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Swan Lake


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#1 Paquita

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Posted 16 February 2003 - 07:29 PM

Attended the matinee today. The performance was completely sold out! Good news for the company!

Cast:
Siegfried- Guillaume Cote
Odette/Odile- Heather Ogden (debut!)
Rothbart- Christopher Body

For those unfamiliar with Kudelka's production, this Swan Lake is considerably darker in theme and mood than most. It deviates quite a bit from the traditional version- so much in fact, that Kudelka feels no need to include "after Petipa and Les Ivanov" in the program. Ironically, most of the best parts of this ballet are the choreography of Petipa/Ivanov which Kudelka left in tact (some of Act 2, black swan pdd).

For starters, the first act takes place in the "royal hunting ground", and all the dancers are male with the exception of the Queen and the wench. Instead of the elegant couples waltzes and pas de trois, there are men in ragged dress (I didn't even know it was a royal hunting ground until I read the synopsis) leaping about and the pas de trois is a frenzied dance between the wench, Benno, and the Fool (who is similar to the jester in other productions). The male corps looked wonderful in the difficult, petit allegro-filled choreography (except when fatigue began to set in near the end), but I didn't find it suited the music very well. Some sections were very simple, almost lacking depth, while others were unnecessarily packed with repetitive pirouettes, tours en l'air, and entrechats. Keiichi Hirano was comic as the fool with nice jumps and good stamina. Stephanie Hutchison was appropriately fiesty as the wench. Though very brief, her variation leaves quite an impression. This was my first time seeing Jean-Sebastien Colau (from POB), he danced the role of Benno. His technique could be more polished overall, but I enjoyed his stage presence and refined use of his upper body.

My main pet peeve with the 2nd Act is the set. It looks like a muddy marsh. It's Swan Lake for heavens sake, not Swan Marsh. This bothered me more in the past. Maybe I'll eventually get over it... This is probably my favourite act, epitomizing the beauty and harmony that can be achieved through ballet. The corps were simply beautiful. Sure, their pointe shoes were a bit noisy at times, but they were so together that their pointe shoes would hit the stage at the exact same time and the sound was not distracting, it almost created a sort of rhythm on its own! The four little swans were Lisa Robinson, Tiffany Knight, Andreea Olteanu, and Tanya Howard. They did very well. I do wish that Kudelka would leave the arms long and stretched instead of bent around the head. It cuts the line so much shorter. He also added a new arm position for Odette/Odile, with one arm outstretched and the other hand touching the opposite shoulder, which I find awkward. Rothbart's "sewer-man" costume here is strange.

It was very exciting to be at the Hummingbird Centre today for Heather Odgen's debut. She was lovely as the white swan. Her Odette was a delicate and frightened creature, afraid to even look Siegfried in the eye. I found Odgen a little emotionally detached although it could also have been due to the fact that I forgot my binoculars today! Her mime and expressions seemed instructed rather than genuine and personal, coming off as slightly more contrived than more experienced dancers. But I'm sure that she will grow beautifully into the role with time. She was already quite impressive today. She didn't seem nervous at all, even though there are a lot of expectations for her. She seemed very well rehearsed, every detail looked after. With time things will become more natural and less calculated. Technically, she was made to dance Odette. Her extension and control make for beautiful adagios that look effortless. She also has a very supple upper back, creating a graceful line. With Guillaume Cote, Ogden is secure and confident. He was an excellent partner, and the pdd went smoothly and flawlessly.

The set for Act 3 was less spectacular than I remembered it. I think that after repeated viewings the effect begins to fade. However the vibrant colours still add a rich and decadent feel. The four princesses are standing on stools, covered in rigid tent-like veils which are a bit heavy. The veils are removed once they begin their variation, but I would do away with them altogether. They look more like Indian sari material than anything Hungarian, Russian, Spanish or Italian. I particularly enjoyed Stacey Shiori Minagawa as the Russian princess. Her elegant epaulment and footwork added to her performance, as did an attitude turn that ended in a prolonged, floating balance. Jillian Vanstone also shone as the Italian princess. I'm looking forward to seeing her in Napoli because she has such speed and precision in her allegro, she seems like she would be at home dancing Bournonville. The Spanish variation is a bit odd. The costume is a tacky shade of turquoise and the choreography consists mainly of haughty wrist-flicking. The polonaise has been left out which is too bad. The ballet goes straight from the Italian tarantella to the arrival of Odile and Rothbart.

