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The Czech National Ballet's "Swan Lake"An otherworldly Odette


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#1 sasark

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Posted 01 May 2014 - 02:24 AM

Several weeks ago I bought a ticket to the Czech National Theatre's "Swan Lake." I had been torn about whether to buy the ticket, because I'm not that close to Prague, but I really wanted to see the dancer scheduled to perform. Then a few days before the performance, there was a casting change (of course...). But as it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised.
 
The replacement was Rebecca King, who I believe is the only American ballerina with the Prague company. I have actually been curious to see her for a while, and this performance was an impressive introduction. Her Odette was elegant and otherworldly; her Odile, regal and aloof. In both roles, she maintained beautiful lines. There were many moments where I thought "wow -- that looks great." Also, her movements almost always appeared to be perfectly controlled; I had the impression that almost everything she did was by design, down to the smallest detail. I wouldn't say she was better than the dancer I had intended to see (Alina Nanu, who I also loved last year in this role), but she was excellent.
 
Another thing I noticed was that, of the Odettes I have recently seen, King probably did the best job of conveying the sense that she was as much bird as girl. It's hard to explain, but it had something to do with the movement of her arms and shoulders. Once for a split second, I thought, "That's unusual, what she's doing." Then I realized, "oh of course; she's a swan." I hope I'm not making it sound gimmicky, because it was subtle, and maybe someone else wouldn't even interpret it as I did. But to me, she definitely created the feeling of a girl trapped by an enchantment.
 
As Odile, King was smoothly confident and a bit above-it-all. At one point, as she was leaving a position where her partner had been supporting her, she tossed his hand aside in what I took as a subtly dismissive gesture. To my eye, she was also strong technically. Her supported pirouettes were very fast. Once, she seemed to waver from being perfectly vertical, but that might be a little nitpicky. Her fouettes were also good. I think she ended the fouettes just a beat before the music, but a lot of Odiles do that. I also liked the position she took at the end of that sequence, when the prince kneels down in front of her, grasping one of her hands, while she holds the other behind her. Nothing was out of place, and you could easily believe that she was in complete control of him.
 
Still, if I had to choose, I would say that her Odette was a little stronger than her Odile. I liked that she didn't play Odile as vampy or blatantly evil. But maybe just a little more coolness would have added to her portrayal. Also, she has a series of steps right after the fouettes where she is moving downstage left to the prince. This is right before her identity is revealed. Dramatically, I think that's a strong moment, but to my eye, I thought King could have looked a little lighter and sharper during that sequence. (Of course, I'm sure any normal would person would be too exhausted after all those fouettes!)
 
As for the rest of the cast, I thought the jester, Gianvito Attimonelli, was very strong. The prince, Michal Štípa, was also fine. (I hope this isn't sexist, but I never pay as much attention to Siegfried as I do to O/O.) Of the national dances, I really liked the Russian dance. The last few Swan Lakes I saw did not include this dance, which in Prague featured a guy with flowing steel-colored hair doing backflips and that neat Russian dance where you crouch down and kick your legs out in front of you.
 
So, all in all it was a nice show with pleasant surprises -- I am looking forward to seeing King again in some other roles.
 


#2 California

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Posted 01 May 2014 - 07:52 AM

Thank you so much, sasark, for this detailed report. I hope it encourages more American/European tourists to central/eastern Europe to visit these lesser-known ballet companies. I just checked the English-language web site for this company. It seems the most expensive seat in the house is 780 Czech Koruna - about $40! I understand they receive massive government subsidies (at least, comparatively) which helps account for these cheap prices.  

 

http://www.narodni-d...lo.cz/en/ballet



#3 sandik

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Posted 01 May 2014 - 10:10 AM

I'm interested in your observations about the bird girl material - some of the most successful performances that I've seen of O/O have been with dancers who have really put a lot of consideration into making that distinction clear.



#4 Drew

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Posted 01 May 2014 - 11:43 PM

Thanks for writing on this performance & company.



#5 sasark

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Posted 03 May 2014 - 11:47 AM

Thanks, all, for the comments!

 

California, yes, I agree completely about the pricing. It means you don't have to feel guilty about getting good seats. smile.png

 

sandik, thanks for your comment -- it's interesting that you have seen a similar sort of thing. (I don't really recall having noticed this approach before.) I wish I could describe it better. Anyway, It definitely will give me something to think about during future performances.

 

Sasha



#6 sasark

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 04:51 AM

Because I just learned that this company performs two version of Swan Lake, I wanted to update this thread to clarify that I saw the more traditional of the two, with staging by Pavel Ďumbala, a longtime soloist with the company. (The company also performs a version by Kenneth Greve.)

