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allegromezzo18

Swan Lake by NYCB vs. ABT

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What is the difference between the NYCB and the ABT versions of

Swan Lake? Is the NYCB version worth seeing in January, 2006, which they are doing at State Theatre in NY?

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The subject of NYCB's Swan Lake upsets me, so I'll let others provide details. I'll just say that while ABT's Swan Lake is no great shakes, NYCB's is an abomination.

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I haven't seen NYCB's version yet, but my understanding is that it's radically streamlined and reworked (by Martins, and not Balanchine, sadly). I am planning to check it out though. The costumes and sets look interesting to me. ABT's version is more traditional, but there too some breaks with tradition have been made, such as the swamp-thing Von Rothbart who appears in the prologue and the second act, and a shortened fourth act. Farrell Fan is quite right that neither of these is "the" Swan Lake.

If I were you I would choose based on the dancers. I would like to see Wendy Whelan in the role—a casting that feels odd but right to me in light of her increasing depth and mystery. Gillian Murphy and Veronika Part are definitely worth seeing in the part—the former for her absolutely startling technical brilliance, which makes for a fabulous Odile, and the later for her beautiful arms and intense acting. You'd also have the chance to see the two Cornejos in the pas de trois, Marcelo Gomes as a deliciously evil Von Rothbart, David Hallberg as a sublime Siegfried, the venerable Freddie Franklin as the tutor...

Well, you can see where my heart is.

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I would like to see Wendy Whelan in the role—a casting that feels odd but right to me in light of her increasing depth and mystery.

I saw Whelan dance Aurora in Martins' version of Sleeping Beauty during the Spring 1994 season, and of all the Auroras I saw at NYCB during the first seasons the ballet was presented -- Fugate, Nichols, Kistler, Margaret Tracey, and Hlinka -- with the exception of Fugate's "Vision Scene," she was by far my favorite, even at that relatively young age. She had a sensibility all of her own; she danced it as a Balanchine dancer, and if she felt the pressure of a century of precedents, she didn't show it.

I would love to see Whelan's Odette/Odile.

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If you like the dancers cast, go. Just don't ask for much from either ABT's or NYCB's production.

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While I fully second Farrell Fan's remarks, "...NYCB's is an abomination," I would be curious to see what Maria Kowroski will do since her experience dancing the Mariinsky's version. When she arrived there they were shocked by the little hand-flaps she'd been taught at NYCB and Lopatkina spent a great amount of time preparing her to do the role correctly. So she now has wings, but will she be allowed to use them at NYCB?

As for ABT's version, for me the greatest problem is Act 4. However, Veronika Part even brings that act to life, and is definitely a must see. I also have enjoyed Dvorovenko, Murphy (don't be fooled by the dvd, she's usually way better than that) and Vishneva.

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I would love to see Whelan's Odette/Odile.

A few years ago I had a 'Swan Lake' day at Lincoln Center... in the afternoon Ananiashvilli in the full version and Whelan in the evening in Act 2. Given my high regard of Ananiashvilli in this role, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Whelan's performance--it was something I would never have expected from her, and she stood up quite well to Ananiashvilli. Whelan was particularly brilliant in the Act 2 coda, which I would expect from her, but I was completely unprepared for her deep portrayal and lyricism.

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Wild horses could not drag me to a performance of NYCB's Swan Lake. Supposedly, Martins retained the choreography from Balanchine's condensed version, but many who saw the Balanchine question that. ABT's SL at least has some mime and beautiful costumes.

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Whelan was particularly brilliant in the Act 2 coda, which I would expect from her, but I was completely unprepared for her deep portrayal and lyricism.

I was bowled over by Balanchine's stand-alone Act II long ago and remain a big fan. It provides an opportunity for ballerinas who might not have the temperament or style for the dual Odette/Odile -- and Whelan is one of many in this category -- to project depth of feeling, musicality and beauty of movement.

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I, too, came to love the Balanchine, which I see not as a condensation but rather a commentary on Ivanov's White Acts. I am one of the few who really liked the Vaes production, with the black-clad swannies dancing in the icescape. It intensified the appropriate mood, but with a heightened sense of fantasy.

