Posts Tagged ‘Swan Lake’

Mini-review – Swan Lake – Natalia Osipova at Royal Ballet

March 21, 2015

I really enjoy Swan Lake, so I make an effort to “collect” productions, noting the differences in them rather like one might do wine tastings (“Oh, this has been oaked! Oh, they collapsed the last two acts!”). It came to me as a bit of a surprise to realize that, after eight years in London, I hadn’t actually seen Swan Lake: on the other hand, given the price of the tickets – it looks like it’s been a recurring financial decision to pass as amphitheater seats alone were running 50 quid. But I was able to find a slightly restricted view seat in the stalls circle for around 55, which is a price I’m more than happy to pay to see Natalia Osipova dancing: I feel morally obligated to see her as many times as possible (or at least once per ballet) now that she’s performing regularly at the Royal Ballet. These brilliant dancers don’t stay at the peak of their career forever anymore than a cherry tree stays covered in pink blossoms all year round.

Sadly for me the Siegfried chosen for this production is Matthew Golding, who singularly impressed me with his complete inability to act during the production of Onegin I went to last month. He a strong dancer but in a story ballet you want someone to pull you in, to get the emotional commitment to the story, and not just see perfect jump (check) perfect landing (check) awesome lift (check) all done with the kind of facial expressions last seen on Luke Skywalker (slightly angry – check – determined to succeed – check). On the other hand, you can absolutely believe his Prince Siegfried is too stupid to tell the difference between Odette and Odile, so that’s one hurdle crossed.

The Royal Ballet’s production (mocked by a friend for being dusty) struck me as singularly deliciously costumed, with the first act done in a mixture of well researched 1870s styles with perfectly interwoven Russian traditional dresses. Were both worn at court at that time? Who knows, but the effect was grand, the colors as varied as leaves in the forest and I couldn’t gawp as much as I wanted to. Instead of the bizarre jester role I’ve seen in some Russian productions, Royal Ballet had some comic relief provided by “the tutor” (Alastair Marriott), who gets in a dance with some girls of about 10 or 12 (Manon Forssell Pyk, Emily-Rose Holland) in which they basically attempt to duck away from him. They were for me the highlight of this act as I rarely get the chance to see young talent on stage – future ballerinas of the Royal, represent! And while the pas de trois was well done, I was bored by the waltzing and generally ready to just move through this scene and on to the lake (oddly I could see a swan boat at the back of the stage from where I was sitting … deliberate? accident?).

Then we had act two, with all of the young men of the palace going into the forest a-hunting and a most peculiarly unfrightening Von Rothbart. However, there was terror aplenty to come as the swans finally came on stage and I realized: they had six young girls playing cygnets. With their whitened faces and blond(-ish) hair, they were like the terror twins of The Shining, only multiplied by three. They didn’t have a lot of dancing to do (and were mostly kept in the back), but they made everything seem more supernatural and just damned creepy – almost as creepy as Golding’s peculiarly immobile face. This is the emotional heart of the ballet and the make-or-break time for me as an audience member, and although Osipova danced well and her fluttering fingers as she slowly folded herself down on stage (with her front body and arms extending to her toes) tried to break my heart, it was impossible for me to buy any emotional connection between this Odette and Siegfried. The swan spell was broken and I felt grateful I hadn’t forked over the hundred quid plus for a proper stalls seat.

The first interval ended and I piled back into my seat, eager to see how the big palace scene was handled and, of course, Osipova being outrageous and outgoing and out there as Odette. I loved the costumes for this scene – it was all done as a masquerade and had a real feel of Masque of the Red Death about it, a feeling enhanced by Von Rothbart appearing with two children wearing death’s masks. He sat there petting him as if they were his evil monkey minions and he a latter day Elpheba. The upper edges of the ballroom all had giant mirrors on them – echoing the giant mirror at the back of the stage that Odette would appear in (or so I assumed: my blocked view cut this right off). Then we had the suite of dances that makes up the pre-choice of bride extravaganza in this act. The various Russian dances and the Spanish dance were adequate, but I was charmed by the Neapolitan dance, which featured flying tambourines, clever arms-like-ribbon catches, and stolen kisses – I think it’s the best version of this I’ve ever seen. It’s all a build up to the series of solo dances by Odile and Siegfried, which, well, were fine but just lacked emotional intensity for me. My heart was checked out and I could not connect. That said, I love it when Siegfried’s mistake was revealed to him and Odile was essentially snatched off stage in a ball of fiery smoke, practically as if she was being dragged back into the depths of hell. It all worked well with the extremely dark tone of this scene and I enjoyed it.

