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Swan Lake: which productions have you seen?

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#1 Alexandra


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Posted 23 June 2001 - 04:11 PM

Time to do a new ballet!!!

This is one ballet I'll bet we've all seen, in some version. Mel did a lovely job in our ballets section (more any time now, Mel :) ) on Swan Lake, and you may want to refer to it:

I thought it would be interesting to start with our individual perspectives on the ballet. Which Swan Lakes have you seen? (In order, if you can.) For Americans and many Western Europeans, especially those who began going to the ballet in the days of the Iron Curtain, our notions of what "Swan Lake" is may be very different from our Russian and Eastern European visitors.

So, what "Swan Lakes" have you seen? (If we could keep these discussions focused primarily on the PRODUCTIONS and not the dancers, at least for now, I'd appreciate it. :) )

#2 leibling


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Posted 23 June 2001 - 07:18 PM

The two that I have seen- of course, the video of Makarova and Dowell with the Royal, and the only production I have seen live was the Baryshnikov revival in 1989... when he put six of the swans in black- I guess they were demi-soloists- at least I remember trying to figure that out. Overall, I accepted that staging as pretty traditional. Oh- how could I forget the televised broadcast of NYCB's Swan Lake? Regarding that one, I missed a lot of what Martins' took out- the mime, the sets, the peasant dances, the traditional costumes- and the traditional ending of a traditional act 2 pas de deux. (He used the Balanchine ending of the pas de deux, right?) This ending does not work for me in a full-length ballet, and knowing the music for act two, it is awfully jarring to hear something else.

#3 Alexandra


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Posted 23 June 2001 - 07:30 PM

leibling, I love your review of Martins' Swan Lake -- you put everything in two sentences!!! (I think the black-costumed Swans are in Russian productions as well. I always assumed they were baby swans, as real baby swans are black rather than white.)

My first "Swan Lake" was the Old Royal production, which is my favorite not only because it was my first, but because I loved the Ashton choreography -- the big waltz in the first act, the pas de quatre, the tarantella, the fourth act. (I saw Nureyev and Monica Mason the first night, Makarova and Dowell the second.)

Then ABT's -- three productions, the old Blair, the Baryshnikov, the current McKenzie; I'll take the Blair -- with dozens of casts. I saw Bruhn's for National Ballet of Canada in the late 1970s as well. He made Von Rothbart a woman. The Evil Queen.

Nureyev's for Paris -- it grew on me. I had to see it seven times in one week, and saw it several times in subsequent seasons.

The Kirov's (Sergueyev) production, also traditional and very lovely.

The Stanislavsky (sp?), which I saw for the first time only two years ago, and found eye-opening: it's obviously the source for a lot of new, improved Swan Lakes. (I found it a pop version, stripped of everything that interests me in the Old Royal or Old Kirov.)

Peter Martins' version -- in Denmark, where it looked better (at least compared to the tape of NYCB). The sets also look more comfortable at home -- there's a Danish context for them, and I can see how they'd look out of place in New York.

Lots of smaller companies -- Tomasson's for San Francisco, Stevenson's for Houston. Can't remember all of them.

#4 BalletNut


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Posted 23 June 2001 - 07:59 PM

I've seen:
1. SFB's, by Helgi Tomasson: It's a very pretty production, but there isn't enough drama or feeling as I remember it. Of course, this may have more to do with the dancers, but I really balked at the way Tomasson included "outside music" in the last act, instead of the intended music for the pas de deux. But I have seen worse...

2. ...namely NYCB's PBS broadcast, by Peter Martins. I mean no disrespect, but this one really rubbed me the wrong way, mainly because of the decor: "Jackson Pollock Goes To The Ballet." It may look very nice in Denmark or at the State Theater, but on a TV set it's an eyesore, especially the first scene with its construction-orange background, and the stark contrast against Damian Woetzel's cobalt-blue costume. :eek:

3. Royal Ballet, Makarova-Dowell video: In my mind, the definitive production. Say what you will about Makarova's musicality or lack thereof, but this is by far the most complete production I know of. So respectful is Sir Frederick Ashton's staging that it's hard to tell exactly which parts are his and which are Petipa's and Ivanov's.

