Tall, handsome boys with long legs and beautifully arched feet do not grow on trees (if only). Every ballet director knows this and yet tall, handsome Xander Parish spent five years blushing unseen in the Covent Garden chorus. The London critics soon spotted him — a rogue tulip in the ensemble — but it was only when the Mariinsky’s Yuri Fateyev was guest coaching the Royal Ballet in 2010 that his potential was realised. Within months he had joined the Mariinsky in St Petersburg — the first British dancer ever to do so. After four years he was made soloist, then first soloist and, last Thursday, on the Royal Opera House stage, he was promoted to principal after a performance of Swan Lake.
Parish had danced Siegfried before, during the company’s 2014 visit, but a controlled explosion of media interest — front page of the Times, TV interview, a slot on the Today programme — meant that the packed house was fizzing with a mix of goodwill, anxiety and sheer patriotic zeal even before Boris Gruzin struck up the overture.
The 31-year-old was clearly nervous, and matters weren’t helped by the last-minute substitution of Viktoria Tereshkina for his scheduled partner, Oxana Skorik. In the event, his pairwork was exemplary. He managed the high, clean-and-jerk lifts with only the mildest of pliés, and seven years of hard slog and rigorous St Petersburg training mean that he can echo his ballerina’s line with automatic grace. His Siegfried doesn’t jump especially high or turn particularly fast (the Russians supply a court jester for that) but those amazing legs guarantee an elegantly polished arabesque and a javelin-like jeté.
The Mariinsky has undoubtedly supercharged the young Yorkshireman’s classical technique, but Swan Lake’s unhappy prince needs to be much more than a noble porteur and Parish’s acting remains oddly understated, as if the dancer’s natural modesty and good manners were inhibiting his stage persona.