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Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet

"Swan Lake"

Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, CA

June 5, 2002
By Ed Lippman


I wasn't exactly in the best of moods last night when I arrived at the theater. A caustic comment from my partner, a last minute cancellation by a guest (and the ensuing scramble to find a replacement), then the extremely long line while security searched handbags all combined to put me in a bit of a "state," to put it lightly. Once again, though, the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet succeeded in changing my mood with their immensely enjoyable Swan Lake.

There is elegance in simplicity and tonight's choreography made no attempt to try anything daring. Rather, it takes its time and delivers far more in timing and style without attempting to dazzle with intricacy and flamboyance. This version is keenly aware of the heart of the story, a romance between idealized lovers and takes great pains to keep the story centered. This made the plot more accessible and easier to comprehend than other versions.

This is not a Swan Lake as we're used to seeing in these parts. Like Kevin McKenzie's version for ABT, it begins with a prologue explaining the transformation of the wayward Odette into the Swan Queen. This section, while a welcome addition, seemed a bit weighted. Rothbart is called the "Evil Genius" in this version, standing rooted in place on a towering cliff. In a suggestively sexual move, long, tentacle-like wings reach out to embrace Odette. After she disappears into his wings, a single swan glides slowly across the lake behind them, completing her transformation. A nice touch, an attempt to enhance the feel of the lake with a simulated reflection of the swan in the water. I like what they tried to do, but toward the back of the house it appeared as though the swan was standing like a crane. Better lighting here might have overcome this problem. This was repeated throughout the lake front scenes and made for easier introductions of the Swan Queen and her host.

Act I finds the Prince being regaled by his friends and countrymen. Peasants are replaced by well-heeled court patrons, the only hint of peasantry being character shoes. This Prince is anything but "carefree" as described in the program. Played by Dmitry Zababurin, he comes across more disengaged than princely. He is given precious little opportunity to come to life until Act III when a short solo suddenly explodes across the floor.

But the act itself belongs to the Jester. Vitaly Bruesenko charges the room with his continuous double tours en l'air ending in deep lunges. The Jester single-handedly breathes life into this act with his playful attitude and by the sheer amount of time he spends dancing. An adagio between the Prince and a maiden (Anastasia Pershenkova) is deeply romantic, reflective of the Prince's yearning for one true love. Pershenkova is subtle and sweetly enticing as the maiden, her deep penchés with high lingering extensions rise, into slow fouetté turns. Toward the end of the adagio, the Prince and the entire court briefly watch as a flock of swans flies overhead. The Prince appears longing, touched as they pass over, a nice allusion to things to come.

Act II finds the Prince lakeside, alone. After earning Odette's trust, the corps of swans appears. The corps seemed to move as one, their port de bras perfectly timed. In a testimonial that less is more, the simplicity of their movement made their dances in this act particularly beautiful and exciting. As Odette, Tatiana Chernobrovkina is not the most lilting or enchanting of Swan Queens, but her technical ability and strength is in keeping with the rewarding abilities of the remainder of the company and here she does not disappoint. Zaraburin is a capable partner lifting her high into relaxed poses with elegant arms.

Act III finds us in a baroque hall with walls draped in lush tapestries. Again, the Jester dominates the opening of the act as the court, then the Queen, enters. The Prince takes in the ladies of the court vying for his favor but is not impressed. Enter the Evil Genius (Rothbart) who brings with him an entire entourage. All flare and arm movements, he appears larger than life in a garish costume complete with crown and boots that looked as if they came from one of the many "dancer" shops that line Hollywood Boulevard. His entourage includes the various dancers who perform the character dances. Lavishly costumed, they seem privy to the Evil one's game as Odile appears and vanishes among their ranks throughout their dances, teasing the Prince. Her many appearances and sudden disappearances were well executed, adding to the Prince's torment, making her final revelation all the more dramatic. The Spanish dance by Kadria Amirov was longer and more intricate than usual and very worthy of the time devoted to it, complete with a line of matadors who willingly hide and aid Odile.

When Chernobrovkina finally reappears as Odile, she is completely transformed. The long, black bodice of her costume made her look taller, her demeanor more commanding. Their pas de deux was more passionate, but still did not attempt anything flashy or extreme. Chernobrovkina did not deliver the expected 32 fouettés, stopping at 28. An occasional double pirouette was thrown in, adding her own embellishment and a nice flair in keeping with her character. When the Prince swears his love and the deception is revealed, the back wall of tapestries becomes translucent, revealing the silhouette of Odette standing forlorn against the lake. An unexpected and dramatic way to expose the deception. When the lights come back up, the Evil Genius and his entourage are gone, vanished, the court suddenly devoid of life.

The company added a curtain call at this point to end the act. I understand the desire to give all the dancers the recognition they deserved, but this was confusing to an American audience. Many people presumed the show was over and left at this point.

A short Act IV ends differently from what I'm used to seeing. The Evil Genius gains the upper hand, pulling Odette back under his spell. Not satisfied with his victory, he attempts to kill the Prince. Sheer fabric stretched across the stage swells and billows as if dragging the Prince into the suddenly turbulent lake. He wallows and nearly drowns but Odette's love overcomes the Evil Genius' spell, and she saves the Prince, striking the evil one down at the same time. The act ends with the two lovers united, standing on a cliff looking out over her former kingdom. Odette is dressed in a flowing white gown, released from her spell, no longer a swan.

I've not been a big fan of Swan Lake in the past. I was very impressed by Kevin McKenzie's restaging for ABT and I was equally, if not more so, taken by this one. Less certainly is more and I found the simplicity of this version added rather than detracted from the performances. Though the Prince was distant, I found myself far more emotionally involved with this production than I expected. While neither the Prince nor Odette delivered extraordinary performances, the leisurely pace (over 3 hours) and deliberate, apparent ease of the choreography allowed me to become far more invested in the pair than I've been with other performances. This made for an immensely enjoyable evening, one that will force me to rethink my views on Swan Lake.

Again, the usual sad commentary on the theater. This performance was repeatedly interrupted by the sounds of ushers emptying trashcans loudly in the lobby. At one point, an usher left his walkie-talkie on. It blared out shockingly at the beginning of the fourth act. And there seemed to be many problems with the spotlights tonight. Several times they came on late, used the wrong color, shut off unexpectedly. Had the overall performance been anything less than it was, the lighting problems would have made it look amateurish.

This company is traveling with its orchestra, conducted tonight by Georgy Zhemchuzhin.

 

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Malcolm.


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