At last I have found time to post my review from seeing the NBoC perform Swan Lake way back on the evening of November 17, 2005! My profuse apologies. Am I allowed to post a review this late?
Ogden Shines above Swan Lake à la James Kudelka!
“I must say I had never seen a poorer presentation on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre. The costumes, décor, and machines did not hide in the least the emptiness of the dances. Not a single balletomane got out of it even five minutes of pleasure.”
You can thank Herman Laroche, music critic and good friend of the ballet’s composer, for the above insight. Yes, the original Swan Lake courtesy of Julius Reisinger in 1877 laid…..the proverbial ugly duckling’s egg! In 1895 Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa breathed choreographic life into the ballet as a tribute to Pyotr Tchaikovsky, who pulled down the princely sum of $500 for the score! Sadly he never saw their version. Historians can’t decide whether he took his own life or died of cholera on November 6th, 1893 at the age of 53. It’s well worth seeing Swan Lake just to experience the musical genius of Pyotr Tchaikovsky. His contribution to the world of ballet will forever know an eternal life.
Swan Lake II was a hit with balletomanes and has for the most part survived 111 years in some version or another. Does Swan Lake improve with time or does it become stale with remake after remake after remake? Of course, without video evidence, a time machine, or very, very old balletomane to interview, no one can answer the above! All this critic can do is give you his opinion of Swan Lake à la James Kudelka.
You should be aware that under ‘choreography’ the souvenir program credits Kudelka and Kudelka alone. For Erik Bruhn’s Swan Lake, the National showed proper respect to its original creators with an additional credit: “after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.” According to Mr. K:
“every classic needs to be rethought with new logic and powerful archetypes to make it moving and relevant for a new generation.”
Translation: Tutus cannot hold up to the toughest critic of all: Time! Desmond Heeley’s tutus would have been 38 years old had Kudelka used them to dress down his swans. Reason #2 ballet companies redo classics: Dance technique becomes more advanced with the passage of time. Reason #3: Without video evidence it’s impossible to recreate the original.
Adding a II to Swan Lake is also a good way to lure fannies into the theatre and make the cash register sing! Many of those fannies were quite restless during Act I as Mr. K tried to interject some testosterone with a pas de octahedron for the boys. Oh hum, excuse me whiles I express my boredom through a loud prolonged yawn. Most disappointing after the ballet began with such promise. Before the official unveiling, woodwinds usher in the familiar romantic theme followed by a crescendo of tension building strings. Cymbals and trumpets warn of an impending storm. The woodwinds return followed by foreboding silence. A full moon rises to reveal the Archangel silhouette of Rothbart à la Christopher Body.
Nothing in the 1st act that was to follow lived up to that powerful image. Swan Lake is the classic black and white escapist ballet. Fans come to escape inside a dream world made of blowing mist, pristine ballerina and dazzling white tutu. Ballet fans come to escape inside the beauty of man’s most beautiful creation: the ballerina!
At least the dance of the slum boys, served to build anticipation for seeing the above. At least Mr. K showed his sense of humour adorning the Queen (Victoria Bertram) and her Lady in Waiting (Lorna Geddes) in headdresses shaped like swollen genitalia. I admit to giggling as memories of the pilot episode from Star Trek (The Cage) surfaced with the Talosians
and their over-sized brains! Perhaps this was all an inside Freudian joke poking fun at Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s obsessive worship of his Mother? Or perhaps those Kentucky Derby sized tributes to femininity serve as a warning to our Prince (Guillaume Côté) not to fall in lust at first sight with Odile (the evil Heather Ogden)? It does make one wonder if the sight of Siegfried’s mother might scare away Odette (the good Heather Ogden) for fear of the daughter they may produce? Yikes! By the way, one of the Queen’s knights caught his cape in some scenery making his way down the steps and had to tear himself free.
At least Kudelka tweaked his story some with a more tasteful gangbang of a very saucy wench in the form of the sultry Stephanie Hutchison. At least I knew, having seen this Kudelkaized version many times, things would eventually become more pleasing to the eye. I could see how the Prince would be bored silly with all of the above and accept an invitation from his buddy Benno to go swan hunting. Especially since Mother Victoria Bertram mimed to one and all her son should settle down with a good princess. This is one part of the fairy tale ballet I never got. What woman would fall for a man who likes to shoot swans with a bow and arrow during his leisure time-especially one who is half woman/half swan? Join me for Act II.
Emerging from the cattails of a misty marsh to greet Prince Siegfried and introduce him to the beautiful Odette we have a psychedelic, beaded haired Rothbart (think Woodstock)! Odette is a swan-woman who only assumes human form between midnight and dawn. The spell of the evil sorcerer Rothbart can only be broken by true love and it is love at first sight for the prince. And who can blame him? Heather Ogden
as Odette is irresistible in her brilliant white Santo Loquasto tutu and swan feathered headdress. So much so, she could start a Swan Lake fashion trend.