However, I was pretty much ready to go home at this point, but came back anyway hoping for a bit more niceness in the act four dancing. What I got was some black skirted swans … a nice chance to break up the rhythm of the costuming … and the most unconvincing evil Rothbart scene ever. He seemed utterly powerless, less of an evil sorcerer than the Wizard of Oz. Just to mock me further, whatever actually happened to Odette and Siegfried was utterly hidden. They disappeared from my sightlines, then reappeared on a swan-shaped boat. Did she plunge of a cliff and he dive after her? Death seemed unlikely given that they’d already beaten Von Rothbart (could have done it with a feather duster, really, he was so wimpy), so I have no idea what actually was supposed to have happened in the ending. All I wanted to do was get home, and I dashed out the door. Natalia would never know.

(This review is for the performance that was filmed for broadcast in the Royal Opera House live cinema season on Tuesday March 17th 2015 and I’m pleased to say that from where I sat the cameras were not a distraction. I just discovered that the Neapolitan dance was choreographed by Ashton. How wonderful! It did really have a La Fille Mal Gardee feeling about it. Note: this is the final use of this production, per this article by Judith Mackrell: if you’d like to see a proper critic’s response to the production, it’s worth a read.)

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Review – Swan Lake – Ballet Nacional de Cuba w/Carlos Acosta, London Coliseum

March 31, 2010

Last night was the long-anticipated start of Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s run at the Coliseum, an event I’d been waiting for breathlessly since I first saw it mentioned last fall in a Sadler’s Wells program. I’d especially booked to see Carlos Acosta, who was fortunately performing on opening night. The combination was magic (of the box office sort, at least), as the giant barn of a theater was filled to the rafters with wittering ballet fans. How exciting, to see so many people all together to enjoy ballet! The atmosphere was positively electric.

I’d actually not bought the program beforehand (in part because I showed up about two minutes before curtain up), so I didn’t know if we had a 3 or 4 act (answer: 3) or which ending we were going to get (tragic, sad, or inappropriately happy), though I was told in the cast sheet that the curtain would drop at 10 PM (actual: 10:15). The lack of program left me with a few moments of confusion during act one (what was up with the people in the animal masks coming out from behind the screen – and were those ravens or swans with very thin beaks?) and an utter shock at the very end (I was not expecting the ending they chose). However, in most ways, it’s not as if there was going to be a different story up there than Swan Lake: the difference was going to be in the dancing.

And the dancing: so, so very good! One of the things I’ve come to believe about BNC (based on having seen them twice before) is that theirs is a very pure dance tradition, one I think hews closely to the earliest interpretations of these dances. Thus, in these performances for which composers especially made music to be danced to, in BNC we see dancing that hews tightly to the music, where so many of the movements enhanced the music played with them, so that it seemed the dance served the music. I noticed this first during the first act, when the leaps of Yanela Pinera, Amaya Rodriguez and Alejandro Virelles, in their pas de trois, appeared to have organically developed from the efforts of the brass section. Then, in the third act, the fouettes of Odile (Viengsay Valdes, rather adorably credited with this role as if we did not know she was also Odette) seemed, for once, not a prima ballerina foot-twirling death march, but rather a musical illustration of the martial music underneath it. Each dip of her toe matched up with a blare of horns, and, for the first time I ever, I saw this bit of choreography as something to do with Tchaikovsky and not just with showing off technique. So many times I have felt like dances are being done by people counting beats in their head; but with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, it really seems the dancers are listening to the music, and the difference is truly remarkable. It just all feels so very right, this marriage of music and movement, and I found myself getting goosebumps over and over again, seeing this best of ballet scores come to life. It was great.

I also enjoyed the differences in this version from many of the ones I have seen. All of the first act takes place in the court, and the dances seem to be done spontaneously by the staff to cheer up Prince Siegfried (Carlos Acosta). There were additions I’d never expected – a maypole, a jester (who is a big player), a strange bit in which the jester becomes a crossbow, the animal masquerade (mentioned above), and this whole “mystical experience” thing where Siegfried seems to suddenly be struck by the idea of looking for a swan. As it turns out, when he finally meets Odette, he just kind of steps onto the stage from the wings and grabs her from the waist, which is utterly anticlimactic. However, prior to this we have the most glorious dance of the swan corps ever, whom, despite their smallish numbers (twenty, when I think some company brags of having forty or so), utterly mesmerized me with their movements across the stage, forming and reforming shapes just like real birds do in the sky, only instead of just Vs and teardrop shapes we got circles and a gorgeous set of lines with offset dancers in the middle. I … I mean, I’m sure it was just standard stagecraft, but it was just … goosebumps again. Lovely.

