Review – Swan Lake – Mikhailovsky at London Coliseum 2010

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The Mikhailovsky’ Swan Lake has corrected all of the flaws of the recent Ballet Nacional De Cuba production and kept none of its charms. The curtain raises on a glowing scene; courtiers primarily dressed in white parade around a lovely tan and cream drop, designedwith a hint of autumn yet all overlaid by a blinding snowiness that said to me, “Swans!” The tutor (Andrey Bregvaze) appears and then the jester (Denis Tolmachev), who, unlike the BNC version, seems to serve an almost entirely decorative function with just a bit of show-offy dancing. At last our Siegfried (Marat Shemiunov) appears; stunningly long-legged, he towers over the other dancers and appears gawky because of his horrible, homely shoes. Clearly he will never find a bride amongst this crowd of Liliputians; we must wait for Act 2 for love to come his way. Meanwhile there is much Young Werther style moping to be done while the courtiers limpidly parade around the stage and Mom (Zvezdana Martina) arrives to chastize him and give him a nice crossbow.

Energy finally comes to this scene as the Pas De Trois kicks off, with Anastasia Lomachenkova, Oksana Bondareva, and Anton Ploom strutting their stuff. Ultimately the women seemed to have little to add (no help from the missing follow spot here), leaving Ploom to steal the entire act with his bold leaps and effervescence. Q’s shorter, first solo in act 3 confirmed my guess that he wasn’t going to display the verve I always hope for in my male leads; he turned rather than whirled, landed firmly but somehow not decisively, and generally lacked “spring.” I wished for Steve McRae to leap in from the wings and show him how to do it with life. It’s a problem I think may have come with Shemiunov’s legs; the longer levers work against dancers when it comes to lift.

Act one ended on a bit of a comic note for me, as Siegfried’s sudden interest in shooting pretty things made me flash back to the Prospect Park goose cull written up in today’s New York Times. Goose Lake: how would this ballet be told? A break between acts and my reverie was broken by the sudden hope of glitter, glamour, beauty and tragedy for Act 2. What I did get was twenty four women dressed in white tutus and an Odette who appeared to have no bones and double joints; but all of the back-bends in the world could not compensate for the lack of chemistry between the two leads. Was he excited to find her? Was she bowled over by true love? Or were they each dancing their own ballets, simultaneously? Von Rothbart (er, “Evil Genius,” Vladimir Tsal), appearing in a black costume with attractively short wings but an appallingly tall headpiece, crept on behind the pair and suddenly gave me a repressed urge to say, “It’s behind you!” This was especially sad because Tsal danced well, but the spell of Swan Lake had failed to be cast by the end of Act 2, and I knew the rest of the evening might be tragic but I was never going to care enough for it to be a tragedy.

Act three was gorgeous, with fantastic costumes that had me distracted by the detailing used to define the soloists in each of the group dance scenes. I adored the painted feathers on the Mazurkas’ dresses (hoping I got the name of the dance right!), and the mantillas and mirrored black/grey/white dresses the Spanish dancers wore were nab-worthy. (Von Rothbart, however, seemed to have stepped right out of World of Warcraft.) But Odile failed at being evil and gleeful, and neither she nor Siegfried showed the sexual energy I see as key to this act. Were they just nervous because it was opening night, or were they merely bored? Where was the electricity? Where was the seduction, and then the triumph? Instead we got our requisite fouettes as if that was the highlight of the entire show. I was crushed.

My disappointment was cemented at last with act 4, which had the ending I hate the most the one that totally lacks emotional punch: It’s simple; if Odette doesn’t die because of Siegfried’s mistake, this ballet loses its power. Ultimately, this Swan Lake has nearly perfect production values … and a complete lack of passion in any of the dancing. I longed for Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s creaky toe shoes and dusty sets. Technical skill we may have seen, but I must advise against “Swan Lake: Escape from the Black Cockatoo” in favor of a production with a heart. Here’s hoping the company is redeemed on Saturday when I return for Cipollino.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on July 13th, 2010. Running time for Act 1 & 2 is about one hour: act 3 ended at 9:40 and we hit the sidewalk outside the Coliseum at about 10:30.)

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3 Responses to “Review – Swan Lake – Mikhailovsky at London Coliseum 2010”

  1. Tubz Says:

    Im new to the ballet. Enjoyed last nights show but I thought Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s had a bit more to it. But it was my first ever. The Jester was dissapointing not much going on with him. Swans were great.

    Next stop: Laurencia.

  2. June Says:

    It was a lovely production though I do understand that some do not really like the Russian style of ballet…this company has developed and should be supported and the leads are top principal artists though they clearly didn’t move you I would book to see them again.

  3. claire Says:

    It was my first ballet, too. I thought I might nod off through the first two acts but was brought back to life as we progressed. The swans were wonderful, dainty and precise. The jester was energetic, if a little annoying. Most of the costumes were nice but the white male swan could have been made to look more magnificent to match his stance and expertise. The black swan’s death throes were amazing, very wretched and sad. The principal dancers were all fantastic and should be praised. I would have liked more exciting costumes and passion. The orchestra were great. Overall, well done all.

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