Miss Ogden recovered from a small slip during a pas de trois between the Prince and Rothbart to dance and silent act a performance worthy of Opening Night. Curiously, despite dancing the star role 3 times, Heather Ogden did not dance Opening Night. I thought that honour would be bestowed upon her when the National Ballet of Canada traveled to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to dance Swan Lake (January 17-22) but it was not to be. Veterans Greta Hodgkinson and Jennifer Fournier danced the lead role only twice.
The role of swan-woman was Loquasto tailor-made for this child-woman ballerina. Off stage Heather Ogden is full of girlish innocence looking every bit the part of a National Ballet School student; on stage she magically transforms herself into a seasoned silent actress/dancer. What separates Ogden from other very talented dancers is what Hollywood calls the indefinable ‘it’ factor. If she danced for Paris Opera Ballet I would be writing ‘Je ne sais quoi.’ Fans don’t know what Heather Ogden has but they know she has it! ‘It’…is living her dream dancing music to life giving it everything she has to give!
Cue the violin and cello. It’s time for the luv duet between the Prince and Odette. Ogden plays upon her delicate waif-like beauty to full effect as she dances the story of her fate to the Prince. Arms undulating like the wings of a swan, she bourrées across the enchanted lakeside. The more they dance, the more their relationship strengthens. At first very shy and frightened, Odette now trusts the prince truly loves her and thus will save her from this swan-woman existence.
Swan after swan after swan fills the stage as the Prince and Odette fall into bottomless love at first sight. This Busby Berkley white canon sequence is always quite a spectacle to behold-Especially so from the mezzanine. Sadly, the National is at a disadvantage with their humble stage, medium sized corps, and unremarkable Kudelka choreography. The NBoC’s corps de ballet shined but their appearance lacked the ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ they should have evoked. I felt a little cheated. The way you do after fast food or day at the CNE (amusement park). Same goes for the cygnets’ pas de quatre. It’s little more than a cute little ditty that always draws spontaneous applause but I have yet to see a production in which their synchronized dancing actually makes sense to the story.
Ogden’s performance evoked memories of blond screen siren Tippi Hendren from ‘The Birds’
in the fear she expressed. For Act III, Heather Ogden
transforms into sultry blond ambition
à la Grace Kelly.
Miss Ogden definitely shares the same fresh, alabaster beauty of both Hendren and Kelly, muses for the great director, Alfred Hitchcock. If only I could use the same adjective for James Kudelka. Of course, Odette accepts the Prince’s invitation to dance at the ball.
You say you’re not part of the Prince’s inner circle? Your invite to celebrate the Prince’s 21st Birthday did not arrive in the mail? No problem, I’ll sneak you in. Royal blue and purple colors everyone who is anyone in the court. Lighting up the dance floor we have Golden Globed Murano Glass Chandeliers. The Queen Mother mimes it is time for her son to choose a bride and he certainly has quite a delicious selection of princesses from all over the globe: Hungary (Rebekah Rimsay), Russia (Jillian Vanstone), Spain (Tanya Howard), and Italy (Laura Bolton). Kudelka made an interesting choice cutting the princesses from the traditional 6 to 4, which I will discuss more in detail later.
First to step off her podium is Princess Hungary doing all she can to maintain her dignity- despite being presented as an object of the Prince’s potential desire. She mimed ‘I want to have your baby’ and ‘Will you marry me?’ before her folk dance. Despite dancing with one hand on her hip and one behind her head to perfection, the prince did not want Princess Rebekah Rimsay to make him any Palacsinta for breakfast!
Jillian Vanstone was all business dancing with determination as the icy Russian Princess. Alas, her Romovaya Baba did not warm him up! Tanya Howard, the only Princess to also dance in the corps de ballet, made a big play for the Prince playing with her skirt and ‘Kitri’ castanets. I was shocked the bridal dance contest did not end right then and there but this is fantasy so the prince was not impressed with this Dulcinea’s delicious Peras al Vino Dulce! Teasing the court with provocative leaps and the splits, we have the lovely Laura Bolton. Apparently, her Italian Gelato was not delectable enough to melt our Prince’s heart.
He truly must be in love with Odette. And here she comes, or so he thinks, fashionably late dressed to thrill and kill in a jet-black tutu! Wow! This is not Odette but a mirror image of her in the form of Odile, a creation of Rothbart. He obviously visited a fashion consultant since we last saw him ditching the Woodstock threads for a muscled bellhop look trying his best to look serious despite sporting a pillbox cap. The evil chameleon summons Odile to seduce the Prince with her ‘Tell me Lies, Tell me Sweet Little Lies’ dance. Does it work? Will the Prince succumb to Satin’s Seventh Sin: Lust? Read on…
Odette, the shy sweet swan-woman next door has been replaced by Odile, the not so shy she-devil from the bad side of Swan Lake. Ladies and gentlemen this is your Ballerina Idol! Odile dances with no fear. Arms rippling, she’s all steely flash dancing not just for the prince but also for the knights. Ogden’s pointe shoes burn up the dance floor as the Prince falls under her seductive hypnotic spell. I think we have a winner!
