Unhappily ever after
by Stuart Sweeney
August 5, 2004 -- The Royal Opera House, London
The good news is that the Bolshoi dancers are on great form. The corps de ballet was impeccable and I have rarely seen such well-matched, synchronised and elegant dancing by men. The leads, Anna Antonicheva and Dmitri Gudanov are both fine artists. Gudanov has a beautiful line, an arabesque to die for, controlled spins and his jetées have soft landings. A sequence of tours en l’air in Act III seemed to leave him rather puffed, but other wise it was a delight to see him. However, emotional depth between the leads was limited and Gudanov's role was too underplayed to bring out the sadness of the tragic love story. The Fool gets in the way in Act I, as he always does, but his solo at the start of Act III, on a clear stage for once, showed Denis Medvedev to be a superb acrobatic dancer.
The main problem with the performance, however, was Grigorovitch's production. There is little definition of Siegfried's relationships in Act I; The Evil Genius (Rothbart) lacks gravitas and threat; the sets in Acts II and IV are as grim as I have seen with some ugly painted rocks on the backdrop and little visual interest generally. Even the usually wonderful ball scene is fatally disturbed by the replacement of the national dances by a series of national-lite solos on pointe for the princesses with six or so dancers behind them. This soon becomes repetitive and I longed for English National Ballet's Neapolitan dance with Yat Sen-Chang. When Odile makes her entrance, she too has a group of black swans dancing in the shadows behind her, which although providing a link with the earlier part of the Act was more of the same. There are several productions in which the Swans inhabit Siegfried's imagination and I always wonder how the ball-scene, with a mix of reality and fantasy, fits into the narrative - awkward.
The other much-discussed change is the revision of the Soviet era happy ending to the most unhappy ending ever, with Odette dead, The Evil Genius triumphant and Siegfried devastated - a metaphor for the desperate circumstances in present day Russia?
At the end, the full house seemed pleased, but not over-excited by the performance.
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