[ 06-23-2001: Message edited by: BalletNut ]

#5 doug


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Posted 23 June 2001 - 08:58 PM

I've only seen PNB's version live. It has a traditional Act I pas de trois and a traditional Act II, albeit without mime, and a traditional Black Swan pas in Act III. Kent Stowell choreographed the rest, including an Act IV that uses music from the 1877 original that was not included in 1985. Odette becomes a swan at the end, leaving Siegfried alone. I really like this final act and think it works very well with the music.

I have other versions on tape, including several Bolshoi and Kirov productions.

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 06:48 AM

In order, huh? OK - lemme try:
  • The Bolshoi, starring Nina Timofeyeva and Maris Liepa.

  • The old Royal production, starring Svetlana Beriosova and Donald MacLeary.

  • The "old" NYCB version, while Balanchine was still tinkering with it - the day I saw it, 4 Swans were IN!

  • The Kirov, starring Alla Sizova and Yuri Soloviev.

    And after that, I get them all mixed up!
[ 06-24-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

#7 Autumn7



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Posted 24 June 2001 - 11:46 AM

The first production I ever saw was from the lawn at Wolf Trap! It was the Kirov's production in the mid-eighties and it was danced by Zaklinsky and Asylmuratova if my memory serves me correctly. It's no wonder that Swan Lake has remained as my favorite story ballet along with Giselle through out the years. Especially after a start like that. I can't say what I thought of the actual production. I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.
I have also seen the Paris Opera Ballet's Nureyev version and saw him dance both Seigfreid and the tutor late in his career. There was also Balanchine's one act version, the Royal's with Guillem as Odette, Helgi Tomassin's SFB version, and all 3 of ABT's. I did like the Blair production. It was very solid but at times seemed to recall those ponderous Soviet productions of the fifties. Baryshnikov's seemed most like a fairy tale to me because of the sets I think. McKenzie's was the latest that I've seen and, unlike most of the ballet alert members, I did like the prologue and the overall production. The lake scene with it's blue moon lighting suggested that the enchanted spell effect was something cosmic, a force far beyond the control of any of the participants. At the same time the shimmering illumination still reflected the hope that Odette might hold onto that the spell be broken. I did not like the huge sun that rose at the end of the ballet. I'm sure it was a symbol of light overcoming the darker forces but I felt that I needed Ray Bans after the more poetic blue moon. It broke the magical effect for me. I can't say which production has been my favorite over the years. They each have given me something to love and to complain about.

#8 Lukayev



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Posted 24 June 2001 - 04:06 PM

For full-length productions, I've seen only one; I was forced to dash out of the other (by whom, I can't remember) because I had eaten a bad candy bar and its consequences were affecting my digesting tract.

The full-length was when the Kirov came touring to Japan, and Sofia Gumerova with Igor Kolb as the two main characters. It had the black swans in the Act IV too, and that was kind of interesting because it follows the Black Swan pdd and I think that Odile's wrath on Odette still plays a part, instead of Act III just being a 'happening' in this continuing saga of Swan Lake.

I really loved the costumes for the character dances, and the scenery and 'extras' made the stage encompass all of its space and let the audience feel like they'd stepped into a royal engagement in a palace. A word about the stage - the place the Kirov performed in was not made for dances, and so everytime a pointe shoe made contact with the stage or Kolb finally came down from his jump, a resounding *THUD* echoed throughout the theatre. I couldn't help grimacing through the Cygnets dance because their feet weren't together and that was made worse by the fact that individual 'clunk, thud, bang's were heard.

I went back home kind of disappointed because of all the excess noise, but the dancing was effective enough for me to give it a :).


#9 cargill


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Posted 25 June 2001 - 12:42 PM

The first production I saw was the Royal Ballet's of the late 60's, and the various editions of that one: the Ashton/Tchaikovsky ending and the Ivanon/Drigo one (which is the one I really prefer), the pas de trois in, the pas de trois out, the Ashton pas de quatre in the lst act/3rd act, the makurka in/out. But over all it was a lovely production, very simple, very believable.