Then we were barelling on to Act Three and Siegfried’s betrayal, and of this act I have to say RED AND BLACK ODILE! This isn’t what most people would have noticed, but it was a novel costuming decision, and I’m a bit obsessed with the color combination. And Valdes’ transformation – it made it impossible to see how Siegfried could have possibly mistaken the one for the other, she had so utterly changed her self presentation on stage. Her seduction of Siegfried seemed ever so much more cold and calculating than in other versions of this show, though, truth be told, the vision of Odette that appeared behind the scrim was so poorly lit that it almost seemed a metaphor for Siegfried’s poor memory. The ending, well, just in case you like surprises, I’ll say a bit of it was clunky and horrid and some of it was magical. Odette’s inability to resist Von Rothbart seemed like it was physically manifested, though, and Valdes did some powerful dancing in this act – but what can I say, being evil always makes a performer more interesting, and it was her Odile I loved best.

Costumes have been a bit of a problem with BNC for me before, because, though the dance preserves well over time, the costumes go stale. I enjoyed them, though – the court was very medieval a la Disney’s Cinderella meets traditional Russian clothing, and the costumes for the dancers in act three were great. Best was the third act’s black and white theme for the jester and the prince, which showed clearly the tug between Odette and Odile that was to come. Foreshadowing via costuming: nice! And the sets were simple but servicable, Gothic and eerie and easy to pack into a shipping container.

At the end of the night, we were treated to the Grande Dame herself, Alicia Alonso, coming on stage to take a bow besides the dance company that she has made, and a dancer that she helped create – Carlos Acosta. She really is a treasure and I feel lucky to have actually seen her, especially since I felt she was wholly responsible for the wonderful evening I’d just had. Who’d think in a world in which there is so much bad dance that one night could be so magical? Even though last night was sold out, there are seats available for £35 for the non-Carlos nights – and, dammit, it’s impossible for me to go back. But I really and truly wish I could. At least I’ve got their Magia de la Danza program to look forward to after Easter, and may I suggest you book for that, too, using the same £35 deal to get lovely stalls seats.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 20th, 2010. Ballet Nacional de Cuba continues with Swan Lake through Sunday April 4th; their residency at the London Coliseum continues through Sunday April 11th. Don’t miss it. Really. No matter what Ismene Brown says.)

Screaming deal – Ballet Nacional de Cuba London 2010 visit best seats for £35

March 26, 2010

The Metro has got a screaming deal for Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s 2010 visit to the London Coliseum. For the Friday-Sunday April 2-4 shows of Swan Lake and for the Magica de la Danza program on Fri-Sunday April 9-11, best in the house tickets are £35. Call 0871 911 0200 and ask for the “Celebrate” offer by 29th March to book. If you bought tickets before this, you can’t return them. Boo hoo.

Review – Tribute to Diaghilev – “International Stars” and Royal Ballet members at Royal Opera House

June 8, 2009

The Sunday “Tribute to Diaghilev” event at the Royal Opera House seemed a bit of a mystery to me, best summarized as “Flashy Russian Dancers” and “Flashy Russian Ballet!” rather than “Some Particular Company” doing “Any Ballet, Really.” I had no idea what was going to happen. Were there going to be speeches? Was it a way of promoting Russian culture? Was everything going to go Fa Lun Gung and leave me sneaking out the back between sets? I couldn’t tell, but since I love flashy Russian ballet and flashy Russian dancers (and really wanted to flesh out some more of my Diaghilev knowledge – so much that I’ve only ever seen photos of still!), I decided to go ahead and fork out for the rather expensive privilege of attending this show.

