Swan Lake – Obraztsova, McRae, Gartside, Gruzin – March 16th 2015

Here was a highlight of Royal Ballet’s current Swan Lake season, a guest slot for Evgenia Obraztsova, a dancer I so nearly didn’t see as I was due to attend a show where she has cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. (For that show though what a “ringer” to be brought in: Iana Salenko!)

Expectations were high and Obraztsova did not disappoint. Her mime was clear and finely given, the story eminently traceable, clarity of intention and meaning conveyed perfectly*. A distinct success.  Here was a swan princess thoroughbred and fully aware of her lineage and heritage, achieving the paradox of being both regal and vulnerable. Yes, there were a few wobbles (of which more below) but forgiven because erased by her artistry. One saw for example, the illusion of wings, and felt the spell of their ethereal design (this same, a legacy of her Vaganova schooling?). In her dance her Swan Princess was everything one hoped for: coy, almost unobtainable and vulnerable. The overall tone of an effortless legato, freely flowing from wonderful transparency of phrasing.

Her acting as Odette was heartfelt. Emotions were finely drawn. The narrative arc of this most tenuously believable fairytale a success as a result. The fairytale itself convinces only by Odette’s interaction with Siegfried on the one hand (we must believe in their love) and on the other hand, from the dual role of Odette and Odile (we must be impressed by both) and mostly I was convinced: This was truly a serene child of the Lake, but her Odile less secure.

In perfect opposition to Osipova’s performance Act III threatened to dissolve rather than strengthen this spell of enchantment. There were a few loose moments: a jump or two with a less than perfect landing, a bit of a wobble out of the thirty two fouettes, and in some pirouettes it seemed she was a tad lopsided (our Odile perhaps a little tired or even nervous?) and yet she was deliciously sensual, perhaps the most out of all the swans in this run I have seen so far. The effect was to put in jeopardy the security of drama and dance we had witnessed in Act II.

Happily, McRae rescued any notion of bad feeling in that act with some delightful turns, this human dynamo causing the gentleman next to me to chortle in delight and exhale in admiration. McRae himself is a svelte Siegfried, his body speaking with great clarity, and for me denoting juvenility as opposed to Golding’s more “jock” kind of prince. That said, he gave lovely grand jetes (and those tours!) and the small accompaniment to the Waltz in Act I became a description of grace and refinement, where Golding held it more to be almost a message and marker of virility. In McRae’s Siegfried, another angle and I was grateful for it.

And from Siegfried’s strength, to Obraztsova’s: Act IV had to redeem or erase any concerns from Act III’s little wobbles and did so. Once more that effortless lyrical phrasing from both, both finding the deeper message of the music and showing it to us, and once more excellent acting. In this they were aided by Boris Gruzin, who did a fine job of giving both (but especially Obraztsova) the slower tempi they seemed to favour.

Indeed, as a partnership, the pair worked well. I would love to see them again and to judge after another viewing as to how successfully they work together. They certainly have a rapport. Odette’s parting from Siegfried in Act IV was well done indeed: one felt the tension and, the pain of separation, and the pas de deux from that same act very beautiful, the lifts which punctuate it were wonderful in their “slow motion” quality. This illusion of time arrested by grace was perfect, and rightly fitting. Sublime.

"Sublime" McRae and Obraztsova, Photo by Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

McRae and Obraztsova, Photo by Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Add to the mix a wonderfully drilled corps, and Act IV did all it had to. Excellence from all.

From my position in Stalls Circle Standing though, flaws in the production were unignorable or rather, came more sharply into view.

Act I looked even more than normal to be taking place in a blender, the messy costumes, and dangly bits, ribbons and lots of Running Around, especially around that infernal wobbly maypole threatening to make me a bit dizzy. It looks like a hurricane in a haberdashers. I would still prefer crispness here, something rather more courtly than muzhik. Perhaps Scarlett will be the one to give us this for a new Swan Lake?

To mention others: The Spanish Dance was noteworthy for for the wonderfully sultry looks from Itziar Mendizabal, a perfect fit for the music.  Marcelino Sambé impressed wherever he appeared, all smiles and strong in his jumps, but the Act I pas de trois was not my favourite from those I have seen.

A big swan stood out as delightful and my programme informed me it was Claire Calvert, which is why she is soloist!

Bennett Gartside‘s von Rothbart was a little less boisterous than Avis’, yet even compared to his, the character was excellently judged: more Fu Manchu than Avis’ gloriously Kung Fu toned gestures – not a sleight, for his Rothbart is amazing.

I found myself appreciating Paul Kay‘s Neopolitan all over again, and look forward to seeing him in more.

In summary: a lovely Odette and a streamlined Siegfried went on to create real magic. I may have to find a day ticket somehow to go again!

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Obligatory terrible phonecam pic.

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Somewhere in this picture is a ballerina…Obraztsova’s Odette so supernatural as to appear truly ethereal. Or maybe it is my camera….

*A poster on a ballet forum (post 112) has written the gem of a point that Obraztsova mimed the “wedding ring gesture” she did so according to the Russian tradition, where the ring is worn on the right hand! Delightful observation. Sim’s whole review is excellent, and says everything I could, and more.

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