I suggest that the Lowry is the finest looking theatre in Britain. I also suggest it has the slowest cafe service of any theatre. I was in a queue of three and it took a full 10 minutes to be served. This is not an isolated instance, the delays have been similar every time I have been.
The theatre was only about 1/4 full for this matinee performance. There was an announcement that as a mark of respect following the death of the Queen Mother, could be all please stand for the National Anthem. There was the sound of much groaning from the audience, but like sheep we all stood, as the live orchestra played the dirge. With apologies to anyone who likes the National Anthem, but I think it should be desperately updated.
I didn't really know anything about the company before I attended the performance. One of my books states the Riga Ballet was founded in 1922 by Nikolai Sergeyev and then Alexandra Fedorova (Fokine). These are names I recognise; such names indicate a company founded on the Russian tradition. These companies are proud of their heritage and reflect this in the works they present. When companies from the former Soviet Bloc tour, we know we are going to see something from the classical ballet era.
Generally you can bet it will be Swan Lake, Giselle, Coppelia or The Nutcracker. I have no objection to this; this is the era of ballet that I love the best. For this tour the company presented Coppelia and La Sylphide in Manchester, their only UK appearance. The latter piece is quite a rarity; I have only seen it once before in my many years of watching ballet. I think this is a nice departure from the norm but still keeps the repertoire firmly in the Romantic period.
The set for the first act looked excellent. The rough stone walls of the hall looked real, as did the wooden beams. This was clearly going to be a full scale production. Actually I had already decided that this would be the case, as there was a full orchestra in the pit.
As the first act unfolded I was immediately taken with the Sylph, which was danced by Elza Leimane. She is a phenomenally good dancer. There was very little noise from her pointe shoes as she flitted and flew around the room. In fact the dancers in the soft shoes were making more noise than Miss Leimane. She is an extremely pretty woman (not that there are any unattractive dancers). She has the long neck of the "ideal" ballerina and the most lovely face. Her smile is extremely radiant. She is also quite curvaceous. Trog likes womanly curves; they look much healthier than the cocktail stick look.
As the sylph floated around the room Miss Leimane also displayed she is a fine actress, teasing James (Sergei Niekshin), with her coy smiles. Gurn (Marians Butkevics) was very much the ham in his acting style, not that it mattered. In some ways it added to the production. It has a very old feel (almost antique!) which I like. Also there isn't much dancing for Gurn and if you are going to make yourself seen on stage there is only acting left.
The big ensemble dance for the wedding toast (just before the Sylph returns and entices James away) looked wonderful. The "wheels" were all in sync and passed very close together. The kilts looked right, the tartan sox where without wrinkles. This scene I have always felt offered the chaps their only chance to show off their prowess. Their batterie was OK (very light and yet powerful) but nothing special. The girls were as to expected, together and looking like it really was a party.
Madge (Ints Rozins) looked like the typical pantomime witch, complete with hooked rubber nose. He did look a bit fed up; perhaps Mr Rozins wasn't enjoying being the witch, or maybe that is just his way. Personally I liked him. While on the subject of pantomime witches, it is well known that witches fly around on straw brooms. We were not to be deprived of this, as at the start of act 2, the witches enter astride besoms. All the witches were men so they really gave a powerful look to the leaps in this scene.
The set of forest in act two was also very good. I rate this as the best forest back drop I have seen. All the sylphs looked lovely and at long last this was a ballet in which the wings on the costumes stood out rather than lying flat against the back. The Wilis costumes in Giselle are almost identical to that of the Sylphs, and usually the wings are flat. They get squashed in transit and there always seems to me to be a lack of preparation. After all a quick bend of the wire frame or a quick press with the steam iron would get the wings right. Just a small point.
Some of the Sylphs were slightly out of step, but it didn't matter much, as the look of the scene was right. Very ethereal creatures in immaculate white tutus and flowers. Call me old fashioned, but the image of a white corps as they run on always gives me a rush.
In the second act there were further reminders that this was a very old production. The scene in which the Sylph wafts up and down beckoning her sisters is achieved using a see-saw. I suspect that Taglioni and Ciceri used this very device back in the 1830s. Also there was no effort made to hide the black wires of the swing the Sylph sits on as she glides across the back of the stage. The low tech solutions are often the best. In fact the only vaguely high tech props were the little pedals used to float the Sylph down from the window sill and up to the birds nest. They looked hydraulic to me.
After the wedding parade at the end of act 2 was a coda in which James and Madge have a scuffle. James colapses to the floor, bewitched by Madge who stands over him gloating. AFAIK this scene is not in the Taglioni choreography. The program notes says that choreography is by Bournonville, so perhaps he added this scene.
This was ballet from the Classical era, well danced with a clear star in Miss Leimane. Of course I would like it! Didn't knock my sox off but I left satisfied. My only quibble was that the £3.50 program was overpriced. Too much Lowry advertising is featured (6 pages in 22). There are almost no biographies of the dancers and those that are there say nothing. I do like to learn as much as I can about the world of ballet. The production photos inside are blurred too and lack depth of field.