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Swan Lake

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How does NYCB's Swan Lake compare to ABT's? I've only seen three ballets in my life, including Swan Lake at ABT in June and I was a bit disappointed, though I love the music and many versions that I've watched online. Now, I wondering if it's worthwhile to see this version.

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Chico de Cuba y Miami: Are you referring to the Peter Martins full length Swan Lake? Or to the Balancine short version of Swan Lake? There is a big difference.

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I would call it an austere, almost abstract Swan Lake. Per Kirkeby designed it in an abstract way with clashing difficult (not to say ugly) colors in Act I and a brooding slimplicity in Act III. For the Lake Scenes, if you can accept the modern "abstract" portrait the drops give of the natural setting, then it's actually rather beautiful. (If you look up some of Kirkeby's abstractions it will give you the idea and you can better judge if you will care for what he does here).

The choreography for most of Act II is Balanchine's "version" of Ivanov which brings some additional geometric complexities to the configuration. Act III takes place in a grim "northern" court-- and I actually thought that, in some ways, that approach worked with the story, especially Martins' version of the story in which at the end, Siegfried lives on without Odette. No Siegfried suicide. As in Soviet productions, Martins also gives Siegfried a peppy court-jester sidekick and his is the only Swan Lake Jester I have ever really found interesting and even, at moments, liked, because he seems there to comment on or reflect some of the emotions of the ballet not just to jump a lot.

For me ABT's current version (which, in many ways, I despise) is only more tolerable--and hardly that--because the very pretty and traditional sets and costumes work so well with the music whereas Martins' and Kirkeby's austere modernizing seems to fight against it. BUT--and for me it's a big but--I consider Martins' failure to be an intelligent one: I don't despise what he has done even if I don't really buy it either. And I feel as if I have a sense of what he was after: the Prince's pared down, narrow world versus the poetry of the Lake--and the prince finally having to accept his world in a spirit of melancholic stoicism. I also find Martins' "filler" choreography in Act I and parts of Act III to be superior to Mckenzie's. I'm a bit of an outlier in having good things to say about this production--and the Act I sets/costumes are, in particular, hard to take. If you were curious, you could think of it as a quasi-abstraction from Tchaikovsky's vision...Unfortunately, at this moment in history, it's actually hard to find a Swan Lake to recommend. If you would like the opportunity to explore NYCB as a company there are better options than the full-length Swan Lake for sure.

One other note. Macaulay and others have nothing but praise, HUGE praise, for Sarah Mearns in this ballet. If I were in New York to see this production this time round, then she would be my first choice of ballerina--with even my other favorites, a very, very distant second. I have seen her in other roles and would say she is a physically very powerful dancer who puts a great deal of intensity and daring into her performances.

Certainly, if you go then you will find it looks very little like the other Swan Lakes you have seen on Youtube. (As referred to by Jayne: in addition to Martin's full-length version, NYCB also sometimes does Balanchine's 'original' one act distillation of Acts II and IV which is rather remarkable and has a beautiful "traditional" backdrop. But not this season.)

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How does NYCB's Swan Lake compare to ABT's? I've only seen three ballets in my life, including Swan Lake at ABT in June and I was a bit disappointed, though I love the music and many versions that I've watched online. Now, I wondering if it's worthwhile to see this version.

At this point ("I've only seen three ballets in my life") I think you should see everything available to you. It's always interesting to hear what other people have to say (as a dance critic, I should certainly hope so!) but there's nothing like seeing for yourself.

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How does NYCB's Swan Lake compare to ABT's? I've only seen three ballets in my life, including Swan Lake at ABT in June and I was a bit disappointed, though I love the music and many versions that I've watched online. Now, I wondering if it's worthwhile to see this version.

At this point ("I've only seen three ballets in my life") I think you should see everything available to you. It's always interesting to hear what other people have to say (as a dance critic, I should certainly hope so!) but there's nothing like seeing for yourself.

Yes, but it also helps to have a better vision of what's a "better" staging if one does the homework and finds out what the original libretto calls for, hence deciding with accuracy if what it's being seen is what the creators had in mind-(do you want a Cio Cio San to suddenly think it over twice at the very last minute, drop her hara-kiri knife, pick up her kid and leave the stage, sad but alive to some different music...?) Because that's what I felt after watching the Bolshoi SL. That was NOT Swan Lake...it was another ending, another idea, a different take, a completely alien number.

If that's what happened to NYCB staging, then...

