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Bolshoi Ballet

'Swan Lake'

by Cassandra

April 1, 2006 matinee -- Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK

If there is one problem that the Bolshoi shares with the UK’s Royal Ballet, it is that both are in urgent need of a new production of “Swan Lake”. This Grigorovitch version has always been controversial and the alterations made a couple of years ago haven’t added much to the general effect. Over the years, the costumes have been refurbished with too much glitter, too many sequins, rhinestones and so on and the dazzling item of bling that Siegfried receives as a birthday gift from his mother would be a better present for a pimp than a medieval princeling. Another odd feature of this performance is the absence of a crossbow; a group of knights hand the prince a sword that he reverently kisses the blade of and his mother gives him the aforementioned gaudy chain, but he arrives at the lakeside minus a birthday present.

It hasn’t been that unusual for producers to add their own touches to Ivanov’s ‘white acts’ and what Grigorovitch has changed doesn’t actually look that bad; it just doesn’t look as good as Ivanov’s original. I miss the mime a lot; that wonderful moment when Odette introduces herself to Siegfried and tells him the lake is formed of her mother’s tears is too lovely to be excluded.

In this version, acts one and two and acts three and four run together, separated by just one interval, so when referring to the second act (ballroom scene), it’s really the third, so it all gets confusing. Anyway, the old third act comes off best with the familiar Black Swan pas de deux more or less intact and now preceded by a brief pas de trois with Evil Genius/Rothbart. The princesses dance the national dances with their retinues – but (shock, horror) – en pointe! The only saving grace is that the gorgeous music to the Russian dance is included and that all the princesses danced so well.

The fourth act, or second half of the second act, takes us back to the lake for Siegfried to express his remorse before losing Odette forever as a result of his faithlessness. Grigorovitch used to give us a happy ending here that actually worked rather well with Siegfried lying on the ground at the mercy of Rothbart and Odette detaching herself from her swans to rescue him through the power of her forgiveness. The stage would be suffused with the pink light of dawn and the lovers would end the ballet in an embrace encircled by the swans. The problem with the new ending of Siegfried alone and distraught is that it needs a pretty powerful dance-actor to bring it off; as it stands the end is now very much an anti-climax.

Moving on to the dancing, I was very much looking forward to seeing Maria Allash in the leading role as her expressive face with its large luminous eyes would seem to make her a natural for Odette, but in fact I was wrong, as it seems that Allash is far more at ease in the role of Odile. As the black swan she glittered and beguiled and danced the demanding choreography to perfection, only the fouettés were less than ideal, as she was performing them at a slower pace than the music: perhaps there was a lack of communication with the conductor on this occasion. The problem with Allash as the white swan was that she seemed to have so little rapport with her partner, but the utterly emotionless interpretation of Siegfried from Vladimir Neporozhny couldn’t have helped her much. It would be interesting to see her opposite a different prince. On the other hand, I was struck with how well Allash phrased her dancing in the white act and mercifully, though her working leg was very high, she never raised it to the six o’clock position. It is nice to see that the classics are still being treated with respect in Moscow, unlike St Petersburg.

After a gap of almost two years, I was hoping to see some exciting new faces, and at this performance there were two youngsters, completely new to me who immediately grabbed my attention. The first was Viacheslav Lopatin who danced the jester. This was a jester unlike any other I had seen from the Bolshoi before, fey and almost effete, he had clearly given a lot of thought to this unusual interpretation; it was more like the Russian reading of Harlequin than the standard sock-it-to-them Bolshoi jester. Unfortunately, he suffered a bit of a hiccup in the final pirouette, but that didn’t detract from the overall high quality  of his dancing. The other eye catcher was Natalia Osipova, who danced the role of the Spanish princess. Her soaring jetés and exceptional ballon prompted an enthusiastic rustle from the audience, though her tendency to throw her leg up against her ear impressed me less. I’ll be interested to see what she makes of other roles.

Apart from the tired old production, there was a lot to enjoy at this performance, but my final words of praise must go to the corps de ballet, utterly gorgeous every one of them, and worth the price of admission alone.

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