I finally got to see the Kirov in Swan Lake on Thursday and after seeing the advance casting, I decided to go to the Friday performance as well as I had heard great things about Daria Pavlenko.
For me the Kirov Swan Lake is now the definitive version of this ballet. A highly conventional production that tells the familiar story in a straightforward manner with relatively unembellished choreography it is streets ahead of its competitors. The entire company performs this work almost by instinct with the honours being shared between the perfect symmetrical lines of Swan Maidens and the thrilling sweep of the company’s superlative character dancers. These should be the perfect setting for the principals to give performances of the very highest calibre, but sadly I looked for outstanding performances in vain.
All goes well, all goes very well in fact, until the second act when it becomes apparent that current Kirov thinking on how the pas de deux, that crucial heart of the entire ballet, should be danced is very much at odds with Tchaikovsky’s music. Clearly the emphasis is not so much on legato as on slow motion and although the tempo is not as excruciatingly drawn out as when Makarova danced the role, the precedent has been set and was slavishly followed by the two dancers I saw. Both Sologub (Thursday) and Pavlenko (Friday) adhere to a near funereal pace at the same time dipping their torsos almost to the floor in penchee arabesque the better to display their hyper-extensions. As they are turned (one should say manipulated) by their partners, the ugliness of this practice becomes apparent and any lingering beauty in this pas de deux is killed stone dead.
The third act also begins impressively with the national dancers on top form, but again the pas de deux gave cause for concern, no longer an act of seduction but instead a show of empty virtuosity, except in Sologub’s case where her fouettes badly let her down, travelling all over the stage. Neither dancer seemed especially blessed with musicality either, though to be fair the erratic tempi from the pit didn’t help matters and it is a matter of concern that no natural successor to the late Victor Fedotov has been found.
Pavlenko has a good regal bearing and with experience may still make something of the role, her line is good and she interacts well with her prince. Sologub seems less naturally gifted, she started well but seemed rather overwhelmed by the role, again more experience may make a difference in the future. The two Princes fared better, though Andrian Fadeyev’s (Thursday) boy next-door approach looks too modern, rather as if he has taken our own royal princes as his role models. On Friday however, Igor Kolb, in my opinion the company’s finest classicist, took on the role as the Prince and was near to perfection. If he made a lonely figure in the crowd at the beginning of the first act, he became the loneliest man in the world by the end of it; so complete is his alienation from the rest of the court. When he first encounters Odette he is totally transformed. Odette is the purpose in life he was seeking and love takes him over completely. In the third act his deception by Odile is something that at first he barely comprehends, but with the realization that he has betrayed Odette he rushes from the stage with an audible scream of anguish. Tremendous stuff!
All in all, these were outstanding performances let down by the current stylistic notions that increasingly seem to hold sway at the Kirov with an emphasis on often exaggerated technique at the expense of artistry, a worrying trend that I hope will soon be recognized as the artistic dead end it most certainly is.