The black swan pdd was very good. Kudelka has chosen to include Rothbart in it. Actually, Rothbart is a big part of this production. He just can't leave Odette/Odile alone with Siegfried for one moment! I saw Ogden and Cote dance this pdd at the Erik Bruhn competition and had forgotten that Odile dances a large part of the pdd with Rothbart (they modified the choreography for the competition). This Odile is very dependent on her father's instructions!

As the prince, Guillaume was noble and compassionate. Some dancers play up Siegfried's melancholy more, but I thought that Cote's portrayal throughout the ballet was suitable and authentic. He had a nice, slow variation in Act 1 that showed of his incredible line (especially in arabesque), balance, and control in pirouettes. These qualities also came through in his Act 3 variation although the tempo is much faster. Odgen's fouettes (starting with a few doubles) were no problem for her, and I knew they wouldn't be because she was so "on" with her turns in her variation, knowing exactly where her centre was. She was travelling a bit, but I find that most ballerina's do- if only slightly.

I remember watching a video of Swan Lake with Nureyev and Fonteyn, and in Act 4 Siegfried runs around frantically searching for Odette. It made me laugh because in this version the prince has no problem, because all the other swans are black! Not that I minded... The darkness prepares the audience for the ending where everyone but Odette dies in a violent storm. In this Act Siegfried confronts Rothbart. They physically push and shove each other, good fighting evil. Previously in the pas de trois they only took turns dancing with Odette/Odile but never interacted with each other.

Overall, a so-so production that was well-danced and generally well-received judging by the large audience, many for whom this was not the first time seeing the ballet. Personally, I find it lacking in grandeur and cohesion, and generally inferior to most other productions (at least the one's I've seen on video such as the Bolshoi's, the Kirov's, etc). I wonder what Kudelka means by making a Swan Lake "to care about", one that is remodelled in his image of modern society and relavent to the times. Does he think it is uplifting to watch the good die alongside the wicked? Not all ballets must be uplifting, but then they should give some enlightenment. What lesson does this ballet have to teach? That evil always overrides good? Even though Odette forgives Siegfried, their love was doomed from the start. There is no hope.

I apologize if some of my comments come off as too harsh. I found myself more or less indifferent to the production when I first saw it in 1999, but since then my tollerance for its shortcomings has dwindled somewhat. I am still glad to have went. It was a pleasure to see Ogden triumph in this debut, and Cote is also a joy to watch as he grows.

Did anyone else go? Impressions?

#2 creativejuice

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Posted 17 February 2003 - 08:40 PM

Kudelka claims “every classic needs to be rethought with new logic and powerful archetypes to make it moving and relevant for a new generation.” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, so what does he do to my Swan Lake? Kill off everybody in the ballet! How will the next great dance maker at the National Ballet of Canada revise Swan Lake if all the characters have perished? Tinkering with a classic is lazy ballet making; very much like adding “II” to a classic movie. More often than not it reeks of the very same stench-the BO of recycling someone else’s work of art for a quick buck.

If you suffered through Sabrina II, The Thomas Crown Affair II, or Robin Hood à la Kevin Costner, you know where I’m coming. Some things you cannot improve upon. Some things hold up to the toughest critic of all: Time. Tampering with a classic to make it relevant for a new generation is 100% pure bull. The number one reason ballet companies redo classics is because the costumes cannot hold up to the toughest critic of all! Desmond Heeley’s tutus would have been 32 years old had Kudelka used them to dress down his swans.

The original Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) proves my point best of all. Fifty-three years of evolution in filmmaking could not come close to the spirit, adventure and romance of the original. The theme of Robin Hood from 1938 is still relevant for today—65 years later. “It’s A Wonderful Life” is another classic example. It’s still moving for a new generation. Things haven’t changed all that much over the decades, or the centuries.

