swan lake

A Love Supreme: Swan Lake – Bolshoi Ballet (Smirnova, Chudin) – August 9 2016

Performances of this quality come along but rarely. One might say that with the Bolshoi, that the likelihood of such a night is higher of course, but that’s no guarantee. Certainly Svetlana Zakharova’s turn as Odette Odile left me a little cold. Not so here. Even in a production which essentially traduces – or at least significantly alters- Tchaikovsky and Peptipa/Ivanov’s intent in favour of Grigorvich’s interpolations and reworkings, the show worked.

It even seemed to go beyond those traducements, those alterations and interpolations, thanks to two heartfelt performances from both lead dancers.

Semyon Chudin (Siegfried) revealed himself to be a dancer of  generous musicality and poise. Gorgeous legato lines flowed through him when the libretto permitted, and when the writing called for the register of tours, jumps, tricks so often on display in ballet, Chudin proved their equal. Lyrical moments were never just steps, but illustrated and given life-breath and force. This was dance which meant something to Chudin, and which meant something to us as a result.

Near the end of the whole evening, as Odette and Siegfried are caught up in a whirling maelstrom of swan maidens, each trying to find the other, the choreography calls for Siegfried to search for Odette, suffering, as he knows he has wronged her.

In one simple movement, a yearning, reaching hand struck outwards; Chudin’s head went back a little, and we saw anguish writ on his face. The movement – that arcing hand, coupled with feet which then drew him back to his doomed love, was in its action, called upon by the libretto and learned by rehearsal, but in its expression, it lived, and spoke volumes. It was a moment of pure, right beauty, and it took my breath away. As to technique, I balked at nothing, a few heavy landings into arabesque excepted, all was plush, lyrically phrased with unhurried ease. The struggle in Scene II when Siefried gives chase to Odette has felt a bit like a pitter-patter around a gatepost from other Bolshoi boys. Chudin stretched, lunged and spun in desperation. Drama was never far from the fore.

Olga Smirnova was everything I want an Odette to be. Olga Smirnova was, frankly, a marvel. Her swan-princess was humane, loving, tender. It seems some dancers shy away from this interpretation, favouring a cool reserve, a lack of eye contact which attempts to speak of regal coyness. But in ballet – or certainly in Swan Lake, love looks with the eyes. Love cannot blossom when gazes are too coy. We must believe in that intimate interchange of glances for the ballet to come alive. A tilt of Smirnova’s head said “I too am lost, like you.” A glance from her suggested that trust began, from whence love might quickly follow. And love, I felt, did. To believe in the story there must be that love.

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Olga Smironva and Semyon Chudin as Odette and Siegfried in Bolshoi Swan Lake.

My favourite moments, those caught falls in the Scene II Pas de Deux, the loving embraces in that same dance, all were presaged by a simple look. Odette asking, Siegfried saying ‘yes’, and Odette knowing, finally, the prospect of release, safety, love.

And if not love, then all is just dancing, however glorious that is. With the Bolshoi, “just dancing” means glory, guts, grit. Couple Bolshoi technique and training with vibrant central performances, and you have a night to celebrate. Couple all that with these two stellar dancers and it is a night to treasure.

Purists may look at Smirnova’s fouettes and find them comparatively poor, compared with her compatriots and with her own fine dancing. There was, as with Stepanova, no triples or doubles or as with Krysanova, no arms rising en couronne, then placed haughtily on hips after every few turns. There was, as with Zakharova, no long limbed, tornado-esque whipping of the leg. Instead, 31 or so pretty textbook spins. Applause which was more than adequate. But we know that Swan Lake is more than fouettes. Fouettes are, like the four jerky-headed cygnets in the Act before them, something of a parlour trick. Swan Lake is everything before, and everything after the fouettes. Although a true test of the ballet dancer’s resolve and skill, and a chance for them to show off, thirty-two, or even twenty something, of those tortuous spins, is just icing. Fluff.

And happily so. Smirnova knows it, knows that the adage is her comfort zone and she basks in its leisure and comforts. Which is not to say her Odile suffers by that preference. If her Odette is vulnerable – that fantastical chimerical mix of woman and hint of unattainable Other – her Odile is sensuality itself, smirking and challenging Siegfried, and leading him to destruction. True, as Odette, her arms have a tendency to sometimes almost appear as manic flapping, but Smirnova knows that those are the moments to show Odette’s suffering outside of the demands of written steps. With Siegfried, Odette’s soul flies, but not before Odette’s body has willed physical escape.

Smirnova’s portrayal was towering. Certainly I have never witnessed something so forceful, almost supernaturally so, as when in the dying moments of that final act, she simply rose from her swan-in-repose position to pointe. It was as if, with the swelling of the music, she was not so much being lifted by the music, which would have been magic itself, but as if she was almost carrying the music, embodying it, letting it soar through her, unified. In that moment she was in all parts, heroine and victim, and she slowly rose from the floor as if freighted with quiet unassailable power. Those who think Odette weak needed only to look on that moment and see it refuted. Odette rose. She rose with adamantine resolve, adamantine – and here was the force, the punctum and the pathos, the thing that took the breath away – because cracked at the core. It was as if she was a phoenix, yet doomed to die. And yet, she knew it. The feeling of Fate taking hold was overwhelming. I will never forget those few seconds of utter nobility.

And so too, those ranks of perfectly posed swans will remain a memory of Bolshoi’s visit. There’s not room to praise other dancers, nor to compare or contrast this or that. All was good, but the night belonged to Smirnova and Chudin, and the libretto which they brought so dazzlingly to life. Theirs was a love truly supreme.

As such, they have earned my first “AlephNull” rating, for performances beyond a simple “10”. Bravi.