 

I've seen a few more "Swan Lakes" since I started this thread, and as I look back, one thing I have come to appreciate about Ďumbala's staging are its prologue and its ending, which are similar to those used by the Bourmeister version. The prologue shows Odette walking, as a girl. Her human status is made clear by the fact that she's wearing a regular skirt, not a tutu (as I recall, King wore a very pretty costume, an elegant but simple dress made from silk or something like it). Rothbart, here a towering figure, comes by and envelops her in his cloak. During the climactic tones of the overture, you see Odette bourre out of the cloak, a swan, as indicated by the fact that she now wears a tutu. The closing scene works in reverse. After the defeat of Rothbart, Odette once again appears in her dress, and she and Siegfried rejoice alone on the stage. This ending feels much more natural than some of the Soviet endings, and to date it is my favorite ending that I've seen live. I still remember how King's smile seemed to light up the whole auditorium. I'm planning to see a few different SLs in the next year, and it will be interesting to see how the endings compare.



#7 leonid17

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 12:26 PM

Because I just learned that this company performs two version of Swan Lake, I wanted to update this thread to clarify that I saw the more traditional of the two, with staging by Pavel Ďumbala, a longtime soloist with the company. (The company also performs a version by Kenneth Greve.)

 

I've seen a few more "Swan Lakes" since I started this thread, and as I look back, one thing I have come to appreciate about Ďumbala's staging are its prologue and its ending, which are similar to those used by the Bourmeister version. The prologue shows Odette walking, as a girl. Her human status is made clear by the fact that she's wearing a regular skirt, not a tutu (as I recall, King wore a very pretty costume, an elegant but simple dress made from silk or something like it). Rothbart, here a towering figure, comes by and envelops her in his cloak. During the climactic tones of the overture, you see Odette bourre out of the cloak, a swan, as indicated by the fact that she now wears a tutu. The closing scene works in reverse. After the defeat of Rothbart, Odette once again appears in her dress, and she and Siegfried rejoice alone on the stage. This ending feels much more natural than some of the Soviet endings, and to date it is my favorite ending that I've seen live. I still remember how King's smile seemed to light up the whole auditorium. I'm planning to see a few different SLs in the next year, and it will be interesting to see how the endings compare.

 

.

Thank you Sasark for your review of the Prague “Swan Lake”.

 

A good number of years back I was researching two of the Directors of the Prague National Ballet ie Julius Reisinger and Augustin Berger who both directed the Prague ballet and who would at different times, direct the Bolshoi Ballet.

 

Some time back, an issue about these choreographers appeared in an article published in Sovietsky Ballet.

 

Reisenger of course staged the first ever production of Tchaiksvky's “Swan Lake” at the Bolshoi.

 

He later left the Bolshoi and on September 18, 1883 the inauguration of the Prague National Theatre was celebrated. Once again, the head of the ballet company was Vaclav Reisinger.



#8 sasark

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 02:24 AM

Wow, I had no idea about those connections! Thanks for the info!



#9 Bored_on_Wall_Street

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Posted 27 December 2014 - 10:56 AM

Because I just learned that this company performs two version of Swan Lake, I wanted to update this thread to clarify that I saw the more traditional of the two, with staging by Pavel Ďumbala, a longtime soloist with the company. (The company also performs a version by Kenneth Greve.)

 

I've seen a few more "Swan Lakes" since I started this thread, and as I look back, one thing I have come to appreciate about Ďumbala's staging are its prologue and its ending, which are similar to those used by the Bourmeister version. The prologue shows Odette walking, as a girl. Her human status is made clear by the fact that she's wearing a regular skirt, not a tutu (as I recall, King wore a very pretty costume, an elegant but simple dress made from silk or something like it). Rothbart, here a towering figure, comes by and envelops her in his cloak. During the climactic tones of the overture, you see Odette bourre out of the cloak, a swan, as indicated by the fact that she now wears a tutu. The closing scene works in reverse. After the defeat of Rothbart, Odette once again appears in her dress, and she and Siegfried rejoice alone on the stage. This ending feels much more natural than some of the Soviet endings, and to date it is my favorite ending that I've seen live. I still remember how King's smile seemed to light up the whole auditorium. I'm planning to see a few different SLs in the next year, and it will be interesting to see how the endings compare.

 

I saw this production when in Prague in October, and really agree with your points on the finale tying back to the overture.  At the end, you also have the stage covering sheet that appeared at the outset being used as the lake to sweep in Siegfried, who emerges (barely) alive for our happy ending:  a very nice practical effect, in addition to providing a kind of parallelism. It was amazing to pay about $40 for a great seat for a show that did a better job than most SL productions in opening and closing. 

It’s also interesting you noted King’s birdlike mannerisms.   I don’t have the program any longer, having misplaced it at some bar/club in Prague or another that night, so I can’t remember who played O/O, but the O/O at the show I saw wasn’t King, but also had “bird” mannerisms that stood out.   In particular, during the third act, when Siegfried is showing some basic level of brain function, thinking that maybe—just, maybe—this is not the same girl he met at the lake—this production did a great job of drawing him in by replicating those very same bird mannerisms, that were just a little 'different' (not that he noticed).



