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Bolshoi Ballet - 'Swan Lake'

by Ana Abad-Carles

August 3, 2006 -- Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

As part of their London Season, the Bolshoi presented Yuri Grigorovitch’s version of “Swan Lake”. First staged during the season 1969/70, the ballet has undergone small adjustments throughout time—as the choreographer explains in the programme notes—though it has only been recently that the original ending that Grigorovitch wanted for his ballet has made its way onto the stage.

I have never been a great admirer of Grigorovitch’s version of the classic. The last time I saw it was in 1989, when the company presented it at the Coliseum. At that time, it seemed a bit heavy on the viewer, as this version only allows one interval, and the story and the drama are not prominent parts of this production.

However, the dancing then and now has the power to carry the ballet forward. The Bolshoi is a phenomenal company and, as exemplified by their performances of this piece, it can hold the viewer’s attention in spite of lacklustre choreography.

Grigorovitch explains that his conception of the ballet had the Prince as the only real inhabitant of a world in which reality and fantasy shift continuously on the stage. This is not really clear as the choreography unfolds. Perhaps the only clear image is that of The Evil Genius as the Prince’s Fate or Destiny. This is something that Rudolf Nureyev also used in his own version of the ballet. However, the rest of the characters are not so well delineated. Grigorovitch has kept the second act choreography by Ivanov, and has also kept some of the Petipa for the Black Swan pas de deux, but overall, his character progression, especially when it concerns Odette and her alter ego Odile, is never very clear.

On the evening of the Press Night, Svetlana Zakharova danced Odette/Odile, Ruslan Skvortsov danced Prince Siegfried and Dmitri Belogolovtsev danced the role of the Evil Genius.

The Bolshoi has often fielded questionable casting on Press Nights.  During this season, most of them have been assigned to Zakharova, who is a capable dancer, but whom I would not rate as the Bolshoi’s current best. Even more questionable was Skvortsov as the Prince, as he had real technical problems in his second act variation, something that is unusual to see from Bolshoi male stars.

Skvortsov was good during the first act, but did not manage to make much of his character—especially since he seems to be the “hero” of the ballet, according to the choreographer’s notes.

Zakharova was an adept Odette and a much better Odile. However, Odette seems to pose real problems for most ballerinas nowadays as the technical difficulties of the part are much more subtle than those of Odile. Generally, it seems female dancers concentrate so much on Odile’s feats that they forget the only way this part can actually work is by creating a contrast between the two. There are few Odettes who can actually fill the steps with real soul and allow the choreographic lines to grow and become expressive without resorting to acrobatic tricks that, rather than prolonging the lines, change their expressive qualities. I always look forward to Odette’s variation when she performs the diagonals of sissonnes that culminate in the développé into arabesque. There are few dancers who can actually perform that développé with the liquid quality that the music indicates.

Belogolovtsev was a competent Evil Genius, but, typical of Grigorovitch, the choreographic language for this part soon becomes repetitive.

Still, the Bolshoi is a company that manages to give a good performance in spite of all odds. The corps de ballet, though a bit crammed on the Covent Garden stage, was beautiful. The sense of schooling and unity of style is still apparent. The men are still powerful, but since the Grigorovitch days, the women have become more beautiful and versatile through a change of aesthetics that seems to connect more with the Bolshoi’s past. The women dancing the Princesses of the Second Act were as strong as ever and special mention should go to Natalia Osipova, who took the stage with the best jumps I have seen for a very long time. Allegro technique has become nearly extinct in the last decades due to the emphasis on very high legs and more adagio work. It is wonderful to see that the Bolshoi is still training its female dancers to jump high, far and boldly.

The only real disappointment of the evening came at the end, when the new ending to the ballet was performed. I can understand that Grigorovitch wanted a tragic ending for his work, but that does not mean that he had to dispense with the wonderful music that finishes the score and patch the final moments with a return to the Overture. It is not necessary and it simply provides the ballet with a most unmusical ending. There are dozens of examples of how the ballet can end tragically and yet make use of the original music. Many people were appalled by this change and, to be honest, I can only subscribe to this reaction. Other than that, the performance showed how great this company is and served as a reminder of the standards toward which we should all aim.

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