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Bolshoi Ballet

'Swan Lake'

Corps is the real star of the ballet

by Cassandra

July 24, 2004 -- The Royal Opera House, London

It is the Kirov ballet that presents probably the most traditional version of “Swan Lake” to be seen anywhere in the world today and perhaps it is for this reason that the Bolshoi Company feels compelled to do something completely different. At the time of the last visit in 1999, the Bolshoi brought with it the oddest version of “Swan Lake” I’ve ever seen, which relegated Odette/Odile to a secondary role and made the ballet centre upon Rothbart, who had become both the father of Prince Siegfried and a rival in his affections for the Swan Queen. It had its moments, but not surprisingly it didn’t last and there was some eager anticipation about what would replace it. Instead of a new production Yuri Grigorovitch gave his aging version of “Swan Lake” a face-lift and it now resumes its place in the repertoire.

In its favour, this has always been a fast moving production, with the Prince enjoying more prominence than is generally seen (he dances the pas de trois for example), but the stumbling block for most of us was Grigorovitch’s decision to have the Act III national dances performed en pointe. This is the single most disquieting aspect of the entire ballet, even more jarring than the odd arrangement of the pas de trois. When the ballet was new Grigorovitch was forced by the Soviet Ministry of Culture to change the ending from tragic to happy to conform to communist mores. Now of course he is at liberty to end his ballet as he chooses, but the new ending of Siegfried alone and bereft didn’t seem to work as well as the defeat of Rothbart and the triumph of the lovers.

The Opera House was packed at the matinee I saw and I’m sure no one in the audience was disappointed by the performance that afternoon. The principals were Ekaterina Shipulina and Vladimir Neporozhny, but in this work where the corps de ballet assumes such prominence, I think it is fair to say that the corps became that real stars of the show. They were quite breathtaking in their perfect uniformity. Although this was a matinee there was no feeling of being fobbed off with a second cast because Bolshoi luminaries such as Gennadi Yanin as the jester and Maria Allash as the Hungarian Princess brought real star quality to the supporting roles.

For me though, neither principal was ideal: Neporozhny is a pleasant Prince and dances very cleanly, indeed his double tours in Act III were impeccable, but he doesn’t have the dramatic force for this version with it’s new finale of Siegfried left alone onstage inconsolable with grief. As Odette/Odile Shipulina overcomes all the technical obstacles with ease even to the extent of performing supported arabesques that went beyond 180 degrees. Fine if you like that kind of thing, but I would have sacrificed some of these displays of ‘extreme technique’ for a little more feeling in this most soulful of ballets.

Edited by Jeff.

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