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It has its moments, but for the most part, in my humble opinion, it is bizarre and a very strange programming choice for this superb company trained for another style of ballet, particularly for very different aesthetic of arm use. It is so different, that I'm not sure one can consider that one has seen "Swan Lake" if one goes to Martin's version, any more than one could say seeing the movie "Black Swan" was seeing "Swan Lake". It's almost like, say, Martha Graham decided to stage Swan Lake. It agrees with the company about as well the costumes in the production agree with each other. (The costume design is very odd, with some costumes traditional and others perhaps borrowed from some Batman movie)

That said, there are some places where it redeems itself and there is some beautiful dancing. Go. See it. Then go see the work in a production closer to what the original creative team intended.

I would be interested to hear how you found a traditional production, having been primed by the Martins production.

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As in Soviet productions, Martins also gives Siegfried a peppy court-jester sidekick and his is the only Swan Lake Jester I have ever really found interesting and even, at moments, liked, because he seems there to comment on or reflect some of the emotions of the ballet not just to jump a lot.

For me ABT's current version (which, in many ways, I despise) is only more tolerable--and hardly that--because the very pretty and traditional sets and costumes work so well with the music whereas Martins' and Kirkeby's austere modernizing seems to fight against it. BUT--and for me it's a big but--I consider Martins' failure to be an intelligent one: I don't despise what he has done even if I don't really buy it either.

I agree with Drew on this - it's not a great production, but there are some interesting things about it. I really liked the use of the jester in this one - he's almost a foil to the Prince in some sections.

BUT (and to me this is a big but) - you've only seen three ballets and one of them is Swan Lake - I'd recommend you pick something else from NYCB's excellent fall programs. This isn't likely to be the Swan Lake you've always wanted to see, and there are lots better ballets to chose from.

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Which version was performed last year?

During the Tchaikovsky festival they did the one act version by Balanchine. It's based solely on the white acts, primarily Act II with some elements of Act IV. Not a staging of the entire ballet. I think it's fantastically beautiful. I don't know if the full length Martins version was done at all last year or not.

Since the Balanchine is one act, it's always done in mixed-bill programs. if it's the full length production, then it's Martins (which does use some Balanchine choreography for Act II).

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If you're willing to look at ballet on video, you might want to look at the Makarova/Dowell version for the Royal Ballet from 30-odd years ago -- the Royal's version is based very closely on the Petipa/Ivanov version from the 1890s, and has the only satisfying version of a tragic last act -- it's in good taste throughout, Makarova was a very glamorous "modern" version of the swan [high extensions, very slow white adage], and Dowell's acting is as good as his dancing which is first-rate.

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I would agree w. everyone that the Martins SL is a hideous abomination (although I hate his R&J even more than his SL). The only reason to see it is if Sara Mearns is cast. IMHO, most of the other NYCB ballerinas do not excel at story ballets, especially something like SL (though they have many other talents in non-story ballets). However, if they ever decided to cast Tiler Peck as the lead I would be there in a heartbeat. Doubtful that they will give her a shot at the role, though.

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Judge for yourself if you want to go see the NYCB/Martins version, here is the ppd from Act II (???) with Miranda Weese and Damien Woetzel. As memory serves, Ms Weese was a very last minute replacement for the injured Darci Kistler for the filming.

You can see the scenery depicts some sort of underground craggy place, no swan "lake" in sight.

I personally find some of the choreography in Odette's arm movements and the lifts around 3:00 to be odd, to put it diplomatically.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25-5ksjxGg4

Here is the Odile ppd, much better (closer to Ivanov), all the costumes look very Tudor, Jock Soto's Rothbart is the most normal looking of all the Rothbart costumes I've seen over the years. The set has the awful spider web windows, it looks sooooo dark. I have to say the violins in the orchestra sound really great.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8E-4xaupx0

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Martins's "Odile" pas de deux for NYCB is based on Petipa's "standard" text; the only parts of the '95 standard SWAN LAKE in the ballroom sc. said to be Ivanov's work are the Hungarian and Venetian dances, which in Martins's staging are his own choreography.

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I think Drew made an excellent comparison of the two full-length Swan Lakes, and I agree with every point she made. I would suggest, if you MUST see a Swan Lake, to see ABT's first, since it is, generally speaking, more traditional. Unless you are able to catch Mearns in the lead at NYCB's. Very special, indeed, but don't think the production is a typical staging of Swan Lake.

As for the one-act Balanchine version, I never thought it was supposed to be a literal Swan Lake, but an evocation of Balanchine's sense of the lakeside scenes, deliberately abstract. Martins seems to have wanted to apply that approach to the full ballet (as well as to his very misguided Romeo + Juliet), and it just can't, by definition, work.

the only parts of the '95 standard SWAN LAKE in the ballroom sc. said to be Ivanov's work are the Hungarian and Venetian dances, which in Martins's staging are his own choreography.

