appearance but would not for worlds have missed seeing the miracle that is Smirnova.

I had been alerted to her emergence by Clement Crisp. I had met this legendary ballet critic in Moscow at one of the performances of Sleeping Beauty mounted especially to mark the re-opening of the newly restored Bolshoi Theatre.

We got on well have kept up an email correspondence ever since and in one note Clement wrote ecstatically of this new ballerina that he had just seen in Moscow.

He reiterated his unstinting praise during an interval drink at Covent Garden…glorious body, extraordinarily long, expressive arms, powerful slender legs, a pliant body, beautiful back, neck like a swan, lovely leaps with feathery landings and an expressivity that eludes many dancers.

She had little competition from among her colleagues. Few of her excellent colleagues on stage apart from Ekaterina Shipulina who danced the second variation in Emeralds, came within a country mile of matching Smirnova’s tremendous gifts.

Nor did the Bolshoi’s new production, with dull sets, clunky costumes and a gratuitous lace-like drop curtain seen before each act, challenge memories of the Paris Opera Ballet’s magnificent show, seen in Sydney in 2007.

Of course the dancing was technically perfect and the Russians had learned Balanchine’s steps thoroughly and executed them effortlessly. What was missing was a sense of élan and exuberant Balinchinean style.

But any shortcoming was more than compensated for by Smirnova’s ravishing performance. She will be the ballerina of the age.

Now for Ratmansky’s Les Flammes de Paris, two performances only, the second on Friday with pocket rockets Osipova and Vasiliev. I can’t wait.

Below, ‘Prodigy’, a short documentary on Smirnova.

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Sergei Filin, Olga Smirnova, Semyon Chudin, and the full cast of Diamonds. Royal Opera House, 12 August 2013. Photo © Marc Haegeman/Bolshoi Theatre

Olga Smirnova, Diamonds, photo © Marc Haegeman