Posted 27 November 2012 - 01:53 PM
The number of viewings of this thread has made me think that perhaps some readers would be interested in my expanding on some of the remarks I made in my initial posting:
1. Why do we attend a story ballet? Each of us will likely have a different answer. Many, noting that members of the audience are rarely in doubt as to the outcome of the tale, essentially attend ballet as a sort of dance exhibition in fancy dress; neither the story nor the theme hold much interest to these folks, except inasmuch as they give the dancers varying opportunities to show their stuff. Others such as myself, while giving equal value to the dancing per se, cling to the notion that a story ballet is drama presented through dance, and so ponder the story well on that basis, and meditate upon the abstract theme just as they would with a play, a poem, a novel, a statue, a painting, and so on. We enter the ethos of a piece of Art, consider the conditions and realities of its circumscribed world, and then, with that newly-gained perspective, look upon our own world with new eyes, drawing new conclusions (or not being able to draw them, as the case may be!). I feel that the “happy ending” version of Swan Lake completely undercuts the thematic value of the presentation. Essentially, we are led as the story develops to believe that vows and the conditions and outcomes of vows are immutable absolutes. The story indeed falls apart midway if we and the characters do not believe that. What are the vows and conditions of concern? I quote from Wikipedia’s pleasantly to-the-point description: Odette explains “that Rothbart's death will only make the spell [girls into swans] permanent […]. […] Siegfried vows to love Odette for eternity, promising to save her from Rothbart's evil enchantment. He invites her to attend the Ball at his castle and promises to choose her as his bride. Odette agrees, but warns him that if his vow to her is broken, she will remain a swan forever.” And so, in due course, we come to the grand conclusion, and find that . . . ha ha!, fooled you: Odette was wrong about what would happen in the case of Rothbart’s death, and vows, and the breaking of vows, don’t really matter at all in life if one is good at fisticuffs and can tear a wing off of an adversary. Very enlightening. We, with Rothbart, thus learn that the secret to worldly success is dedication to upper body work at the gym.
Now, turn we to the “sad” ending (which really isn’t sad at all, just sobering). Siegfried broke his vow. Yes, he was tricked into it, but life often tricks us, and still we have to bear the consequences, gym work or not. Again, we are beholden to Wikipedia for a clear-eyed précis: “Odette returns to the lake in despair over Siegfried's betrayal. He follows her, finds her amongst her companions and begs her to forgive him, swearing that he loves her only. She forgives him, but explains that she is now under Rothbart's spell forever and the only way she can escape the enchantment is if she dies. Rothbart appears to part the lovers and reminds Siegfried of his vow to Odile. Siegfried declares he would rather die with Odette than marry Odile and a fight ensues as Rothbart tries to take Odette away. Unable to live without her Prince, Odette throws herself into the lake and Siegfried follows her. In the climax of their sacrifice, Rothbart and his powers are destroyed and Odette's companions are finally freed from the spell. As the sun rises, Siegfried and Odette ascend to Heaven together, united in love for all eternity.” The terms of the story are fulfilled; we have the satisfaction of reflecting on the fact that, on some plane, true love—not mere violence, with its built-in ambiguity as to outcome—will in the end overcome all obstacles. The story is æsthetically consistent with itself; and, while some may roll their eyes at notions of true love and its powers, and at considerations of responsibility and dedication, still, I leave it to others to discard these from their lives.
2. I wrote “[…] Odette came across to me as somewhat cold, bordering on something of a Myrtha . . . which made another feature of this performance more chilling than intended. Our Siegfried […] has a very boyish appearance, which in fact sorts well with the character's part in the tale. Meantime, our Odette, whatever her chronological age, projected a maturity which, in this case, made me a little uncomfortable: There was an (unintended) air of an innocent being taken advantage of.” I thought of Hamlet: “[…] The spirit I have seen/May be the devil: and the devil hath power/To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps/Out of my weakness and my melancholy,—/As he is very potent with such spirits,—/Abuses me to damn me.” Siegfried has seen Odette, will see Odile; he falls for the one, he falls for—or is at least excited by—the other. How is he to know which is taking advantage of him? In point of fact, left to himself, he doesn’t. It is vital for the integrity of the work that a performance’s Siegfried and Odette be not only well-matched but that they also have a chemistry or empathy which projects abundantly to the audience. Otherwise, we might as well be watching Albrecht and Myrtha.
3. One point I only alluded to glancingly previously here, but enlarged upon elsewhere privately, was that the company seemed largely disengaged in this performance—disengaged from each other, from the orchestra, and from the audience. As an audience member, I felt as if I had wandered in to a rehearsal. For the performers, what distinguishes a dress rehearsal from a performance? What do you personally put onstage for a performance that wasn’t there for a rehearsal? Addressing this subject is not an easy task, as it involves factors which, by their very essence, are intangible, instinctive, personal, even largely subconscious. As an audience member, I can feel a collective spirit being formed by the audience—can’t you?—and it varies with each event. Before the curtain goes up, perhaps there is a thrill in the air, perhaps the audience is already “dead,” but, either way, there is a mood which prevails. Think of the audience and its mood as waves at the beach; think of the performers as surfers who either catch the wave or don’t. The ones who don’t, don’t get anywhere; the ones who do are in place to show their more tangible expertise. There are performers who can simply appear onstage, and they’ve already “caught the wave,” they’ve already tapped into the prevailing spirit in the house because part of their talent is in being receptive to the audience’s mood, in being sensitive to the vibes. They and the audience are engaged with each other from the word go. The audience member feels completely invested in the performer’s leaps, gestures, expressions; the performer feels in return the energy and good-will of the audience. The dynamic between the two feeds on itself and intensifies the experience. Similarly, there are whole companies which seem to be able to tap into this—Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba quickly come to mind—how this instinct becomes company-wide, I won’t even try to guess. It was this spirit of engagement with the audience which was, in my estimation, lacking for the most part in the Mariinsky performance which prompted my original posting; and the disengagement at this performance seemed to me to encompass co-performers on stage and the orchestra as well. The dancing at the performance was brilliant, and I think dazzled many people who look only for dancing at ballet events. For others, it was a cold performance of beautiful dancing. We wanted Odette; we ended up with Odile.