God knows why the tickets were so high – not a single set came with the dancers (leaving poor Petrushka fighting to escape from an invisible prison), the orchestra was provided by the Royal Ballet, and based on the pathetic handling of curtain calls (Bow on the stage! No, come in front of the curtain!) and props (I’ve never seen the “Apollo’s Lute” variation of Les Sylphides before) it was clear they hadn’t bothered with a dress rehearsal to work out the kinks beforehand. That left us with the Diaghilev tribute element – thankfully limited to one short burst of film that was maybe 5 minutes long and sloppily narrated – and the dancing, which consisted of gorgeous ones and twos of people doing “K-Tel’s Power Duets and Solos Snippets a la Ballet Russes,” fully costumed, no holds barred and no silly plot to tire them out or get in the way of the dancing. In short, there was lots of great dancing, which was what I came for, but the snippets were so short I found them a bit difficult to digest. On the other hand, wow, dancers just doing the memorable highlights while they’re all fresh, ZOWIE! It was a format I was comletely unused to (since for me a night of shorts usually means no more than 4 ballets, not 15), but once I’d mentally adjusted to it as a taster of ballets I didn’t know performed by people who were going to rock my socks off, I was good.

As for the program, mystery as it was, here it is reproduced to the best of my typing abilities (after the first, assume by Mikhail Fokine unless I say otherwise, * for dancers not in RB, bold for new shows for me):

Scheherazade (by Fokine, danced by Uliana Lopatkina*, Igor Zelensky*), Daphnis and Chloe (by Ashton, danced by Natasha Oughtred, Federico Bonelli), Petrushka (danced by Dmitri Gruzdyev), La Chatte (by Ashton, danced by Alexandra Ansanelli), Giselle (danced by Mathilde Froustey*, Mathias Heyman* – not originally in program), Tamar (by Smoriginas, danced by Irma Nioradze*, Ilya Kuznetsov – ditto), Le Spectre de la Rose (danced by Yevgenia Obraztsova*, Dmitri Gudanov*), interval, Apollo (by Balanchine, danced by Maria Kowroski*, Igor Zelenski*), Les Sylphides (danced by Tamara Rojo, David Makhateli), Le Tricorne (by Myassin, danced by Dmitri Gudanov*), The Firebird (danced by Irma Nioradze*, Ilya Kuznetsov*), Les Biches (by Nijinska, danced by Mara Galeazzi, Bennet Gartside), Swan Lake (by Petipa, danced by Marianela Nunez, Thiago Soares), Le Carnaval (danced by Yevgenia Obraztsova*, Andrei Batalov*) and The Dying Swan (danced by Uliana Lopatkina*) Oddly not included was “The Rite of Spring,” a damned shame as I’d like to see how it was originally done.

Of the various short performances, my very favorite was Andrea Ansanelli (retiring? No!) in “La Chatte,” a sweet little bonbon of a dance that was just perfect from start to finish. Wearing a cute (but not face obliterating) mask with white ears and a feathered dress, Ansanelli groomed, preened, stretched, flirted, did impossible things with her legs, clawed the furniture, and pirouetted off after a mouse. I thought it was just lovely – perhaps not the most technically challenging of the night but very memorable.

My second favorite (and winner of the “shows I’d like to see in full” award, though perhaps this is all there is to it) was “Le Spectre de la Rose,” a piece originally choreographed for Nijinski. The costume, a pink half-body leotard with flowers on the shoulders, head, and here and there was both androgynous and very male and just distractingly sexy. I could only imagine Edwardian matrons swooning in their chair at this piece. Who would have thought that this would be the spirit hiding within a rose? (Fortunately I’ll get to see it again when English National Ballet do their own Diaghilev performance at Sadler’s Wells – I can’t wait!)

The third best moment was … well, gosh, not the Russians, and not even Fokine! No, it was hometown company members Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares rocking out with Odile’s duet with Prince Siegfried, in which she confirms her hold over him and her utter triumph over her rival (with a thrusting down of her arms at the very end – it just seems to say, “You’re cursed forever!” in my books). It is a very Russian moment, the bit of the ballet with the thirty-two fouettés en tournant (I didn’t count) that basically provides the unimaginative with a chance to evaluate ballerinas in the same way sopranos would be measured against the Queen of the Night’s high F – not a moment that really determines artistry but something measurable and, for many, memorable. I would imagine in the pure Russian style that this would be a dancer’s whole performance, making this tiny bit so memorable, with but Nunez we had the entire character of Odile there, the entire story accompanying her in a cloud. She was so sharp, so smooth, so seductive … so vicious, and Soares was just so the drugged-out-on-promises-of-sex aristocrat I always see Siegfried as in this scene (I always wind up hating him for being so ignorant and easily led astray) – BRRR there was clearly no need to import talent to this stage. Of course, I had the advantage of knowing this story just a little bit too well. AHEM.