A Swan Lake sublime

Swan Lake – Birmingham Royal Ballet – Mathews, Lawrence, Dingman – Jan 28 2016, The Mayflower, Southampton.

 

John Keats and Russian myth don’t seem at first sight to be related but seeing Delia Mathews and Brandon Lawrence dance together was an event underlining the idea that sometimes truth is really beauty, and beauty truth. In the hands of these strong dance communicators there was here beauty, and so too truth, recognisable as great art.  The Swans may (and to pun, slightly) like Keats ancient vase, be mute, but thanks to Marius Petipa and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s fine body of dancers, they sing in other ways.
The Greeks may not have quite romanticised the Swan as the Germans and Russians did in the 19th Century (Leda is a close comparator, even though Zeus is in his potencies rather more mighty than Rothbart, who is of a more rural, domestic, druidic type of evil) but they surely understood the power of Terpsichore, the Muse of dance, whom they held to be sacred, and the line from her to Petipa and Ivanov is, despite the distance of millennia, traceable at least in shared ideals. Why else do we watch dance, and stories in-dance in particular if not to be edified, or even moved?

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Swan Lake – New York City Ballet – Mearns, Angle – September 22 2015

Might Sara Mearns be the best Odette/Odile dancing today? Like her heroine Makarova, she can do it all.

Swan Lake is a signature role for her for good reason. She is the vessel in which the story holds and by which it holds true: it achieves its considerable dramatic potentials through her. She is the crucible in which the tragedy is fired. Lucky us to be seeing her give her artistry so freely, and in service of Tchaikovsky’s visions of beauty.

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Swan Lake: Retrospective and Awards

Here’s a brief reflection on the Royal Ballet’s Swans and other denizens of Swan Lake I have seen this season live.

The Operatunist’s Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake 2015 awards 😀

  • Best Odette overall: Salenko/Nunez tie (Salenko for dance, Nunez for acting)
  • Best Odile: Osipova
  • Best all rounder: Nunez
  • Best Act II pdd: Obraztsova
  • Best acted Odette: Nunez, no contest.
  • Best acted Siegfried: Golding from far away. Less so in cinema.
  • Best Siegfried: all have good traits. I will go with Golding.
  • Best Pas De Trois guy: James Hay
  • Best PDT girls: Yuhui Choe and Francesca Hayward
  • Best Neapolitan boy: James Hay
  • Best Neapolitan girl: Yasmine Naghdi
  • Best von Rothbart: (c’mon…no contest) GARY AVIS!
  • Best couple I saw: Salenko and McRae
  • Ideal couple: Golding and Obraztsova
  • Honourable mentions: Melissa Hamilton as one of Two Swans.
  • Best conductor: Boris Gruzin ^___^
  • Most disappointing: Osipova’s Odette.
  • Most impressive: Osipova’s Odile 😀

Fond memories

  • Golding’s Waltz moment, and his leap to the death
  • Salenko’s beating wings from deep cambré
  • Nunez’s re-enchantment and her ‘wait, boy.’ finger in the mime
  • James Hay’s gorgeous tours
  • Melissa Hamilton and sisters rising on pointe to circle Odette
  • Talented baby swans!
  • Osipova’s crazy fouetté combo
  • Takada’s échappés
  • Obraztsova’s lyricism and time stopping lifts
  • McRae’s billion mile an hour turns in Act III
  • The jocular cook
  • Girls on pointe on stools
  • The beautiful Act II curtain
  • The very lovely (at times rickety) swansleigh to heaven
  • Vadim Muntagirov
  • the Rothbart imps (one being swatted with a fan)
  • Marriott’s Rothbart’s ‘WOOO!’ face at the Queen
  • Hearing Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music so much.

I hope the Dowell production informs any new production. Rumour has it that Liam Scarlett may be attached to the project. Although Act I is very fussy, and very orange and Act III is too dark for some, literally – it is I gather textually pure. For this reason I am glad to have seen it.

Hopes:
Let’s keep the Ashton Neapolitan and the baby swans. Doing away with the Rothbart costume would be ideal – as would a wholesale tidying up of costumes in the non white acts. (Too much distraction!) I wouldn’t mine tulle or tutu for the swans. Let’s not get too neoclassical for the choreography. The Dowell text is largely fine, as is the musical editing. Ok, so the tutor could probably get kicked but no Jester, and no fishdives either! Set it back in fairytale-land. And, keep the sad ending!

(Hope you’re reading, Liam. I’ll be glad to help out. :P)

Swan Lake – Takada, Muntagirov, Marriott, Gruzin – April 2nd 2015

This was a “Lake” I was looking forward to seeing, not least for the prodigious (ever growing) talents of Vadim Muntagirov, but also for the fact that it would be my last viewing of the Royal Ballet’s venerable production.

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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?

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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.

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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!)

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Swan Lake – Osipova, Golding, Avis, Gruzin – March 17th 2015

This was again a white swan which in some ways failed to take full, tragic flight. Natalia Osipova’s Odette did not fully convince me that she was in distress of despair at finding herself imprisoned, doomed by curse. Instead, there was as with last time, some kind of detachment in the performance. This was dancing (not acting, mind) which lost the emotional thread, even though the performer herself may have been lost (or rather, fully invested) in the role.

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Swan Lake – Osipova, Golding, Avis, February 21st 2015

This was an evening which rewarded not for the reason I had hoped but instead by virtue of surprise.

First, hopes: Natalia Osipova seems to be ballerina of the moment: talked about, surrounded by weight of expectation, making good on the claims that she is emerging as a dancer of the highest order.

Tonight she wasn’t for me, quite of that highest order. In terms of acting, seen through binoculars, her expressive face embodied all of Odette’s necessary emotional repertoire and yet without binoculars, this didn’t quite seem to carry to the Amphitheatre, where I was sitting. (more…)