#10 dirac

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Posted 27 December 2014 - 12:16 PM

In particular, during the third act, when Siegfried is showing some basic level of brain function, thinking that maybe—just, maybe—this is not the same girl he met at the lake—this production did a great job of drawing him in by replicating those very same bird mannerisms, that were just a little 'different' (not that he noticed).

 

:) Thanks for bringing back this thread, Bored_on_Wall_Street, which I had missed previously (and thanks to sasark as well). Enjoyable reading, and I'd like to see this production.



#11 Bored_on_Wall_Street

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Posted 29 December 2014 - 12:19 AM

It's definitely a well-staged and commendable production.  I've seen 4 live SL's over the past 18 or so months (NYCB, ABT, Pacific Northwest and this one), and while its not perfect, the Czech production (albeit smaller scale--I was afraid Odile was going to fly off stage during her well executed fouettes!) presented interesting solutions to some problems I've always had with the ballet  (eg, the opening), and did a few things arguably better than the other productions (particularly, ABT's).  

 

Also, from a technical level, I def am no expert (my knowledge comes from attending, reading some books and having some friends /etc in school who were dancers), but I thought much of the dancing was at a pretty high level.   For example, the last SL I had seen live was ABT's, and, frankly, the Odile of the Czech production was a bit ahead of Hee Seo, who did O/O at the ABT performance.  This is particularly in the more technically demanding third act;  while Seo's fouettes and chaine turns were...wobbly...there was no such problem at the Czech performance.  There probably is more depth in a company like ABT, but there seems to be a lot to recommend about the Czech company; if I ever go back to Prague, I would definitely be interested in seeing more.



#12 sasark

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Posted 08 May 2015 - 04:58 AM

It's definitely a well-staged and commendable production.  I've seen 4 live SL's over the past 18 or so months (NYCB, ABT, Pacific Northwest and this one), and while its not perfect, the Czech production (albeit smaller scale--I was afraid Odile was going to fly off stage during her well executed fouettes!) presented interesting solutions to some problems I've always had with the ballet  (eg, the opening), and did a few things arguably better than the other productions (particularly, ABT's).  

 

Also, from a technical level, I def am no expert (my knowledge comes from attending, reading some books and having some friends /etc in school who were dancers), but I thought much of the dancing was at a pretty high level.   For example, the last SL I had seen live was ABT's, and, frankly, the Odile of the Czech production was a bit ahead of Hee Seo, who did O/O at the ABT performance.  This is particularly in the more technically demanding third act;  while Seo's fouettes and chaine turns were...wobbly...there was no such problem at the Czech performance.  There probably is more depth in a company like ABT, but there seems to be a lot to recommend about the Czech company; if I ever go back to Prague, I would definitely be interested in seeing more.

 

I share your feelings completely about how this production compares to others. In the past year, I've seen SL performed by the POB, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Mariinsky, and a few other companies. I would put the Prague production, along with the Mariinsky's, at the very top of that list. In some ways, it's apples and oranges (for example, the POB does the Nureyev version -- obviously it's pretty different). But they are all still Swan Lake, and I think the Czech company does a really beautiful version that compares favorably to the others.

 

I feel the same about the individual O/Os. I suppose that these two comparisons aren't mutually exclusive -- that is, if you like the production more, you might be more predisposed to like the dancer. Still, as you mention, just on objective, technical terms, this company's O/O dancers have been very strong. Since I started this thread, I have also seen Rebecca King perform Gamzatti, and again I was struck by how fluid and smooth she is during highly technical variations. She's very classic and yet there's also something wonderfully distinctive about her. But getting back to SL specifically, both she and the other O/O I saw, Alina Nanu, both presented richly textured, really compelling Odettes -- some of the best characterizations I have seen. If I could see repeat performances of any O/O dancers I have ever seen (anywhere), King and Nanu would for me be clear choices, along with perhaps two or three others.

 

I'll just add that I've seen two other productions by this company, featuring other lead dancers, that I wasn't quite as taken with. So I don't necessarily think that everything the company does is perfect. But IMO they know what they're doing with Swan Lake.

 

I was trying to see Alina Nanu again this year -- it's been a long time since I've seen her. But the company had only a handful of SLs scheduled for this year, and not a lot of casting choices (and of course never announced very far in advance!). So I'm going on Saturday, the last performance of the year, and I'll be seeing someone new -- Miho Ogimoto. Can this company produce a third amazing O/O? We'll see. : )



#13 kbarber

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Posted 08 May 2015 - 08:41 AM

Rebecca King is now with Finnish National Ballet.



#14 sasark

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Posted 08 May 2015 - 09:53 AM

Oh that's interesting. I noticed that she'd disappeared from the list of possible O/Os for the last few Swan Lakes of this season, but they (the Czech company) still have her bio up, so I didn't think anything major had happened. Oh well. A good hire for the Finnish company.




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