Among the rest, I enjoyed Schehezade (once again, full of sex, perhaps this was how Diaghilev sold ballet to the masses?), with its costumes looking fresh out of a James Bond movie and athletic moves for Igor Zelensky (including a leap with a spin and a back kick – I wonder if it has a name?); Le Tricorne, a sort of Spanish flamenco/bullfighter thing that had Dmitri Gudanov practically leaping from a kneeling position into a high kick, very strong and impressive; and the pretty, pretty Le Carnaval, which had a Neapolitan couple (as I saw it) playing catch with each others hearts, Yevgenia Obraztsova and Andrei Batalov completely inhabiting their characters. My husband loved Ulyana Lopatkina’s Dying Swan, but she had so much elbow on display I couldn’t focus on her dancing (in short, she was so very thin I found it distracting); and Dmitri Gruzdyev was a strong Petrushka, giving me a chance to see the dance I may have ignored before but suffering from a lack of context.

None of the others were horrible, though I found Tamar boring and couldn’t help but laugh at Apollo (it’s the lute, it just looks ridiculous). It was a very good evening and my appetite is whetted for more. Too bad dance always looks so awful on the screen – I’d really like to see these works done in full!

(This show was a one time only performance that took place on Sunday, June 7th, 2009.)

* are people who aren’t in the Royal Ballet – I think. They are listed in the original cast list.

Ballet Summer 2009 – Mikhailovsky and Diaghilev program at Royal Opera House!

April 25, 2009

I finally flipped through the Royal Opera House program last night and was very pleased to see that we’ll be getting some Russian ballet this summer! The Mariinsky/Kirov is coming to the Royal Opera House from 3-15 August and presenting four different programs. However, I was disappointed at the rather unimaginative seat-fillers they’ve got on offer – Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. I mean, GAH, could they pull any chestnuttier chestnuts out of the chestnut case? (Oh, wait, they’re not doing Nutcracker, so I guess they could have pulled one more out still.)

Now, it’s Leonid Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty, so it should be substantially different from the Royal Ballet productions people would be more likely to be familiar with. (Note that the Swan Lake is choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev off of Petipa and Ivanov, so again a different version.) But I’m just really disappointed at the lack of really different productions, like when the Bolshoi brought Spartacus and The Pharaoh’s Daughter to the Royal Opera House five years back. They weren’t just different versions of the same old stuff (Look! A cheese sandwich with relish on it!) but just entirely different worlds of ballet to what I was used to seeing (rather like chicken mole’ after a lifetime thinking Mexican food meant tacos). And that is what I would like to see – or, better yet, some really modern choreographers, the Mariinsky doing work especially choreographed for it, a chance to see something truly new! But no, all we get is Balanchine, and it’s Balanchine war horses to boot. I mean, come on, Serenade and Rubies, not only have I seen them before, but they will have both been done in London earlier in the yeah, and even on the stage of the Royal Opera House.

Wah. On the other hand, there’s this wacky little “Tribute to Diaghilev” thing happening on June 7th, directed by Valeriy Ovsyanikov, with various Russian dancers and Royal Ballet members doing some real classics I’ve never even had a chance to see (Le Spectre de la Rose and The Dying Swan being particularly notable holes in my ballet experience), and while the tickets seem a bit painfully priced, I think I’m going to make the effort – 30 quid is more than I’ll normally spend for a ticket, but, well, you know, a few times a year I can let myself splurge. And, inevitably, it’s for ballet, and it’s in the summer, and it’s the shows that, with luck, I’ll spend the rest of my years talking about “that one time I saw that really great production of that wild XXX” and I won’t regret spending the money one little bit.

(Booking for these shows opens on April 28th, 2009. Gentlemen, start your engines!)

Mini-review – Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” – Sadler’s Wells

December 21, 2006

I had a great night at Sadler’s Wells with Jess, Libby, Caroline, and Wechlser watching handsome shirtless men dance around stage with leather pants on. Er, I mean, with feather pants on, at least in acts one and three, as this was Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Something about the production seemed to leave us all very … energized. Not sure how to put it really, but I do think “festive” captures it. Talk about getting in the spirit of the season! What is it about watching actors die on stage that could possibly be so cheering? At any rate, I end the day in a very good mood, which I must frankly admit has a LOT to do with it being the start of my Christmas vacation. No work until January 2nd … WOOOO!

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 20th, 2006. It was migrated from another blog.)