If Kudelka thinks killing off everybody with a flood will make his Swan Lake the definitive Swan Lake—he is dead wrong. The straw of father time has already sucked his Swan Lake bone dry. Burp! Bon appétit Father Time. Here...you better chew on this antacid tablet. All those “powerful archetypes” might give you indigestion. Remember when Coca-Cola thought NEW would taste better than CLASSIC? Reinventing something purely for the sake of reinventing is an insult to its creator. More often than not there is only one motivation behind all this reinventing: greed. In Kudelka’s case, it’s 100% pure ego.

I’m not suggesting no one should ever redo a ballet: Just not a classic! Too many people apply the word “classic” to something mediocre or something just very good. One should only apply the word “classic” to something of the highest standard. If you cannot top it or at the very least come close, I do not want to see it. Kudelka’s Swan Lake is not a classic.

The magic of designer Santo Loquasto will no doubt dupe many a critic into giving Kudelka’s two million dollar Swan a big thumbs up. As usual, his sets and costumes were candy for the eye and soul. If you’re going to spend $1.4 million on sets and costumes, they better blow you away. My only criticism with the costumes were those weird queen-sized headdresses shaped like genitalia. Mr. K. could have saved the NBoC $1.4 million by squeezing another season out of Heeley’s tutus. Considering his Swan Lake was about a decaying civilization; would not the time-ravaged tutus of Bruhn’s Swans been more apropos?

From my view of the stage, Kudelka gave much too much stage time to the male dancers. Their gangbang of a wench did nothing to move the story. Swan Lake is the classic black and white escapist ballet. Ballet fans come to escape inside a dream world made of blowing mist, pristine ballerina and dazzling white tutu. Ballet fans come to escape inside the beauty of man’s most beautiful creation: the ballerina! Kudelka somehow managed to take the Swan out of Swan Lake even though in his version the Prince actually falls in love with a Swan!

In the original, the prince falls for a half swan, half woman, condemned by a sorcerer to live as a swan during the day and woman at night. Prince and Swan Queen commit suicide to break the spell of the evil Von Rothbart and live happily forever in the afterlife. If you were going to tweak my ballet, it would have made more sense to defeat Von Rothbart by having the prince sacrifice his human form to live the rest of his earthly existence as a swan. Kudelka could have sent everyone home happy by having the swan mates take flight with a flotilla of beautiful cygnets in tow; instead, he gives us death, death and more death. If Kudelka possessed some imagination he would have dressed down his Swans in Heeley’s tutus and then dressed them up in Loquasto’s tutus for a happy ending. The costume change would have brought everyone in the Hummingbird Centre to their feet!

All the death and sex siphoned out what little love Kudelka poured into his Swan Lake making the entire ballet little more than an exercise in gymnastics. The way Kudelka makes ballet; his title should be Funeral Director—Not Artistic Director! Better for him to embalm corpses rather than force a live audience to sit through another of his dark ballets.

The original Swan Lake, choreographed by Julius Reisinger, was anything BUT a classic. It premiered in 1877 and laid the proverbial ugly duckling’s egg! Eighteen years later, Lev Ivanov and I breathed new choreography into the ballet as a tribute to its composer, Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Our version created bravos galore and has for the most part survived 108 years. Survival of a classic depends upon historians. Some like to alter history. Some even like to alter the spelling of names. In the 94/95 yearbook and Swan Lake souvenir program, the NBoC spelled Tchaikovsky with a “w” (Tchaikowsky). The (w) spelling has also mysteriously seeped into other NBoC editions. Another mystery is how the “after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov” vanished from Kudelka’s version of Swan Lake. Under choreography, the souvenir program credits Kudelka and Kudelka alone. For Erik Bruhn’s Swan Lake, the National gave proper credit to its original creators.

