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Boston Ballet - Swan Lake(Mother's Day)


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#1 Amy Reusch

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 08:48 PM

I can't decide whether to head this thread

"Too Much of a Good Thing"

or

"No Swans were Injured in the Making of This Ballet"

The company looks fabulous... so many good dancers in the corps... almost too many. They're so good, that the choreographer seems to have given them choreography more suited to the Prince. How wonderful to see the men of the corps look like a dozen principals, and all together too, such a strong statement... How could I possibly complain? But, somehow, this made the rest of the ballet less for me.

The staging is listed as "after Petipa/Ivanov", but I think perhaps it should have read "after Nureyev". I really have trouble with that solo at the end of the first act. Why does everyone suddenly desert Siegried? Where's the Secret Service for petes sake?

A year ago or so, I had the opportunity to ask some Boston Ballet corps dancers what their favorite ballet to dance was. I was so surprised when they responded "Swan Lake". I thought, sure, it's a lovely ballet, but is it really that much fun for a dancer in the corps? I mean, didn't Jerome Bel make fun of how dull it is to be in the corps in his ballet "Veronique Doisneau" for the Paris Opera? Now that I've seen what Boston does, I understand how a corps dancer could love it.

No one really goes to the ballet for the story... and who could complain if lots of expository pantomime and procession were replaced with lovely choreography for the corps... and it is lovely... and well danced but... but...

Tchaikovsky has so much to say dramatically, I hate to see it blurred over... and the ballet doesn't quite come together for me if the story isn't there... drop it down to the 2nd Act and toss in the Black Swan pas de deux somewhere, if you're going to go vague on the dramatic details.

I spent a little time on the drive up, familiarizing my 9-year-old with some of the underlying tensions in the drama... how important a responsibility it was for the Prince to marry and produce an heir to the throne, what dangers existed for a country where the prince didn't... how important fidelity was in the days of no divorce... how it was important to find a spouse who would be faithful... how it's easy to fall in love, and then six months later to fall in love again with somebody else.. why all this would be important. I asked her if she wanted to know the full story ahead of time, or wait and see how it worked out. She wanted the story in advance (and with her ability to watch the same movie over and over without any loss of enjoyment, I believed her). So I explained about the evil sorcerer and the handmaidens and the lake of the mother's tears and how Odette could only escape if a man swore true love, but that if he failed her she would be trapped as a swan forever. I explained about Odile, and I explained about the suicides. My daughter's response: "So, if Odette kills herself because of a broken heart betrayed by Siegfried, will she become a Wili?" Hmmm...... good point, this was also Germany, after all....

But back to Boston...

Yes, I love the Maypole that some stagings do, and no it's not necessary to do it... but it is nice to know that there are peasants and there is a court with all the pressures it puts on the prince. I wouldn't have believed that I'd miss all that processing about, but I did. The queen and her couple of old biddy ladies-in-waiting didn't quite make the same impression. And we can't all get Frederic Franklin, but this tutor moved like a 24 year old, surely he was too young to have been Siegfried's tutor? ... and there was no Benno. There are no artificial swans. The cross-bow prop is so light and fragile looking, it's hardly clear what it is... must be nice to dance with, but for all we could tell, it might easily have been some sort of musical instrument. Siegfried never takes aim at the swans (and neither does anyone else because he's hunting alone... if that's what he's doing... never mind the "court" sometimes referred to in the music, he has no huntsmen to confer with. When the swans come racing in and hit that famous defensive pose, and then a few more, and then a few more, etc.. .it's not in reaction to anything Seigfried or his [non-existent] huntsmen have done... and no one seems to make any oaths at any point in the ballet... Perhaps Rothbart refers to God once, but no one else does. So, no oaths were broken... And good God, no one commits suicide!! Apparently Von Rothbart feinting kickboxing over the grieving swan queen is considered less offensive.
Come to think of it, Rothbart begins the 2nd Act... dancing around in the mist... (several people in the audience around me were muttering to one another "Is that the Prince?" After all, they both wore black). I think I may have seen this before in other stagings, but he didn't resemble the prince in those...

