Swan Lake – Salenko, McRae, Gartside Gruzin – March 21st 2015 (matinee)

Of all the Swan Lake performances I have seen this season, this was the best. A strong statement but one borne from fact, consideration and some portion of emotion.

Emotion actually most keenly, and that from Iana Salenko‘s Odette. Her swan princess is at once fiercely human, alive to the fact of it, and of course fragile all the same. Of all the Odettes I have seen this year, hers came through as the one most in need of release from von Rothbart’s curse. Choreography spoke most clearly for some others I have seen (and Osipova relied on her acting more than steps) but Salenko married choreography, mime, drama into a believable and well realised whole. This total package convinced.

And consideration from watching her dance. There was in evidence that same musicality of interpretation, the keen ear for melody and showing it in the body, which as previously mentioned, Steven McRae shares.  The same lyrical quality he possesses (and Obrastzova too!) shone through. When I saw McRae and Obraztsova, I observed that certain portions of Act IV’s pas de deux seemed to stop time itself. When McRae and Salenko dance, it threatens to stop the heart. The pair find a different kind of beauty together. Some may call it chemistry, but whatever they have, it works.


Salenko and McRae in Rehearsal copyright Andrej Uspenski

Examples: In Act I’s pas de deux, McRae and Salenko dance, Salenko with her back to him in the standard ballet embrace, (in which I noted, the pair seemed to be most believably lost in perfect rapture – enchanting!)  Odette’s arms extend one at a time, more wings than arms really, as she seeks release from human bondage (of affection) and as she strains to escape von Rothbart’s same. Siegfried folds those arms around her one at a time. This brief gesture fell in perfect congruence with the musical phrasing of the solo violin (well done, leader!) and this same sensitivity of phrasing found expression throughout, dance well matched to melody and rhythm and phrase. Delightful to watch.

So too, when Odette sunk into a deep supported “swoon” in that pas de deux, her arms arc and descend, signalling release. The arms must follow the body up after in a return to upright position, but Salenko lent this moment even more grace by seeming to beat her arms as if to use the lift alone from them to bring her back upright. Other dancers I have seen did this, but did not lend it that weight of (defying) gravity. A wonderful illusion.

Steven McRae © Johan Persson

Steven McRae © Johan Persson

As a note, that same duet ended not as it had with others, arms above her head, McRae supporting in a swoon, the female dancer’s hands flicking to the last pizzicato. Instead, that was the penultimate statement, the next was when Salenko unfolded a slow arabesque penchee*. Very interesting to see after watching it done the other way for a while now!

Salenko’s skill in mime is strong. The narrative comes through loud and clear, and this same, almost miraculously without recourse to any “pained ballet expression”*. What emoting there was, was curiously understated. There were no demure looks really, no overwrought entreaty or batted eyelids. This Odette was very human as a result, and there was direct appeal to Siegfried, and to us. Even her Odile was facially subtle and yet it worked. More on her in a minute!

Copright Enrico Nawrath

Iana Salenko (Copright Enrico Nawrath)

This study in subtlety meant that when her Odette reappeared in Act IV it was all the more powerful. Odette must mime that she is in emotional pain (to put it mildly!). Many dancers opt for an effective and traditional mournful look, fingers rippling to imitate falling tears, but Salenko instead, it looked like, held her hands to her face in deep unquenchable sorrow, as if wishing to blot out the world and the pain of loss.  One small gesture and one which is as above, all too human – but slightly changed. This was convincing heartbreak. It redrew the whole emotional direction of the Act and it was then I “got emotional” which the succeeding few minutes more than effectively played on.

For thoroughness’ sake I should mention that Salenko’s Odile was exactly as needed: consistent with her Odette in security of expression and execution. This was not, as with Osipova’s for instance, an Odile who threw her own Odette into a shadow because her Odile was so excellent, and her Odette by comparison less so. Compared with Osipova, Salekno’s Odile was perhaps less flashy in the fouettes and little allegro steps and sequences that demonstrate Odile’s magnetism, and yet one knew she had no need to bowl us over. Quality in the consistency of portrayal was her aim, and this was well achieved. Her Odile really did convince that she was an Odette gone “Fifty Shades” – that same subtlety, and eschewing of anything approaching pantomime was in evidence, and Siegfried would be forgiven all for swearing his heart on her.

All around, a very fine job indeed from Iana Salenko. And I have already spoken of how good Mr McRae is.

Onto other thoughts: Having now seen this production quite a few times, I found myself noticing little things: The fact that in the Act I stool waltz (which I likened to a hurricane in a haberdashers) demands the female dancers to work en pointe on the stools. One girl was being pirouetted by her partner so very close to the edge that I nearly broke out in a cold sweat: I spent about twenty seconds looking at how close her left foot was to falling off that stool! Also I noticed that there’s a man who looks a bit like a rotund cook (in an apron) who claps with his arms above his head like a loon in that Act and it’s hilarious, and I realised the high level of skill needed for the “ribbon dances” from both girls and boys.

Of final note: Bennet Gartside‘s excellent von Rothbart looked a bit like Vladimir Putin in Act III. Yasmine Naghdi once more lit up the stage in the pas de trois, and as a cygnet. James Hay was once more beautifully ebullient and puckish in the Neapolitan and Claire Calvert stood out as a very fine Big Swan. Bravi!


Obligatory terrible phonecam pic


*This same seems to be canonical ending to that pas de deux. certainly it seems to feature in a lot of Russian performances. In addition, Salenko’s little leg “trembles” here were longer in duration than the other ladies I have seen.

*itself an expression I think is a bit mean spirited!


Iana Salenko official Twitter: https://twitter.com/ianasalenko

Video of McRae and Salenko rehearsing.


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