The Festival Ballet did a version, set by Beryl Grey, which nobody much liked. As I remember, the folk dancing was replaced by the princesses dancing classically (they were from the various countries), and a brand new last act, which wasn't up to much.

The Canadian Ballet, with the Wicked Witch of the West substituting for von Rothbart, and Odette surviving ending.

The San Francisco Ballet's, set in the 18th century; I would think even a 20th century Swan Lake would be more appropriate than that rational, even-tempered, harmonious age. I thought it was completely wrong-headed.

Balanchine's one-act version, in the newly designed ice-palace edition. I have never found his, with so many of the shapes and phrases taken from Ivanov, to be as moving as the original. It just seems a bit fussy and figity.

The old David Blair ABT version. This was a bit down-at-heels, and the first act was a bit messy, but the 2nd and 4th acts were just fine. (sob, sob)

The new, Russified Royal Ballet version. I thought it was about the worst production of a classic the Royal Ballet had ever done, until their Sleeping Beauty topped it. Swan Lake is not a Russian story, it is not set in the 19th century (I know the Romanov's weren't much in the brains department, but to go hunting with a cross-bow when his army has guns is a bit silly even for Siegfried.) The lake sets are hideous and unmagical, like someone's own private nightmare, not some magical place. And having Siegfried come bouncing on in the third act running around like he just swallowed the jester is dramatic nonsense.

Peter Martins' version. I have gone on at length about it and I think my review is still posted on the reviews page if anyone is interested!

The new ABT version. A major disappointment, because they had a decent version which needed some polishing. Again, it is just so dramatically inept. How could anyone not give Siegfried the closing scene of the first act?

The various Russian versions, too indistinct to keep track of. Too many jesters, not enough mime, and terrible last acts.

It seems that the further away productions get from the original, the clumsier and more inept they become. In addition to writing "Odette is not a bird" I wish directors would also write until they believed it "Petipa/Ivanov were better choreographers than I am."

[ 06-25-2001: Message edited by: cargill ]

#10 liebs


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Posted 25 June 2001 - 05:21 PM

Both versions of Balanchine's (white and black costumes) at NYCB and Martins' production.

David Blair and Baryshnikov at ABT. Loved the first, grew up on it and saw countless casts. This will always be SWAN LAKE for me. The second was terrible.

Nureyev's for POB and the National Ballet of Canada's with Nureyev on tape.

A Royal Ballet production, as a child, don't know which one.

#11 Melissa


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Posted 25 June 2001 - 08:31 PM

The first Swan Lake I saw live was ABT's Blair's production in 1981 with Cynthia Gregory and Alexander Godunov and it was great.

The next Swan Lake I saw live was the Kirov's new production by Vinagradov in the early 90's at New York State Theater. The best parts of the ballet were the exquisite dancing of the corps and the harp cadenza at the beginning of the Act II Pas de Deux. It was different than the usual one and was absolutely gorgeous. Acts I, II and III were fine, but it went completely downhill in Act IV when Von Rothbart kills Siegfried and Odette kills Von Rothbart and she and the Swans bouree offstage as the ballet ends. I remember my mother and I looking at one another and saying 'What was that?' It was sort of a feminist version of Swan Lake, I suppose, but it was ludicrous.

My favorite Swan Lake videos are Maya Plisetskaya's with the Bolshoi. Her Odette wasn't that lyrical or poetic, but her Odile was brilliant: nasty, devious and irresistible. I love Makarova's Swan Lake with ABT from the 70's, even though Ivan Nagy's dancing is weak. In the 80's, PBS used to have an annual arts special called 'Gala of Stars' with opera singers, instrumentalists and dancers. One of the last of these programs featured a sublime performance of the Act II Pas de Deux with Makarova and Nagy accompanied by violinist Itzak Perlman and cellist Lynn Harrell. Makarova's and Nagy's dancing/chemistry plus that gorgeous music played by 2 great artists has remained in my memory as clearly as if I saw it yesterday.

