Sunday, May 26, 2013

Russian Swans

Tsiskaridze as the Evil Genius in Grigorovich's Swan Lake at the Bolshoi
The Bolshoi Ballet’s Swan Lake was technically flawless (at least from the dancing side) and often moving, but not always emotionally fulfilling.  The production at the Bolshoi was choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich, using parts of the Ivanov/Petipa and Gorsky versions.  I actually enjoyed the choreography for the most part - much more than I did Grigorovich’s Stone Flower  - I found it musically sensitive and in a number of places very interesting in terms of stage positions. 

However, Grigorovich, as always, plays fast and loose with the musical score.  He cuts some numbers and adds others - none of which is a problem, in and of itself, since the Swan Lake music we know is a Frankenscore anyways - bits and pieces inserted here and there or moved and reorchestrated (there’s a great post on You Dance Funny, So Does Me, located here, on the various musical versions of the pas de deux).  I don’t believe that slavish devotion to the original text is important. My problem is that Grigorovich makes his changes badly, most especially in the finale.


I can see why Grigorovich has a problem with the typical Swan Lake finale - here’s ABT’s version for comparison 

American Ballet Theatre performance with Gillian Murphy and Angela Corella

I love ABT's production, but really, Rothbart (the sorcerer) is ridiculous, and the lovers reappearing in the sun is almost embarrassingly saccharine.  Grigorovich’s solution is to make Rothbart - or the Evil Genius as he’s known in Russia - a serious role.  He isn’t played for laughs, and he has an expanded part.  Many of Grigorovich’s additions are trios for the Evil Genius, Siegfried, and Odette.  It brings real terror to the ballet, especially when the Evil Genius is being performed by Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who is a fantastically charismatic dancer as well as a technically brilliant one. He owned the stage, and we could easily believe that he was controlling both our main characters. Fittingly then, Grigorovich has decided to end the ballet tragically; the Evil Genius kills Odette and the Prince is left alone and brokenhearted.  To this I say, fine.  Swan Lake works with both tragic and happy endings.  

But let’s look back at the ABT version again; the ONE thing that absolutely unequivocally works beautifully is Tchaikovsky’s score.  The finale chords, the shimmering string unisons, the harp’s gradually thickening textures, the horns, is brilliant stuff. It is a sudden transformative moment.  Grigorovich cuts all this so he can end with openly tragic music.  Which means that in the end, nothing is transformed; rather, everything ends abruptly, in the same manner as it started. The audience hasn’t been taken on an emotional journey; rather, we’ve started down the emotional highway and then had an abrupt breakdown by the side of the road. It wasn’t helped that the Siegfried I saw, Ruslan Skvortsev, while a technically superb dancer, is a pretty bad actor.  He ended the ballet looking more like he’d lost his favorite umbrella than the love of his life.  

Allash, Skvortsev, and Tsikaridze perform the finale of Grigorovich's Swan Lake. Sorry for the shaky camerawork, but this is the only YouTube video of the cast I saw

Happily, I really enjoyed Maria Allash's performance of Odette/Odile.  I know she’s not as famous in the US as some of the Bolshoi’s other dancers, but both her swans were wonderful.  Her Odette was pretty subdued but very expressive; she has beautiful extensions (not pushed as far as Svetlana Zakharova’s, but frankly that’s more to my taste) and evocative port-de-bras. Her Odile was appropriately fiery and sharp.  I especially loved her in the opening sections of the Black Swan pas de deux.  And the part of the White Swan Adagio where Siegfried lifts her up and she looks like she’s flying?  It’s trite to say, but she really did look like she could fly away on her own.

The corps was likewise brilliant - everything I expected from the Bolshoi swans and more - the arabesque lietmotif was elegant (not clunky as it sometimes is).  In the fourth act when the swans swirl around Siegfried and Odette, it was terrifying and confusing.  Too bad that right afterwards it ended with a decided thud.  

Bolshoi Ballet, Swan Lake, Music: Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Choreography: Yuri Grigorovich after Ivanov/Petipa and Gorsky.  Odette/Odile: Maria Allash, Siegfried: Ruslan Skvortsev, Evil Genius: Nikolai Tsiskaridze. May 23, 2013.

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