There is but one reason to see Kudelka’s Swan Lake: Greta Hodgkinson! Few pleasures in life come close to the pleasure of watching this alabaster bathing beauty swimming in her pool of music. If ever there was a ballerina born to be a swan, it’s the strikingly beautiful Greta Hodgkinson. No man, beast, or even a eunuch could possibly resist the bewitching charms of this ballerina siren all a glow in a fine sheen of dew. Fondu-pirouettes will do that to you. Look at her go! 4, 5, 6, swirl ballerina swirl! 9, 10, 11, whirl ballerina whirl! 14, 15, 16, twirl ballerina twirl! 19, 20, 21, go Greta go! 24, 25, 26, steal the show! You’re almost there! 30, 31, 32, you did it! She is the ice queen no more! I melted under her bewitching spell!! Greta Hodgkinson shoots rays and rays and rays of stage charisma!!!

It’s no wonder Aleksandar Antonijevic (Siegfried) fell head-over-heals in love at first sight with Greta Hodgkinson twice! First as the virtuous Odette and then again as the evil Odile!! As for Aleksandar’s silent acting: Yes he has come a long way! Though he is still far too effeminate.

If Kudelka lived during my era, his title would have been Program Hawker of the Russian Imperial Ballet! Lev and I are very much looking forward to having him join us. Assuming, of course, he’s accepted into the National Ballet of Heaven. It is my misfortune that my superiors have assigned me to be Kudelka’s Muse. No matter how much I try to inspire him nothing gets through that thick head of his!

This version of Swan Lake is only worth viewing one time. Twice—if you have a crush on Greta Hodgkinson! Performance of Dancers: 17/20. Story: 5/20. Choreography: 14/20. Ballet Magic: 10/20. Sets and Costumes: 18/20. Rating: 64/100.

Note: Okay, Marius Petipa did not review the above. Michael Goldbarth takes full responsibility for every word. But if Marius Petipa did happen to critique Kudelka’s Swan Lake, I like to think his review would have read very similar to mine! Maybe I’m a ballet snob, but I think the NBoC brought Kudelka’s Swan Lake back a tad too early. It premiered in 1999, showed again in 2001, and now Kudelka has rolled it out again for 2003.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 February 2003 - 04:34 AM

You know, Michael, with all the monies being poured into New Improved versions of the classics, I wish some perspicacious Artistic Director would spend as much in doing a traditional Swan Lake, as it has been so long since a major company has done one the right way, that it would constitute a whole new experience for some balletgoers. The best versions in North America used to be the NBC pre-Bruhn, and the ABT David Blair staging. These both were based on Royal Ballet Sergeyev stagings, and were excellent.

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 February 2003 - 07:15 AM

Thanks for reposting your comments from January, Michael, but perhaps it might be easier to link to a repeated post of that length in the future. Is that review from the '01 performances?

Attention other Torontonians. Speak up! Saveta and others, did you go to Swan Lake? This crowd is usually lively, let's hear what you thought.

[And I hope NYC is dug out by Thursday because I'm supposed to come up this weekend for the mixed program!]

#5 creativejuice

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Posted 19 February 2003 - 09:04 PM

My review was from /99 and /01. I will be seeing Heather Ogden's next performance.

#6 Saveta

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Posted 19 February 2003 - 10:42 PM

I too will be seeing Ogden/Cote cast on Feb 28th and I'm looking forward to it.
Kudelka's version is not my ultimate Swan Lake, but I'm learning to live with it. ;)
In previous seasons I saw Greta Hodginson with Antonijevic and last time around they were excellent (actually Greta always was) and I also saw Xiao Nan Yu and Ryan Boorne and I wasn't so enthusiastic about their interpretations.
So, I'm ready for a fresh cast!

Tomorow night I'm going to see the mixed program
I'll definitely let you know about both performances.

#7 tendumom

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Posted 22 February 2003 - 03:28 PM

Well, I am just a "ballet mom" and thus my opinion is more of a casual ballet goer than a balletomane. My daughter is at the National Ballet School and while visiting her, the two of us attended the Ogden/Guillome performance, thanks to a ballet alert friend who had tickets she could not use. (Thanks to her and to ballet alert for introducing us!) So here's my "uneducated" opinion:

I had seen Heather Ogden once before - I think it was in La Bayadere - I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that it was her we were going to see dance Odile/Odette. In Bayadere, her technique was flawless but the feeling of the dance was truly lacking. Her facial expression was deadpan. But since she is obviously a rising star, my daughter and I were intrigued by what she would do with this role - knowing that she would be coached carefully.

