Even though our tour around St. Petersburg was a bit of a bust, we still had an evening of iconic Russian art ahead of us. After returning to the ship to quickly freshen up (I'm talking we had 1 hour to shower, dress up, and shove a snack in our faces), we hopped another bus to take our entire travel party to the Aurora Palace Theater for a performance of Swan Lake. We were all very excited to be seeing such a famous ballet in its debut country...talk about a HUGE unexpected check mark off the bucket list! Upon arriving to the concert hall, we noticed it was going to be a small performance, likely just put on for cruise passengers and private tour groups. This discouraged us a bit, but there was a champagne reception, so we all took advantage of a glass or two and made our way to our seats still looking forward to the performance ahead. After being seated for mere minutes, we noticed how incredibly hot the concert hall was. No A/C and we were all dressed up (boys in ties and slacks)---typical of Europe and Russia, but we failed to take that into consideration when dressing for the evening. You could see the disdain painted across the boys faces. They already weren't happy about leaving a night of cigars and drinking on the ship to join their ladies at the ballet (oh, the horror!). Put them all in ties in a hot, stuffy room at the ballet and BOOM...they instantly wanted to divorce us all. In hindsight, I almost don't blame them.
10 minutes into the first act, we began to realize that this performance might be less than outstanding. While still better than some ballets I'd watched in my many years of viewing dance competitions and recitals (via my lovely dance-inclined sister), it was missing the grandeur, poise, and preciseness that we'd expected. It seemed sloppy and forced, like the ballerinas were all made to dance that night and really couldn't be bothered with it. The side eyes us girls were giving one another through the whole first act were all too frequent and at times, almost had us laughing. It was all we could do to keep from being overcome with disappointment. Yet another point in time on this cruise that we were all SO thankful to be on vacation as a group instead of as solo couples. After the first act was over (it was over an hour long--comprised of 2 scenes), we bum-rushed the bathrooms and champagne stands to unload our feelings on the whole thing. Even though the majority of the performers were students or graduates from the well-known Vaganova Ballet Academy (an associate school to the highly touted Mariinsky Ballet), we still felt like we'd been duped into a sub-par touristic Swan Lake experience. We thought long and hard about complaining to our guide...or even asking the bus driver to shuttle us back to the ship without seeing the second act, but after another glass of champagne and some laughs, we decided to rough it out. We were still in Russia after all! We sat the boys together towards the back of the theater (the place was barely 1/3 full) so they could commiserate quietly away from the stage (re: fall asleep), and the 5 of us girls braved a few rows back from the orchestra pit.
Interestingly enough, the second & third acts were much better than the first. It's like the principle ballerina found her groove during intermission and returned with breathtaking pirouettes and much more chemistry with Prince Siegfried than ever before. I imagine they were sweating to death, too (it progressively got hotter in the concert hall throughout the evening)...but they powered through the final acts with some lovely moments, slightly redeeming themselves for their iffy first act performance. Would I consider Swan Lake worth seeing while in St. Petersburg? Absolutely. We can still say we saw Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake IN RUSSIA. Amazing. Just make good and sure you know what theater and what company will be performing for you before you book your night at the ballet. See all the good things you guys are learning from our stupidity? You're welcome. ;)
When our ballet experience was over, we made a short drive through the city and returned to the ship to find it in full on party mode. We changed into our White Party attire and slid right into the conga line without missing a beat. Even though we had a rough start to the evening, it ended up being one to remember. Our reward for making it through a night in Russia? A stunning midnight sunset on the Baltic Sea. With the time difference, being so far north, and finding ourselves in the height of the summer, we got to witness a cotton candy pink sunset just as the clock stuck 12am. I've never experienced a natural phenomenon like it! We all grabbed lounge chairs along the bow of the ship and sipped cocktails as we watched the sun sink into the ocean, reminiscing about all the craziness of our cruise...and we still had 3 days left! We may have had some hiccups on that sailing, but we still appreciated the opportunity to travel to so many fascinating places and to experience them with friends that had become like family to us during our time abroad. Next up on our Baltic adventure, my most favorite stop...Tallinn, Estonia!