American Ballet Theatre Swan Lake, Detroit, Mar. 16 & 18, 2007
On the 16th and 18th of March, I saw in Detroit McKenzies' production of Swan Lake. When I first viewed the production, several years ago, I had mixed feelings about it.
This time, viewing it in the context of other versions, (Mariinsky, Bolshoi, NYCB), it seemed to me much better. Since I've posted on another site a review of the performance of the 16th, in these notes I want to talk only about two things: a) McKenzie's 'take' on Swan Lake compared to some other productions, and b) the corps de ballet of ABT in the two Detroit performances.
What is the argument in the story line that serves to gird the choreography of four acts (in McKenzie's case two acts and four scenes) and tie it to its musical foundation?
What, in plain language, underpins and serves as the fulcrum for a story of enchanted humans and deceived princes and so on. What's the ballet about?
The differences are significant.
1) Grigorovich's production for the Bolshoi is structured as the inner mental life of Siegfried and what Fate does to him. (Odette is a phantasm of Siegfried's imagination)
2) Sergeyev's production for the Mariinsky, the most historically authentic, has however, the Soviet-dictated 'happy' ending, complying to a defunct socialist-realist aesthetic and to the socialist denial of any kind of other-worldliness, and at the same time avoiding bourgeois morbidity in art.
3) P Martins' production for the NYCB follows the dictum 'faster and shorter is better because people don't have time for long works', irrespective of any demands the score and the libretto may make. A kind of Reader's Digest rendition of the classics. A response to Mr Martins argument is: “OK, so don't bother. Do something short.” (Instead he's getting ready to tackle Prokofiev's R & J)
4) K. McKenzie's production opts for the double suicide of Odette and Siegfried, which leads to the demise of Rothbart, and the breaking of the spell for all the other swan/women. (The physics of this chain of events escapes me, but there it is). The lovers, redeemed by their pure love, are reunited in the afterworld. Musically, the drama of death and redemption is very aptly supported by the finale of the Tschaikovsky score.
One of the virtues of the McKenzie production is that the fourth scene is compact, advances the story line efficiently, and the music and story line meld convincingly.
The first scene showed off the great dancing of the corps. In McKenzie's production the first scene is expansive, bringing together music from other acts and giving that music to the corps for group dances (such as some music for the princesses in the ballroom scene). The virtue is that we get to see the first-rate work of the ABT corps de ballet, which provides many pleasures, and, in my view, world-class artistry.
If the corps de ballet of a company with its own training academy, can be metaphorically said to be a bouquet of calla lilies, or maybe better, long stemmed roses, then, using the same metaphor, it can be said that the ABT corps de ballet is a mixed bouquet of fresh cut flowers, each lending its color and perfume to the whole.
Double tours en l'air for the group men in the first scene had a synchronicity and precision (both performances) that was amazing. Double unsupported pirouettes en pointe for the group women with their long multi-layered skirts were brilliantly secure and effortlessly executed. Technique transformed to art. Double work and partnering
of some complexity and speed was carried out flawlessly and with the appropriate nonchalance.
The group dances of the lakeside scenes were equally compelling. The tempi were somewhat faster than those maintained in traditional versions. It seemed to me that there were some corps formations that brought the group closer to the protagonists during the pas de deux, suggesting greater empathy and intimacy between the leads and the swan/women.
The scenery and costumes of Zack Brown are superb. The costumes are sumptuous and profusely decorated.
After these two performances, the charge, often heard, that ABT, at all levels of dancers, reflects the absence of a training academy to supply uniform training and focused aesthetic education seems, to me, to be unfounded. How can that be? What's left out of the equation is the great job that good ballet masters can do with a gorgeous, beautiful mixed bouquet.
Last edited by jpc on Thu Apr 26, 2007 11:57 am, edited 1 time in total.