There was a dramaturge for this production: Sorella Englund. Perhaps the Royal Danish do a different version of Swan Lake? As a Finn, does it color her view of this Russian ballet?

OK... here's the quote from the synopsis: "She wishes to die, but Siegfried rushes to her side, explaining passionately how he, too, succcumbed to Von Rothbart's wickedness." I didn't quite catch that pantomime, but there was a very long time where they just embraced and the corps danced, maybe it transpired then?


But the dancing was Beautiful. Carlos Molina was a wonderful partner to Erica Cornejo... he lifted her and held her above his head as if she truly were eiderdown... as if he could have held her there for another 20 minutes had he felt like it. And Cornejo sported some lucsious balances, that brought a different eloquence to the role than I've seen in other interpretations. She nailed the fouettes in grand competition style, changing her spot 8 times in the first half. Not quite Makarova's idea that they are supposed to be hypnotically luring Seigfried in; but magnificent all the same. They were there in the original because Legnani could do them, after all, right?... though I do appreciate the interpretive idea.

Still... that Pas de Cinq seemed to add a lot of time to the third act... I was beginning to feel like I was watching Sleeping Beauty.... and then the music almost seemed rushed for the national dances, as if the director had thought he needed to make up time. I'm not convinced this score wasn't meddled with... Seigfried's solo at the end of the first act, that's usually the opening of the 2nd act, isn't it? Or is it interstitial music to cover the scene change? And it wasn't clear that the national dances had anything to do with the princesses... I would have like to have seen the princesses' dance flirt more individually with the Prince... I'm sure I haven't seen enough Swan Lake stagings to make any definitive comments, and have trouble seeing something different to what I'm used too, but, I still miss certain things all the same.

I missed many of the Ivanov grouping of the corps in 2nd Act... they are so beautifully structured to set off Odette & Siegfried... these white acts presented here seemed almost more Petipa than Ivanov... lots of lines, lots and lots and lots and lots of swans... reminiscent of The Shades more than the 2nd Act stagings I'm familiar with. It's wonderful that Boston Ballet can put so many good dancers on stage as swans, but there were too many... they started to interfere with the corps groupings and patterns... they looked like they were having difficulty all fitting in... and those big circling runs were hampered by the large number, no one actually stepped on anyone else but the corps couldn't quite build up the speed to make that moment effective. The 9-year-old: "Why did she have so many hand-maidens... it didn't make sense" (Come to think of it, judging by the number of handmaidens vs. the size of Seigfried's mother's court, this princess was definitely marrying down). But there were some beautiful moments afforded by the new choreography... the swans almost made a lake with waves themselves... it was beautiful, just not the same sort of thing.

I wanted to applaud John Conklin, the costumer designer, after the first act Pas de Trois... the way those skirts fluted as they flared in the travelling turns was a choreography in itself!

Mr. Nichols lighting was beautiful as always, picking up colors in the costumes... adding mystique to the sets... though sometimes my old eyes can't quite take that outlining of the dancers' legs with side-light...

Strangely enough, the program's title page puts the premiere down as 1985... but I'm assuming with the Imperial Ballet attribution, that this was a typo rather than a reference to this version of the ballet.

#2 PeggyR

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Posted 05 June 2008 - 08:01 PM

Amy: Thanks for your entertaining and informative review (I never would have seen it if all hadn't been put right with the BT world -- many thanks to Alexandra and company for giving us back the company forums).

I spent a little time on the drive up, familiarizing my 9-year-old with some of the underlying tensions in the drama... how important a responsibility it was for the Prince to marry and produce an heir to the throne, what dangers existed for a country where the prince didn't... how important fidelity was in the days of no divorce... how it was important to find a spouse who would be faithful... how it's easy to fall in love, and then six months later to fall in love again with somebody else.. why all this would be important.


I'm something like seven times your daughter's age and I've never thought about the points you made. San Francisco Ballet is getting a new SL production next year and I'm going to keep your post available for comparison.

Thanks again!

Peggy


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