??? I thought Ivanov choreographed only the White acts, Petipa the "festive" ones.

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If NYCB and ABT both have unsalvagable SL's, which American SL do you recommend?

Houston (Stanton Welch)

San Francisco (Helgi Tomasson)

Pacific Northwest Ballet (Kent Stowell)

Joffrey Ballet (???)

Boston Ballet (Nissinen)

Have I missed any?

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my point was about the ballroom sc.

i didn't mean to imply that Ivanov had no hand in the lakeside scenes, the post which my comment answered was one in which the ballroom pas de deux for Odile and Siegfried was mistakenly called Ivanov's work, rather than Petipa's.

most scholarship says that the ballroom sc., more or less Petipa's work, included two dances by Ivanov, the Hungarian and the Venetian.

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Thank you, rg! I had not known that Ivanov had a hand in the ballroom.

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If NYCB and ABT both have unsalvagable SL's, which American SL do you recommend?

Houston (Stanton Welch)

San Francisco (Helgi Tomasson)

Pacific Northwest Ballet (Kent Stowell)

Joffrey Ballet (???)

Boston Ballet (Nissinen)

Have I missed any?

PNB's got a stupendous Act IV. Really, really beautiful work for the corps and a wonderful pas de deux.

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If NYCB and ABT both have unsalvagable SL's, which American SL do you recommend?

Houston (Stanton Welch)

San Francisco (Helgi Tomasson)

Pacific Northwest Ballet (Kent Stowell)

Joffrey Ballet (???)

Boston Ballet (Nissinen)

Have I missed any?

I haven't seen these other American SLs. The Mariinsky's version is widely considered to be one of the best in the world. The Mariinsky will be performing SL in Washington DC in 2014 (Late Jan or early Feb). Obviously, casting is always an issue. If you live anywhere within a reasonable distance of D.C., I would recommend going to the Mariinsky SL.

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to the best of my knowledge, the Joffrey Ballet doesn't have SWAN LAKE in its current or past history.

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not to overlook PA Ballet's Swan Lake - choreographed by Chris Wheeldon. The scene is changed to La Belle Epoque in France (at the time of the famous Degas ballerina paintings) and most of it takes place in a ballet studio at that time. The Odette/Odile choreography is similar but notable is the remarkably lifelike movement quality of the swan corps - especially the port de bras - wings movements are created in the motion of a figure eight. It's stunning to see the corps transformed into a lamentation of swans.

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If NYCB and ABT both have unsalvagable SL's, which American SL do you recommend?

Houston (Stanton Welch)

San Francisco (Helgi Tomasson)

Pacific Northwest Ballet (Kent Stowell)

Joffrey Ballet (???)

Boston Ballet (Nissinen)

Have I missed any?

I haven't seen these other American SLs. The Mariinsky's version is widely considered to be one of the best in the world. The Mariinsky will be performing SL in Washington DC in 2014 (Late Jan or early Feb). Obviously, casting is always an issue. If you live anywhere within a reasonable distance of D.C., I would recommend going to the Mariinsky SL.

When I want to show a neohyte what the real ballet of Swan Lake is, from beginning to end, I show them the Murphy/Corella video for ABT. With the exception of the silly choreo for the overture, and the costume for the Swamp Thing, it is the most beautiful staging I've ever seen, honoring the very original libretto, including the double suicide/heaven redemtption finale. It is also the only version I'm aware of that reinstates the original Siegffied/Ocette encounter mime. ABT is also one of the few companies that makes the entrance of Odette the old fashion way, with a very effective grand jete, just as it should be. I got very dissapointed to see the fgure of Odette already in view in the Bolshoi staging doing all this little walking center stage. It completely broke the momentum of the entrance.

ABT's is THE version to see.

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BUT (and to me this is a big but) - you've only seen three ballets and one of them is Swan Lake - I'd recommend you pick something else from NYCB's excellent fall programs. This isn't likely to be the Swan Lake you've always wanted to see, and there are lots better ballets to chose from.

What Swanilda8 said. It's an awful production: dreadful to look at and worse than dreadful at storytelling. NYCB has many, many better things to see. If you'd like to stay focussed on story ballets, I recommend Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." NYCB won't be presenting it until June, but it's worth the wait.

If you want to know what to during NYCB's upcoming fall season, just ask -- I know you will get good recommendations from the Ballet Alert community!

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