So, overall, we thought she was very good - still perhaps lacking the depth of feeling/expressiveness that would add more dimension to the role- but pleasing to watch nonetheless. She obviously has incredible technical abilities.

Guillaume is a delight to watch - wonderful ballon (sp?) and a great stage presence.

In contrast to previous posters, I loved act I - watching the core of guys dance together was wonderful - they are really talented and totally enjoyable to watch. I found myself smiling almost the entire time - chills running down my spine at their joie de vivre. Stephanie Hutchinson was also fabulous as the wench - I loved her dancing and want to see her again as soon as possible. The only part of that scene I disliked was the implied "gang bang" at the end. Sitting next to my 13 year old daughter, it made me feel uncomfortable and I think it was unneccessary.


Act !! was beautiful and Ogden danced beautifully. My daughter felt, however, that she really got into the black swan more.

In Act III I agree with what was said previously about the princesses headdresses - I found them distracting - they did not seem to fit.

Overall, t.he whole Kudelka - everyone dies- thing was pretty depressing and also unneccessary to my point of view. As was said before - what was the message there?

Overall, I loved sets and costumes - since this was only the second time seeing NBOC, I was impressed with the entire company. I am glad we went - it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon with my daughter - sharing her passion.

One more note: Daughter went with school last night to see mixed bill. The dance she could not stop talking about was Elite Syncopations with Jennifer Founier. My 13 yr old daughter said "she was amazing" and that she was totally inspired!

What a wonderful thing - inspiration! :-)

Well, there are some thoughts of a ballet neophyte. Perhaps it is good to hear from the plebians at times :-)

#8 creativejuice

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 01:53 PM

I have a confession to make. Kudelka’s version of Swan Lake is starting to grow on me! I still think he devotes way too much time to the male dancers making most of the 1st act a total bore and I don’t like the dark ending. I can also do without the evil Rothbart dressed as a Woodstock hippie! The final Armageddon scene was much improved in regards to the waves (enormous sheets) engulfing humanity.

The performances of Guillaume Côté and Heather Odgen made the depressing ending worth it. If not for the confines of the Hummingbird Centre stage and Tchaikovsky’s music, Miss Odgen would have whipped off another 32 fondu-pirouettes! Her stage presence was also impressive. One day, she too may join Jaimie Tapper at the Royal Ballet. Mr. Côté looked equally comfortable on stage.

It is a shame the National has barely enough dancers to perform Swan Lake. Many have to double or even triple in roles to ensure they have a full cast.

Performance of Dancers: 19/20. Story: 7/20. Choreography: 15/20. Ballet Magic: 15/20. Sets and Costumes: 18/20. Rating: 74/100.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 02:05 PM

I think this can happen, Michael, because a ballet one once found ABSOLUTELY AWFUL will eventually, if you see it enough, be like that loud, unpleasant uncle who comes to dinner once a month. He's family.

I have to admire you for admitting that you've changed your opinion :)

#10 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 02:13 PM

Also, for good or for ill, if you know that something is there to stay, and the only option is to get used to it, you often stop concentrating on how bad it is and look instead for things to like. I'm glad Ogden and Cote gave you something else to look at! I've seen him (I liked him very much in Flower Festival) but I don't think I've seen her yet.

