Les lac des cygnes/Swan Lake, Ballet Opéra Paris, Opera Bastille, 30th March 2015

‘Wow!’ said the lady next to me as Mathias Heymann‘s Siegfried soared through the air in his Act III solo, ‘wow!’ too from me, at some of his feats, and ‘wow!’ at the start and end coup de theatre of (spoiler alert?) Odette and Rothbart’s tattered ghosts (?) flying up to oblivion. And yet on leaving the theatre I didn’t feel wowed overall, instead a little underwhelmed. Why?

Principally because our Odette/Odile didn’t quite work for me. Sae Eun Park is “only” a sujet in the Ballet company, which is “only” kind of the equivalent of a soloist in Royal Ballet terms. (I use the term only as comparator only as sujets, soloists and corps members are all highly skilled). Ms Park certainly has technique in spades, most ably demonstrated throughout in a technically secure performance, married to a becoming sense of fragility.


Sae Eun Park (she has mega long arms)

And yet for me, she was missing in characterisation. Her Odette seemed insufficiently described, and the acting mostly absent. I recorded the thought that her Odette is all alabaster in appearance but without armature of life underneath animating it. The result: an ultra-formalesque depiction, and a little clinical. One could read an expressionless face as serene detachment, but I saw it as failure to “emote”. Her Odile fared a little better, here Ms Park allowed herself little smiles and smirks which could pass for seduction, and yet that too didn’t quite sizzle.

In her dances with Heymann too, there was little chemistry (that elusive magic which lights up an evening). For a story which is basically a tragedy, chemistry is all. No wonder it misfired, but perhaps I had been spoiled by my recent run of “Lake”s in London a little? And yet: Ms Park stood in for an injured Ludmila Pagliero (who is two “ranks above Ms Park) at very short notice. Five days doesn’t seem enough time to get to know another partner, or to build a stageworthy connection. She is to be applauded for tackling such a fiendishly difficult role at all. She rose to the occasion with spirit and dedication. Her portrayal just goes to show that the role isn’t for everyone, and if it seems to be physically do-able then instead underscore how tough it is to act, and to characterise.

From Heymann himself, better things, befitting his rank and ballet talk.

Pretentious to say, but a word which came to mind was “honeyed” when watching him. Less bravado than someone like Golding, more assertive than McRae and larger in form (yet still not strapping) his dancing was lovely overall, and his acting committed. A few wonky tours indicated tiredness but he gave a lot to us, and naturally the audience loved him, but one fine dancer does not a Swan Lake save.

2010-11-cygne-241_cann_ray_onp_copier                                                            image (C) Ann Ray

Miscellaneous thoughts:

I was less enamoured of the Super-Bromance between Siegfried and Karl Paquette‘s Wolfgang.

but dramatically, I guess it works. Paquette’s Rothbart (yes, he was both) was accomplished, and gained a huge ovation at curtain. I was very impressed by his appearance at the start in a gigantic voluminous cape, where it truly looked like he was gliding across the floor without effort.

Siegfried doesn’t die, the twinkly music at the end merely becoming perverse, its triumphal strains playing opposite to his despair at seeing Odette fly away. Arch dramatic-irony perhaps? Or Nuryev’s turning a “deaf ear” to the score to suit his ambition?


Mathias Heymann as Siegfried in BOP’s Les lac des cygnes.

Lights were great from Vinicio Cheli, which illuminated the costumes’ very subdued pastel palete of colours, and the sparse stage sets. Compared to the Royal’s soon to be retired production this is clean and cool, less frantic in costuming and set dressing, but perhaps less fun as a result. (Don’t get me wrong, there is some frenetic dancing too, some of which I didn’t quite get on with, but the “National Dances” all made a lot of sense, because each dancer bowed to the Queen at the end. (This rebuilds dramatic congruity: in restablishing narrative logic, it plays to the idea that we are onlookers for the scenes unfolding. A good move.)

I gather that the RB used to and still does place heavy emphasis on characterisation, which in general seemed a little absent here. Things seemed technically very polished – the PDT especially,

not to mention some good cygnets, but all seemed sheen and gloss.

I wish I could identify a swan from the Coryphées (or Quadrilles?) who stood out in particular, even in just her “I’m being a Swan now” moments, but with 154 dancers in the ranks, that could take some time. Stephanie Romberg gave a lot of swagger in her Spanish dance with Colasante once more impressing in the same.

The tempi! Kevin Rhodes set a really blistering pace on the Polonaise and stayed that way. Everything felt rather rushed, including some of Nureyev’s choreographic interpolations.

The Bastille isn’t the best house for sound, and strings sounded muted and underwater (rather apt?) from my location at house left under the first balcony. However whoever was on harp duty Emmanuel Ceysson or David Lootvoet had a wonderful sounding instrument with skill to match.

I liked the fact that Siegfried dances far more than in the Dowell staging, with an Act I solo entire, and narratively coherent. To watch a PDD with him and Wolfgang to the strains of the “swan theme” felt very odd though. I also appreciated the fact that Siegfried’s “antic disposition” is given an airing here, again narratively coherent and fitting. In the Dowell version, too little weight is given to Siegfried’s “motivation”. Here, we sense his anomie, and should sense the magic he feels when this enchanting creature comes into his life. Sadly, here, I didn’t.

If I rewatched the evening again, I might change my opinion on some matters. Happily, it seems I may well be able to do so soon as the girl in the row in front of me decided to film the entirety of Act IV on her phone*. As it stands in the memory though, I’d give it 7/10.


imageMore “IN SHOW, LIVE!” shots here: https://instagram.com/p/03Y4lBssHH/


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