Swans, Swans & More Swans | The Bolshoi Ballet, Swan Lake & the Lincoln Center Festival 2014….
I was like a kid let loose in a candy store when I took my seat for the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of Swan Lake at the David H. Koch Theater, part of the Lincoln Center Festival 2014. (Bolshoi is pronounced “bolshoy” and literally translates as “great ballet.”) As a person obsessed with dance history the sheer magnitude of what I was witnessing was not lost on me.
No matter how many times it is performed, who may or may not have alter/added/modified Petipa-Ivanov’s original choreography…the simple fact is that, like or not, Swan Lake is as Russian as Kvass and Beef Stroganoff. No matter who staged it, no matter who is dancing Odette/Odile or where it is being performed, whether the Paris Opera, the Royal or American Ballet Theater…Swan Lake is as Russian as it gets. Now was Yuri Grigorovich’s libretto and his added choreography a help or a hindrance….well, we’ll get to that later.
When the curtain rises you cannot but be impressed with the Bolshoi’s scenography. A backdrop highlighted with in shades of brown and gold allows the blues and reds capes of the attendees of a ball to stand out. The creative vision behind the set and costumes is Simon Virsaladze (1908-1989).
The dancing was spectacular, impeccable trained dancers whose crisp, clear technique shined. Most of the Principal Dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet graduated from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography, commonly known as the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, the affiliate school of the Bolshoi Ballet. Founded as an orphanage by order of Catherine II in 1763, it wasn’t until 1773 that the first dance classes were taught at the home.
With its 235 year history, the academy has produced some of the most accomplished dancers of the 20th century, including Maya Plisetskaya, Vladimir Vasiliev, Galina Ulanov, to the stars of the current generation, including Nina Ananiashvili, Vladimir Malakhov, Natalia Osipova, Alexei Ratmansky, Polina Semionova, and Nikolay Tsiskaridze, the Academy and its graduates continue to earn the highest honors and acclaims in the international dance world.
Anna Nikulina interpretation as Odette/Odile was nothing short of brilliant. Ms. Nikulina’s Odette gave a figure that was both hopeful yet possessed a sense of impending tragedy. You felt her want/need to trust Artem Ovcharenko’s Prince Siegfried. During the Grand Pas de deux in Act II, you can feel her hesitance, her fear, her emotional response to the Prince when he takes her arms to assist her from the floor. You see the beauty of her training and her exquisite line as she extends her leg in preparation for a whip turn, the prince holding her waist while turning, assisting her as the turn ends in an elongated penché.
Ms. Nikulina is Odette, the Swan Queen who informs the young prince that she and the other girls were turned into swans and that the lake was formed by the tears of their parents’ weeping. She tells him that the only way the spell could be broken is if a man, pure in heart, pledges his love to her. Hence her need to trust…
The Prince, about to confess his love for her, is quickly interrupted by the Evil Genius, portrayed by Denis Rodkin. (In the original Swan Lake, the sorcerer von Rothbart was responsible for the spell that turned Odette and the other girls into swans. The sorcerer in the Bolshoi’s version is instead an Evil Genius who, like an evil shadow, lurks behind the Prince at every opportunity.)Mr. Rodkin pulls Odette from Prince Siegfried’s embrace and commands all of the swan maidens into the lake so that he prince cannot chase them. Prince Siegfried is left all alone on the lake’s shore….
The Fool, Denis Medvedev portrayed with an impish, boyish charm and was unafraid to antagonize and ridicule the Mr. Rodkin as the Evil Genius . He exited and entered with a silly grin on his face, his leaps gave impressive height and his turns were always on point. He was one of my favorite dancers during the whole production.
The Cygnets’ Dance, the pas de quatre also from the Second Act is, besides the Grand Pas from Act II, one of the most recognized pieces in ballet today. Its music automatically brings to mind four women as the bourrée across the stage with hands locked across each other waist. It is here, also in the Grand Pas from the Second Act, that are both fairly true to Petipa- Ivanov’s choreography. This is where you see the differences in Swan Lake’s choreography by Petipa-Ivanov and that by Yuri Grigorovich, the company’s artistic director from 1964 to 1995 now as the Bolshoi’s ballet master.
Where Petipa has a natural musicality, a free-flowing use of limbs that accentuate the melody, Mr. Grigorovich’s choreography was choppy and seemed forced while also lacking any natural musicality. Did it allow for impressive tricks and athletic feats of dance, yes, but at what cost….
Another point of contention was the ending. Once Odette discovers that she has been betrayed and the Prince who has been tricked by the Evil Genius and she finds that he has confessed undying love to Odile (the Black Swan who has been made to look like Odette via magic) she flees back to the lake. The Prince follows after he uncovers the plot to trick him runs to the lake only as Odette is dying. The Prince is left alone by the lake. It was so anticlimactic and lacked any of the drama the ballet deserved.
One of the great treats of the evening was the Bolshoi Orchestra, led by Conductor Pavel Sorokin. The musicians filled the theater with rich sounds and subtle harmonies. It was indeed was real treat.