#12 Melissa


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Posted 25 June 2001 - 08:44 PM

'NYCB's PBS broadcast, by Peter Martins. I mean no disrespect, but this one really rubbed me the wrong way, mainly because of the decor: "Jackson Pollock Goes To The Ballet." It may look very nice in Denmark or at the State Theater, but on a TV set it's an eyesore, especially the first scene with its construction-orange background'


I'm laughing out loud at your description of Martins' choice of set design. I recall thinking 'Mark Rothko goes to the Ballet' watching that hideous orange set in Act I.

#13 Paquita


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Posted 27 June 2001 - 12:37 PM

Videos/ TV:
1. Royal Ballet- Fonteyn & Nureyev
2. Bolshoi Ballet- Bessmertnova & Bogatyrev
3. NYCB ( PBS)- Weese & Woetzel
1. NBoC ( Kudelka version)- Jennifer Fournier & Rex Harrington, Xiao Nan Yu & Ryan Boorne

So far, the Bolshoi version has been my favourite. The sets and choreography seem close to the original, and I really like the character dancers in Act 3, especially the russian variation. The Royal version is traditional too, and the character dances are not in pointe shoes. It was a few years ago that I watched it, but I remember there being a lot ( too much?) mime.
Martin's version was not a hit with me. I won't get into the costumes and sets that seemed bright and tacky. The style and choreography didn't seem to "fit" at times, but perhaps it's just me. I really like the vaganova training and style for this ballet.
Kudelka's version is simply too dark. The Act 2&4 set is more a swamp than a lake, but the Act 3 set is stunning. There's a prologue with Rothbart sitting under the moon with huge wings and some electronic swans go by. A waste of money imo. I don't like how Act 1 is all men, and how Rothbart never seems to leave Odette or Odile and the Prince alone for a second!
A lot of the new Swan Lakes have been dissapointing and very expensive. Maybe we should stop trying to change this classic!
The newest Swan Lake video is probably the one with Ananiashvili & the State Perm Ballet. Would those of you who have seen it recommend it?

#14 ralphsf



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Posted 27 June 2001 - 04:46 PM

I (unfortunately) bought the Ananiashvi/Fedayachev Perm ballet video. Didn't like it. The dancing by the Perm ballet performers is fine. Of course, they have the stupid Jester, who is danced well in this production but, as always, superfluous and annoying. Alexei Fedayachev is not bad but I've always found him and his father not especially interesting. Father and son were both great partners but added little of themselves to the role and lacked excitment or drama. And as for Nina... well, I found her so-so. Her dancing can be so gawky and her limbs flapping all over that dispite her formidable technique, I just don't believe her in roles. She has a gorgeous body, I think she's adorable, she's a real athlete, but I just don't think she's much of an artist. Given the choice, I would have Makarova as Odette (I saw her dance it in San Francisco with Rudy substituting for Dowell) and Plisetskaya as Odile. I don't think there's anyone who can touch Maya in that role.

#15 Mashinka


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Posted 28 June 2001 - 09:11 AM

I’m trying to remember exactly how many productions of Swan Lake I have actually seen. I can clearly recall about 12, but think I may have seen more.

We all think we know the ballet well, but the sheer diversity of these productions means that we see a whole new concept every time.

Over the years I have seen ballets starting with a prologue showing Odette becoming a swan; first acts with/ without a jester; second acts with/without Benno; third acts with a different dancer as Odile and fourth acts with totally different endings. With Odette and Seigfried both dying/one dying/going to heaven/remaining alive. In addition I have seen male swans, a nude female Rothbart and (most recently) a production that centred around Rothbart (he was renamed the King and was Seigfried’s father) All this has been in addition to the tinkering with the choreography which you come to expect in a new production.

For the record, my favourite production was the old RB one, with the Leslie Hurry designs, but the best production currently to be seen is the Kirov version, which shares a lot similarities to the RB one that I loved so much.

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