July 22, 2004 -- The Royal Opera House, London
Last night’s "Swan Lake" was a rather disappointing evening after the ebullience of "Don Quixote". Not the fault of the dancers, I hasten to add, but I just couldn’t get on with Yuri Grigorovich’s production. Originally produced in 1969, the version was considered too dark by the authorities and was banned. In 2001 Grigorovich finally mounted the production he’d originally envisaged with the tragic ending intact. I’m afraid I found it very pedestrian and tired looking. It is indeed a dark production, but I found this less to do with emotional impact and more to do with Simon Virsaladze’s sets, which loomed over the proceedings to too great a degree (though I’m sure they look better on the Bolshoi’s larger stage) and the lighting, which was overly murky in the white acts.
Siegfried’s birthday celebrations were rather muted but with some lovely dancing. Act II introduced the melodramatically named character, The Evil Genius, who was well danced by Dmitri Belogolovtsev though his black costume against the dark background rendered him too often invisible. I was disappointed in the ‘white acts’ as they were lacking in any kind of poetry, though the corps of swans were very impressive indeed. The proceedings weren’t helped by a rather plodding rendition of the score. And, a sense of excitement and drama was squashed by a couple of abrupt and jarring cuts in the music that completely undermined two of the great moments of the ballet, Odette’s entrance and death. Act III was fine until Odile and The Evil Genius’s entrance whereupon there was a rather silly digression with other black swans and some pointless jumping around by The Genius before a sudden switch back to the ballroom and the familiar Black Swan routine. Act IV just sort of drifted to the inevitable tragic conclusion. I found this a very dull production that left me completely cold.
In this "Swan Lake," Acts I and III are the ‘real world’ and the "white acts' are Siegfried's inner world. As such the ballet is split into two halves, rather than the usual three acts, which I found worked very well in keeping the momentum going. Maybe with a dramatically strong Siegfried this concept would have worked better, but I found Andrei Uvarov, though a lyrical and precise dancer, very wooden when it came to characterisation. Siegfried is a bit of a damp squib of a role anyway, but I found Uvarov’s performance to be lacking in direction and any sense of drama.
He was completely eclipsed by Svetlana Zakharova who was physically extraordinary. Odette is an ideal role for her extreme physique and steely technique, and she used her armoury with jaw dropping results. Her feet are beautiful, her back amazingly pliant and she used her Kirov line to amazing effect. Yes, it was gymnastic, but very beautiful, sculptural gymnastics as she moved smoothly from one remarkable swan pose to another. She didn’t move me at all, and I did wonder how emotionally engaged she was.
But, to be fair, the lighting was so dim that it was hard to see any facial expression and this production isn’t set up for dramatic and emotional effect. I very much liked her interpretation of Odile. I found it rather humorous which I thought worked very well indeed in the context of this production. She was one of the most aggressive Odile's I’ve seen, a kind of Dominatrix Swan Maiden, and finally some life was injected into the proceedings as she zipped easily through the technical challenges of the Black Swan pas de deux.
As in "Don Quixote",
there was some fantastic dancing in the solo roles. I always find jesters
tiresome but Gennadi Yanin did turn some technically impressive tricks.
The Princesses in Act III – the lovely Maria Allash, Olga Suvorova,
Maria Alexandrova, Anastasia Yatsenko and Ekaterina Shipulina –
were all great. And the corps, again, were in fine form.
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