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Balanchine's Act 2 distilation is interesting, unfortunately that's not what NYCB is presenting this season - they're doing Martins' restaging of the full length ballet. Let me add my voice to those advising caution if you decide to go to NYCB's Swan Lake. Calling it an abomination is being kind. Picture this - streamline the choreography, keeping just the iconic moments, strip all reference to period or culture from the costumes & scenery - and there you have NYCB's SL. I saw it once with Whalen & Woetzel. The dancers were great, I especially loved Whalen but hated the production so much it was really hard to sit through it. I plan to go once this season because I really want to see Kowroski, but I know I will leave the theater muttering like a madwoman.

If you are only going to see one Swan Lake this season go to ABT & try to see Part or Vishneva. Their Swan Lake is not 100% traditional either, as everyone here has pointed out, but it is MUCH better than NYCB's.

Depending on where you live, you might skip both NYCB & ABT's Swan Lake and go see the Perm Ballet's Swan Lake. It's a new production, staged by Makarova and billed as "a spectacular,traditional production". It will be at the NJPAC on March 17th, and somewhere in Princeton around the same time. Unfortunately I will be traveling on business that week, but if I was home in NY I would definitely go out of my way to see it - we're really starved for a good Swan Lake here!

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If you are only going to see one Swan Lake this season go to ABT & try to see Part or Vishneva. Their Swan Lake is not 100% traditional either, as everyone here has pointed out, but it is MUCH better than NYCB's.

I think NYsusan's recommendation of the Perm production is probably a good one.

If you tend to like NYCB better, you may prefer NYCB. If you prefer ABT, you'll probably prefer ABT's version. It depends on what you loathe most, but it's like discussing whether you like drowning or burning more. One version is sterile, the other version is distorted. ABT has dancers better trained to get through the ballet. NYCB has no business doing a full-length Swan Lake, but their version pushes fewer of my buttons (I loathe ABT's von Rothbart. Really, deeply loathe.) Choose your poison. Like I said earlier, I'd suggest seeing the dancers you liked best. Of the versions I've seen, the closest to what we think of as "Swan Lake" is the Royal Ballet's.

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I third nysusan's suggestion. I would love to see the Perm company.

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For the ABT, I'd recommend Vishneva, Dvorovenko or Part in the role. What can I say? The Russians just do this better.

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I haven't seen the ABT version but I can't imagine it is worse than NYCB's full length (the short Balanchine version is very nice, though). I've seen it twice, the second time purely for the dancers -- Weese and Boal, who made it bearable, at least. So maybe if you can see Weese, or Whelan, its worth it but I honestly can't think of a likely good choice for the Prince from the current crop of available dancers (unless in an unforeseeable stroke of luck, Evans gets cast).

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I want to add Ananiashvilli to the crop of Russians in ABT's Swan Lake! She'd be my first choice.

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I saw Balanchine's one act version just once with Miranda Weese and Nilas Martins and I JUST LOVE IT!! Shame its no longer perform as often as it should because believe me Martins' version is just...hmmmm!! That God for PBS, because that's where I saw it and after seeing it on Television - trust - wild horses couldn't get me to pay money to see that performance live!!

As for ABT I enjoy it very much. I just wish it was a fuller version then just two acts. I could be wrong, but it seems that American companies fells that American audience are incapable at watching a full four act ballet. Everything they stage a classic that has four acts they always it seems to reduce to just two acts. To me not only do we miss some important elements in terms of character development but to me its rather insulting to think that American companies think audiences are not able to seat though. "Let's not bore them! Rush, rush, rush!" I can see why maybe comparing the first two acts, but I would have loved if Kevin McKenzie would have keep the third and fourth act intact. The fourth act gives the audience the chance to see the Prince express his regards at dooming Odette to a life of being a swan and it shows Odette slowly forgiving him and both their decision to kill themselves in order to be together. You don't get any of those fine details in McKenzie production. Mainly because the corp send too much time dancing in front of a backdrop, so the behind the scene crew can loudly remove the huge set of the ballroom scene in order to continue with the ballet.

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Giselle05 - Nina would also be a great choice but she is on maternity leave and won't be appearing with ABT this year.

GeorgeB Fan - you have hit the nail exactly on the head in your description of the ABT staging’s shortcomings. Even though it’s basically a good version you really don’t get the emotional catharsis that you do with a great version, so it’s kind of like kissing your sister...I suspect that in addition to the reasons you cited for ABT’s tendency to “streamline” Petipa, financial considerations may also be at play. Whatever the reasons, I hate that attitude. It’s really disrespectful of both the audience’s intelligence & Petipa’s genius.

