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Kirov Ballet

'Swan Lake'

by Art Priromprintr

July 25, 2003 -- Covent Garden, London

Many companies that I have recently seen perform “Swan Lake”­ namely the Perm State Ballet and the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet ­ have been caught walking through the performances. This ultimately makes the evening an unexciting, three hour ordeal ­ but yet I go to see it because “Swan Lake” happens to be the only thing that the company is performing. And so it was with some trepidation that I came to the Kirov Ballet’s “Swan Lake” on Friday night. But, I came away from the performance liking “Swan Lake” as much as I did the first time I saw it (which was a lot). The Kirov gives it real life and genuine power, performing it with the same kind of energy and thoughtfulness that it would give to a new production. The Kirov is a company that clearly treasures “Swan Lake” as an important part of its legacy, and takes great care to perform it well. From the moment the curtain lifted, each dancer was thoroughly “with” the production, performing impeccably - from the bottom ranks of the corps de ballet to the principals. That made for an exciting evening of ballet.

The Kirov corps was excellent and impressive, especially in the lakeside acts. Their precision made for some truly mesmerizing moments; I especially enjoyed the entrance of the swan corps in Act II, and their work in the White Swan Pas de Deux (no, they’re not the focal point there, but when they’re good, they add a lot to the pas de deux).

The soloists were great as well. Sofia Gumerova has very clean technique (two minor, accidental wobbles that made the audience near me gasp, but one can’t be perfect every single time); everything was very clean almost perfect. She wasn’t remarkably expressive, but her very good execution of the choreography appeared to be enough to do the trick. She did notice that her partner was there, however ­ which is much more than can be said of many Odettes that I have seen recently. I was also immediately impressed with Gumerova and how, in Odette’s very first dance in Act II, she “froze” for what couldn’t be more than a second in arabesque. It made the pose seem to linger in the air for a really long time, giving it that much more of a dramatic impact. The program lists Gumerova as a soloist ­ not a principal ­ but she was still mighty impressive.

Daniil Korsuntsev as the prince doesn’t have very much to do in this production, but his partnering work was great throughout and he shined in his Black Swan pas de deux solo. The Act I pas de trois deserves special mention; the dancers were all completely spot on and exciting to watch. The pas de trois can really go either way with “Swan Lake.” I’ve seen instances where the soloists compete with each other for the audience’s attention, which makes a mess of the dance; and, I’ve seen instances where the dancers are so focused on executing the steps that the whole thing is boring. But with the Kirov, it was simply excellent.

A few notes on the production: as much as I could gather from the program notes, this is the same production that was staged in 1950 (correct me if I’m wrong). But it’s a great production, and I really like it. It has dramatic clarity that many productions lack, and it also doesn’t have the excesses that many productions heap on in an attempt to make more out of “Swan Lake.” I like the Kirov’s production is simply “Swan Lake,” pure and simple. Act IV, despite the happy ending, is my favorite part of the production. The dances have a kind of surreal quality to them, with the geometry and simplicity of the choreography combining for a fantastic effect. One can overlook the fact that two dances are performed to non-“Swan Lake” music (two Tchaikovsky piano pieces were orchestrated and inserted into act IV by Riccardo Drigo for the 1895 production) simply because these dances are so great. 
I also like the way that the corps, through use of both white and black swans weaving into and out of each other, impressionistically represent the conflicting forces of good and evil in the story. So by the time the Soviet-imposed happy ending appears, one doesn’t mind that its not the ending that was written into the music: the ballet ends happily as the audience goes away happily.

Side note: this Los Angeles native loved the Royal Opera House. Despite the fact that I was in the upper reaches of the amphitheatre, it still felt more intimate than some of the theatres at home ­ not to mention that the house is much more beautiful than many of them. So much for improvement in theatre-building technology: the brand new Kodak Theatre in Hollywood (where the Kirov performs La Bayadere this coming October) is an airplane hangar painted red with seats installed in comparison to the ROH.

Edited by Jeff

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