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Nureyev's Swan Lake

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I recently acquired a DVD player and before buying a disc I have been previewing it by borrowing the discs from the New York Public Library. (I am fortunate to have such a good source.) I have had pretty good luck so far; I look up titles on Amazon and request them from the NYPL and then decide if they are worth buying. The most recent was a 'Swan Lake' choreographed by Nureyev, with Margot Fonteyn and the Vienna State Opera Ballet, recorded in 1966. I don't recall seeing this on a videotape so I cannot comment on its clarity, but this DVD is sharp and clear. Nureyev is in top form (28 years old) and Fonteyn belied her age.

I liked what Nureyev did with Act 1; there wasn't a jester or a drunken tutor in sight. He devised a pleasant pas de quatre for two couples, 2 men and 2 women but he could not resist joining in himself and turned it into a pas de cinq at some point. His real mistake was in using (half of the time) the same music Balanchine used for 'Tchaikovsky PDD'. In comparison, Nureyev's choreography looked simplistic and mundane. However, he added a beautiful melancholy solo for the Prince at the end of Act 1; it was most appropriate and set the mood for Act II.

Our first glimpse of Odette in Act II was startling. The first time we see her she is being held aloft in a prone position by unseen arms or mechanical device. The effect is a swan (a rather large one) floating on the lake. Finally, we see her entrance in the normal manner. He gave us a distinctive Black Swan in Act III

He did not use the familiar music but went back to the 'Tchaikovsky PDD' music part of the time, although his solo music was the customary one. The entrance of the adagio is generally exciting, glittery and high-strung. Here it was much more lyric and soft. There was not such a sharp difference between Odette and Odile. I could see where the Prince could be confused.

I sometimes wish choreographers would leave Act IV alone and stay with David Blair's version. But it seems that is the act they like to tinker with. This Act !V had a climax I shall never forget excl.gif When Rothbart claimed Odette and swooped her up in his cape and carried her offstage he simultaneously caused a flood.

The stage was covered in undulating waves and the hapless Prince could be seen bobbing about; a head rising here; an arm jutting up; flailing arms. (My Kingdom for a life preserver, I thought unsure.gif ) While this is going on the music is reaching a crushing crescendo. (It took him 3 minutes to drown, which can be an eternity on the stage) At one point he managed to scale the bank of the lake to grasp Odette's hand, but slid down again. Odette exited the same way she came in---held aloft again (by an unseen device) and floated away. (Unfortunately, it brought BigBird to mind). It was more comical than tragic. What was Nureyev thinking of---and Fonteyn to be a party to it? I guess he convinced her he knew more about 'SwanLake' than she did, even though she was dancing the role before he was born.

I have decided to purchase the DVD. Nureyev was at the height of his dancing and was a pleasure to see. Having seen other older ballerinas perform I was pleased with the clarity of Fonteyn's technique. It was smooth and effortless (she even did 27 fouettes performed fairly stationary). My reservations about Fonteyn's 'Swan Lake' have not changed over the years. (I saw her Swan Lake for the first time in 1949). It is a satisfying all-around performance, but not inspirational. I guess I would call it 'a good company ballerina performance'


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