Leigh’s point that the SL you prefer depends on which company you prefer is a good one, but I still feel that regardless of which style you favor - Swan Lake is a classical ballet with Petipa/Ivanov at it’s core - not a Balanchine (or in this case a Martins) ballet. Balanchine understood that and avoided the issue completely since the version he created is just the lakeside “white” act, which can be presented as wholly abstract rather than narrative. By extracting that one act he differentiated it from the full “story” version and gave us something beautiful with a different focus & intent than the full length ballet. Martin’s version is just wrongheaded. Even though I don’t think ABT’s is a great staging, at least it doesn’t distort it to the degree where you lose all the romantic/period/character overtones like NYCB’s does. IMO Swan Lake is not, and should not be a 21st century ballet. You want post modern? Then create something new, or extract just the portion that speaks to you and refine it the way Balanchine did. Otherwise, don’t meddle with a masterpiece!

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In regards to NYCB's version:

Calling it an abomination is being kind.

Amen and amen. You took the words out of my mouth. The designs gave me a headache. "Jackson Pollock Goes To The Ballet." :beg: The production on the whole gave me nightmares.

Editing to note my sincerest apologies to Jackson Pollock and his fans.

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Balanchine understood that and avoided the issue completely since the version he created is just the lakeside “white” act, which can be presented as wholly abstract rather than narrative. By extracting that one act he differentiated it from the full “story” version and gave us something beautiful with a different focus & intent than the full length ballet. Martin’s version is just wrongheaded. Even though I don’t think ABT’s is a great staging, at least it doesn’t distort it to the degree where you lose all the romantic/period/character overtones like NYCB’s does. IMO Swan Lake is not, and should not be a 21st century ballet. You want post modern? Then create something new, or extract just the portion that speaks to you and refine it the way Balanchine did. Otherwise, don’t meddle with a masterpiece!

I have to agree, that I think I look at Balanchine Lakeside One Act piece as a kind of tribute to the original rather than an adaptaptation.

I may go to the Martins out of curiousity, it was originally televised right? I seem to remember so. But that was during a period of very low ballet attendance for me and it did nothing to encourage me, I was so bored I just shut the TV off and copied over the tape.

Richard

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NYSusan,

Your comments are great about NYCB and ABT. My next question is "If I forget about the Petipa SL, and the story line, and see NYCB SL as a 21st century ballet by Martins, is the dancing and the choreography worth seeing?

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If you're asking if Martins's staging -- for choreography alone and seen through 21st century eyes -- is equal to that of Ivanov/Petipa, also seen through 21st century eyes, my personal answer is No. Is it adapted to today's sensibilities? I assume Martins sees it that way, and perhaps it is, but that doesn't make it good.

Still, a bad dancer can make a masterpiece dull while a great dancer can transform garbage, so I would encourage you to tip the scales a bit in ABT's favor, but mostly choose a cast you like.

From an educational point of view, seeing as many different ballets and productions as possible will enable you develop your own frame of reference.

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Let me add my voice to those advising caution if you decide to go to NYCB's Swan Lake. Calling it an abomination is being kind. Picture this - streamline the choreography, keeping just the iconic moments, strip all reference to period or culture from the costumes & scenery - and there you have NYCB's SL.

I've enjoyed this discussion and admit to being a non-fan of the NYCB full-length Swan Lake. The memory I have of this (which I haven't seen for 5 or 6 years) is of a performance that was of rather drab and unatmospheric decor, a cool, anti-romantic affect, and the impression of steps being performed by rote rather than in the service of what should be a heart-breaking story.

This relates to style and "look." But I wonder about the choreography per se. I'd appreciate it if someone could pin point a single section -- one that many of us would be familiar with -- and compare Martins' steps, etc., with the versions perfomed by more traditdional companies.

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But Carbro, is the choreography of the NYCB version really that different from the ABT Version? At least the parts that everyone is instantly familar with, Black Swan Pas, White Swan Pas, Little Swans... The NYCB version is the one that came on TV with Damien Woetzel and Miranda Weese as the leads isn't it? It's been a few years but from what I remember the Black Swan Pas and the White Swan Pas were pretty Straight forward. I may be totally wrong on this so please correct me.

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