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Bolshoi Swan Lake, Berkeley, 11-9 matinee


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#1 BalletNut

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Posted 10 November 2002 - 09:08 PM

Where to start...

Not surprisingly, the show sold out, since the Bolshoi Ballet is perhaps one of the best-known companies in the world, and Swan Lake is one of the best-known ballets in the world, not to mention that Zellerbach Hall is not the world's largest theatre. Well, on to the ballet itself.

Odette-Odile was Nadezhda Gracheva. I mean no unkindness to her, but either she was having a bad day or she just isn't cut out for the role. She seemed a bit distant and sort of stiff, and especially in the lakeside acts she got into a habit of scrunching up her eyebrows, I guess to look sad or soulful. Relatively speaking, she was a better Odile, but her fouettes seemed a bit off, she was traveling a bit and seemed to be facing the wrong way. It also didn't help matters that the orchestra saw fit to speed the music up to a frenzied pace at that time. I think many ballerinas would have had trouble keeping up with it.

Prince Siegfried was Andrei Uvarov. I have grown quite fond of him, actually, and I think he was the best out of all the principals that night. He is a tall, strong dancer, with spectacular jumps which emphasize his strength. He also has the some of the best turnout I have seen in a long time, and his technique is of the sort that you can tell he doesn't cut corners. He appears to be a good partner as well.

The jester was Morihiro Ivata. Ivata is a fine dancer, and it really isn't his fault, but I wanted to hit him with a flyswatter. I am morally opposed to having a jester in Swan Lake, not just because I don't think it fits the plot very well, but also because generally there's just too much dancing given to him. Of course, what with Ivata being the jester and all, it was perfectly appropriate of him to throw off about 24 or so turns in the first act, causing thunderous applause, but Thank Goodness the prince wasn't doing that. He was doing tricks like that throughout the ballet, and as I said, it isn't his fault, it's Grigorovich's for putting a jester in the ballet in the first place.

Von Rothbart's part was just plain bizarre. First, Grigorovich changed his name from Von Rothbart to the Evil Genius [Descartes, anyone?]. Secondly, it is not actually a character part, there are some pretty impressive sections in it. Dmitry Belogolovtsev danced it impressively, his technique equalling that of Uvarov. However, I found it odd that Grigorovich saw fit to have him controlling the prince as much as he was controlling Odette. This really messes up the storyline, as it takes away the remorse from the prince after he realizes he's been deceived; after all, it wouldn't have been his fault if the Evil Genius was controlling his actions.

The ending was odd too. Rothbart--er, the Evil Genius--takes Odette with him, apparently kills her behind the scrim with the swans on it, leaving the Prince to languish by the lakeside alone, not unlike Albrecht at the end of Giselle. He doesn't commit suicide, but he might as well. Grigorovich's treatment of the ending is quite puzzling. The action doesn't fit the music at all; when the gong sounds in the final scene, it always said to me, "this is the part where Odette jumps in the lake and Siegfried follows her." Of course that didn't happen, and given the basic disregard for the music at the end I shouldn't have been surprised that Grigorovich tossed out the triumphant apotheose for a reprise of the overture to conclude the ballet. I found it rather pretentious of him to alter the ending music and then claim, as the program seemed to imply, that his production of Swan Lake gets back to the original.

Another change in the ballet was in the treatment of the betrothal scene. I actually enjoyed watching the different brides-to-be in their national folk dance variations, especially Anastasia Yatesenko in the Neapolitan dance. The waltz choreography was pretty good overall, and the costumes for all the Princesses were gorgeous. As for the Black Swan pdd, it was a bit of a disaster choreographically. It started with Odile, the Evil Genius, and a corps of six black swans in a dance with Siegfried following her entrance, to the music I normally associate with the act 4 pdd where Odette forgives Siegfried. I would really have preferred the dramatic entrance to the music of the entree, rather than this drawn-out version, which seemed to weaken it. Although Grigorovich left this and the adagio more or less intact, he changed the two variations, Odile's to the harp solo from the pas de quatre, and Siegfried's to something whose origin I have no clue about.

The first two scenes were much better. The corps is impeccably rehearsed, both the men and the women, and it showed in the waltz and goblet dance in the first scene. The pas de trois was danced by Siegfried and two women, in this performance by Maria Alexandrova and Yelena Andrienko. It's Grigorovich's choreography, not Petipa's, but it was well danced. The main problem was that the Jester got to participate in the first variation, looking like he was egging her on or something. I remember thinking, "hey, this is a pas de TROIS, not QUATRE. Sit down already!"

The signature lakeside scene was more or less intact, except for Odette's entrance. I prefer having her enter alone, by leaping out of the wings. Grigorovich had her "enter" by shining the light on a group of swans behind the scrim, at the front of which is Odette. I didn't even realize it was her at first. The rest of the act, though, as I said, is the familiar Ivanov choreography. I was blown away by the corps women here. They danced in impressive unison, their arm positions repeated as though they were reflected off each other, grouping themselves in sculpturesque formations. I did notice however, here and elsewhere, that the pointe shoes were unusually loud. Whether this has to do with the shoes themselves, the Bolshoi style of dancing, or the acoustics of this particular space is beyond me.

Overall, I was very impressed by the quality of the dancers and dancing, but I really wished that I could have seen something else. Most of my problems with the performance have to do with this particular production of Swan Lake, a problematic version that the dancers were clearly doing their best with. I hope they come back soon, and I can see them in other ballets. They certainly do have a following here.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 12 November 2002 - 09:11 AM

Thank you for posting this, Ballet Nut -- and forgive me for not responding sooner (since I've been egging you on to post asbout what your'e seeing!) but I've been having computer woes and haven't been here much this week.

I felt much the same about this production -- some good dancers, some good dancing, but. well. You've said it :cool:

We didn't get to see Gracheva here, and I'm disappointed to read what you wrote -- I was hoping they had at least one Swan Queen.

Anyone else go?

#3 Treefrog

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Posted 17 November 2002 - 08:43 PM

I saw this production last night in Chicago (but with different principals). I don't have too much to add to BalletNut's thorough review. The corps was lovely -- I especially liked the way the corps' choreography set off the soloists' dances, in the party and wedding scenes, for example.

A flyswatter is exactly what that jester needed! I had no quarrel with Denis Medvedev's dancing, except that it was too eyecatching. I mean, he danced the part wonderfully, but the choreography is annoying -- lots of prancing and pointing and quite a few virtuosic (is that a word?) turns and leaps, and he just gets in the way of everything.

I really, really liked Maria Alexandrova, who danced both the first scene pas de trois and the Spanish bride-to-be. Talk about "selling" the dance!

I was impressed by how uniform the corps seemed to be, not only in their movements, but in their height. A friend told me that they are not as uniform as they look -- I would have said they varied by no more than two inches -- and that it is a staging trick.


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