#11 Saveta

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 10:57 AM

Well, I saw Ogden/Cote performance on 28.th as well, and I remembered things which bothered me in Kudelka's version before - mostly it is his I Act with sociological comments. The concept is sort of that Prince feels trapped in the ugliness of the vulgar surroundings where a mother and a wench are the only women and so on..- I was happy enough with more traditional versions where we understand that Prince is feeling empty inside (withouth any gang rape scenes) and therefore wants to escape to a world of pure and simple emotions. (I also just want to clarify, I'm not always opposed to "reinterpreting" and "reinventing" of classics. I'm one of those who like Mats Ek, but Kudelka's approach to me is half way- he'd like to say something important and be different, but also to be approachablle enough to sell out two weeks of Hummingbird performances as well.)
What also bothers me in that act is Kudelka's over choreographing for the male ensemble. That being said, I did like their dancing and I also think Stephanie Hutchinson was dancing really well. I also like Kudelka's subtle changes in the choreography of the II Act and also there is a difference in the order of dances (through Odette's variation, Pettit and Grande Cygnes they build up to the pas de deux). I also don't mind his Act IV , I love the dance for Rothbardt's with four black Swans and the ending doesn't bother me. In soloist roles in the IIIAct I thought Jillian Vanstone danced exellent.
I was almost hesitating to post because I feel like such a party pooper:rolleyes: - I know everyone loved Ogden's performance, obviously including the Artistic Director (since she was promoted right after), but I have to admit that I didn't feel anything more than the performance being flat. I liked Cote a lot (he gave his all, and every time I see him I like him more), but Odette and Rotbarth I felt were not very strong at all (again I completely understand I'm in the minority). Christopher Body as Rothbart to me wasn't an authoritative evil force (I knew that seeing too much of Rex had to have its downside), but Body to me looked more like an silly looking Odette's ex-boyfriend trying to mess things up. Ogden's Odette to me didn't feel truly in love with Siegfried at all; I almost had an impression that she felt this young inexperienced guy can offer her an escape from swan life that she's bored with, therefore she went along pretending being in love with him. Her Odille was more convincing to me (I liked her during the E.Bruhn's competition in this pas de deux). I thought her fouettes weren't clean, mostly traveling left and right, but that didn't bother me too much. I know she has technique, and her line is lovely.

Interesting to me is that the thing like this already happened to me when Xiao Nan Yu was promoted couple of years ago after an performance of Tatiana in Onegin.(Although her aplomb and musicality were intoxicating, I didn't think she got the complexity of the role of Tatiana at all.) I still think I was right then, but again I guess, I didn't see what majority of people did.

#12 dancemomCA

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Posted 15 March 2003 - 06:54 AM

My son and I are going to "Swan Lake" this evening in Ottawa. I haven't read the local reviews (don't want to) and I don't know who is dancing the leads. I want to be surprised. I am also curious to get the opinion and reaction from my 13 year old ballet dancer son with regards to the male dominated Act 1. He personally feels that men don't get enough on-stage time in classical ballets. So we'll see....

#13 Paquita

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Posted 16 March 2003 - 04:57 PM

Saveta, thanks for your honest review! I think you've accurately identified one of Kudelka's biggest problems, wanting to be avant-garde but knowing that it doesn't sell. I'm not against "re-makes" either (I found Mathew Bourne's Swan Lake interesting on different levels). But the half-way approach just seems to compromise everything.
I was recently at the NBoC archives and was able to watch a video of Erik Bruhn's version. Seeing it made me a little more forgiving of Kudelka's attempt to revamp the ballet. I can see why he felt that NBoC needed a new Swan Lake. Bruhn's version looks dated, there is less bravura dancing, and the whole evil Queen instead of Rothbart thing is dripping with Freudian implications that to me, are unnecessary and distracting. Both version portray women in a fairly negative light. As for the gang-rape scene, there has been debate about that. I personally found that scene suggestive, but of course nothing is explicitly shown and some argue that it's just a dance.
I agree that Odgen was a bit cold, making her a good Odile but a distant Odette. With young dancers, it often takes a while for the dramatic ability to catch up to the technical skills which they concentrate on so much in their training. I think that with experience, Ogden will become a more convincing actress.

#14 Saveta

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Posted 17 March 2003 - 07:16 PM

I totaly agree with you about Bruhn's version, Paquita. I'll also take Kudelka's version any day over that one;) (I also saw the recording of it on Bravo channel a couple of years ago.)
I also agree with you about Ogden and think she might become a stunning Odette in some time.
(Even though I'm happy for Sonia Rodriguez, I wish we could have seen her in the role this time. I'm curious about her portrayal (can't remember if she danced last time around). I guess we'll have to wait for her to come back:)

#15 Paquita

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Posted 18 March 2003 - 06:42 AM

Sonia danced Odette/Odile last time. I'm not sure who her partner was.


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