Rothbart whispers instructions to further lure the Prince into Odile’s web of deceit. Odette can only look on in disbelief through the window of the castle as Odile mockingly laughs at her Siegfried. The fool! He has no idea he has fallen for an Odette refurb! She’s a Prince gold-digger who will take him for everything he’s got!
Heather Ogden obviously preferred playing the darker role of evil seductress more so than the frail, helpless swan-woman. She certainly enjoyed herself on stage-Perhaps a little too much. It’s hard to believe the Prince didn’t notice the come-hither personality change. He even dances a pas de trois with her guardian. Several breathtaking grand jetés, bourrées, and 32 fouettés (fondu-pirouette) later, it is all over. The Seduction of Siegfried is complete. He has chosen Odile as his bride. Evil prevails over good and Siegfried’s world comes to an end.
Flashes of white lightning fill the stage. The entire court for the exception of Siegfried and Rothbart are killed off by a flood simulated by the dancers pulling an enormous silk sheet across the stage-Quite a satisfying theatrical experience and also very daring move to pull off. There has been much speculation as to the meaning of Mr. K’s Swan Lake. Perhaps it’s his response to man’s exploitation of planet earth bringing on the revelations in the form of four galloping ballerinas, four princesses instead of six, and 4 acts instead of Erik Bruhn’s 2. One could even make a case for the above with all the recent natural disasters such as the flood in Tunisia and New Orleans.
Onto Act IV: Gone are the brilliant white tutus replaced by gorgeous black tutus. This is where Kudelka runs out of creative juice for his choreography. This act was dominated by arabesque after arabesque. Odette forgives Siegfried for succumbing to the sin of Odilicious lust even though she has been condemned to spend eternity as a swan. The evil Rothbart conjures up yet another storm. There’s a struggle leaving poor Odette to mourn the death of humanity and Siegfried. Yikes! Ballets don’t get any darker than this! Ultimately, the ballet fails because Mr. K’s interpretation resolves around Rothbart and the revelations more so than the love story. In the end, I had no sympathy for the Prince. He got his just deserts.
If Kudelka possessed more imagination he would have dressed down his Swans in Heeley’s tutus and then dressed them up in Loquasto’s tutus for a happy ending. The costume change would have brought everyone in the Hummingbird Centre to their feet! Given that Mr. K’s Swan Lake was about a decaying civilization; would not the time-ravaged tutus of Bruhn’s Swans have been more apropos? He could have staged an epic battle between the black & white swans with the white swans prevailing. The closing emotional melody also delivers for a happy ending. I can only dream…
Despite James Kudelka’s futile attempt to provide more of a role for the boys, his Swan Lake revolves around the ballerina. When most people think about ballet, Swan Lake and the image of a ballerina in tutu comes to mind. When you leave the Hummingbird Centre the foremost images you take home with you will be that of Heather Ogden glowing as Odile and Odette in a black and white tutu! Don’t believe me? Ask Artistic Director Karen Kain. I sat behind her in Row B, Seat 54. Mrs. K clapped most enthusiastically for Heather Ogden and whispered often to her neighbor/friend after most of Ogden’s variations.
Sadly, Prince Guillaume Côté spent most of his time on stage looking indifferent and a tad bored. He should have been given some more steps to dance. Sadly missing from Swan Lake à la James Kudelka is the role of the Court Jester. No comic relief for you! No gravity defying jumps. No fun.
As much as James Kudelka tries to make Swan Lake his own, it still belongs to Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Think of them as master chefs who whipped up choreography to serve up the ballerina as the main dish of their ballet. James Kudelka is more of a short-order cook who fries ballet to serve up his own choreography. Hence, the conflict between Mr. K and fired ballerina Kimberly Glasco, who Kudelka claimed could only dance for Petipa. According to Miss Glasco, Kudelka fired her because she did not support his $1.7 million Swan Lake. The lawsuit won by Glasco has long been settled (July 20, 2000 for a reported 1 to 2 million dollars) but all of the above will forever be linked to the history of the National Ballet of Canada.
In the end, Swan Lake will always be Swan Lake. You will never erase memories of the original and its original creators. Despite all its faults, it’s a shame this production has never been televised and captured for eternity onto DVD. Ballet is such an ephemeral art. Now all that remains of Heather Ogden dancing the music of Swan Lake to life is memories and of course, this review. Ultimately, all of us live on this blue sphere to create and collect memories. If only I could download Swan Lake from my mind to my DVD player! In the meantime, this balletomane will cling to memories of Heather Ogden’s performance like a dream you don’t want to let go…
Performance of Dancers: 17/20. Costumes, Sets & Lighting: 17/20. Choreography: 13/20. Ballet Magic: 9/15. Story: 5/15. Music: 10/10. Rating: 71/100.