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Kirov Ballet in D.C. -- Swan Lake

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Did anyone else go to Swan Lake (Konstantine Sergeyev's production). I thought the company as a whole looked very good; no opening night jitters or bobbles (I don't count that one swan fell).

Pavlenko and Zelensky danced the leads. Their second act was very fine -- it was the kind of performance where you could sense the tension and expectation in the house. The third act wasn't as strong, and the happy ending ruins it -- Pavlenko seems made for a tragic ending; there was so much pathos in her portrayal, the thought of her Odette living happily ever after seems incongruous. So not a completely satisfying evening for me, but one I'm glad to have seen.

Edited by Alexandra
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My Christmas present to myself was a weekend trip to DC and 4 performances of Swan Lake (I’m so sick of McKenzie’s version, such a shame that there’s no decent version in NY anymore).

The first perfomance I’m going to is Friday night and I have an extra ticket - First tier, row D in the 200’s, $80. I figured I’d try to sell it before the performance but if any Ballet Alertnicks are interested, let me know by tomorrow night - I’m catching the bus Friday morning & won’t have access to email while I’m away.


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I attended last night's performance, with Natalya Sologub and Leonid Sarafanov. Sologub is a vivacious dancer who takes naturally to Odile, and she charged right into the role. She seemed so happy that she risked dramatic credibility -- surely even a dim bulb like Siegfried should have grasped that this was not the gentle girl he'd fallen in love with -- but her delight in performing had its own charm. Odette is too tame for her temperament, and her second act was dull. She's allowed to be more animated in the fourth, which closed her performance on a more satisfactory note. Her technique was perfectly acceptable without being exciting. She does have beautiful feet. (Her hair, incidentally, is still definitely red but was subdued, perhaps by some dark netting.)

Sarafanov would seem to be ideally cast as Siegfried right now because he is so young and boyish, but he worked hard not to look that way. His technique is pure and he has the makings of a virtuoso, but is as yet too green to be able to carry off the pyrotechnics as he would like. The audience wanted to like him, but seemed a bit puzzled that he didn't deliver all that he promised. His partnering was often clumsy.

I'm not a fan of this production, which dispenses with the mime, includes a jester (although, to be fair, he doesn't take over the proceedings as much as he does in other productions), and uses unattractive arrangements of swans in the white acts. And then there's the happy ending. Why this Soviet-era version has survived into the new century is a puzzle. The company had a decent version by Vinogradov that they performed in New York in 1992, but I suppose it was a victim of the new regime. If the rumors of a change in direction are true, perhaps we'll see a new production before long.

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and uses unattractive arrangements of swans in the white acts.  And then there's the happy ending.  Why this Soviet-era version has survived into the new century is a puzzle.  The company had a decent version by Vinogradov that they performed in New York in 1992, but I suppose it was a victim of the new regime. 

Thanks for the review, Ari. Could you possibly say what you mean with "unattractive arrangements of the swans"? Why is it so puzzling that this version has survived into the new century? Why wouldn't it have survived? And do you really think that Vinogradov's version was an improvement over the Sergeyev? How so? Funny, but you are the first person I met who seemed to like that one :D.

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I too attended last night's (Thursday's) performance and will see the Pavlenko/Zelensky cast on Sunday.

I liked both leads very much, but they are not a good pair. The partnering was not-so-good, and Sarafanov looks _much_ younger than Sologub.

Sologub's scary hair was mostly hidden by headpieces, mercifully. She does have amazing feet, and after seeing her doing the frustrating Nutcracker choreography, it was great to see her just dance.

Sarafonov is fabulous, but seems to be not fully grown. He looks to be about 18 (if that), though bio information at the Mariinsky site indicates that he is at least 21. He was a bit jittery in a few of his solos, but he is just a stunning dancer and I hope to see much more of him in the future.

The Spanish costumes look identical to those used in Sleeping Beauty.

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Thanks for the reviews, folks. The partnering was indeed a little rough at times. I thought Sarafanov looked about 16 as a character compared to everyone else, especially with Korsakov (or did Scherbakov have the solo?) onstage. Even his mother was was taller and larger-boned. I couldn't think of him as a prince in Act One, especially with that constant, irritating grin, and rather than watching a story unfold, I found myself studying a performance. But I thought he danced and mimed with real nobility afterwards, and Sologub came alive after the first act as well, where she danced well, didn't seem to have much personality. I'd love to see them do this again in a few years.

As the jester, Ivavnov's pirouettes began at high speed and soon went supersonic. I didn't hear a boom, but the audience gasped. Popov was an impressive Rothbart as well. The national dances have always bored me, but the performances last night won me over.

Ah, but in 28 years of going to the ballet, this was my first live Swan Lake. :D

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especially with Korsakov (or did Scherbakov have the solo?)

Must have been Scherbakov. Korsakov looks all of about 19, or at least he looked that way in Oct 2002.

By the way, one thing I found very irritating was that the program named only the dancers in the most major roles, which made it a lot harder to identify dancers in the minor roles.

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I saw the Sarafanov-Sologub performance, too. Even considering its flaws (lack of mime, dancing Rothbart, happy ending) I think it's one of the best Swan Lakes being performed today. By the way, every member of that corps de ballet should receive flowers. They are truly the best in the world.

Whoever danced the third variation in the pas de trois was wonderful--beautiful lines, could pirouette for days, and she actually projected, which was more than I can say for the leads. While Sarafanov and Sologub were technically just about impeccable, I'd be surprised if they "read" past the footlights--they certainly didn't make it up to the front of the second tier. I didn't mind so much that they looked like children, Sarafanov especially, but even though they pulled out a lot of stops technically (consistent single-single-double fouettés from Sologub), they left me completely cold, even bored, and a weak performance (dramatically) from newbie soloists was the last thing I expected from the great Kirov-Mariinsky, especially on tour. I'm sure they'll both grow up to be quite beautiful artists--they are both certainly built for it--but they were just not ready to take on Swan Lake (which is of course not their fault but that of the director). Where have all the Kirov's stars gone? Even Daria Pavlenko would have been preferable.

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I understand your disappointment, Hans, about the non-star casting, but it is a fact that this has been the case for years with them. The only difference is that when a few years ago they still could offer their biggest names in the major ballet centres (because that difference was being made), even that became a treasurable rarity now :D .

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About the Vinogradov Swan Lake, I really don't remember much about it except some swans in deep burgundy velvet tutus in the fourth act (they looked black unless you were up close). I just remember having thought it was an acceptable production, which I would not say of the Sergeyev version.

Marc, I thought the swan corps was deployed in awkward and unpleasing ways. There were a lot more straight lines than I recall from other productions, and when the corps was arranged in small groups, the overall picture from above (I was in the second tier) was assymetrical and unharmonious. At one point, for instance, there were three girls downstage right, four girls downstage left, four girls upstage right and three upstage left. The right and left groups, both front and back, were arrayed in different formations, and it made for a confusing stage picture. I also didn't like the fact that the big swans were four in number, matching the number of cygnets, and the way these two groups were used as almost supernumerary to the 24 "main" swans, who did most of the big dances.

Of course, the beautiful and harmonious dancing of the Kirov corps went a good ways towards easing my pain! :D

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This is written Friday evening, so I don't know who dances tonight, but

At every Swan Lake so far, Scherbakov has danced the pas de trois, as well as the Spanish dance alongside Baimuradov.

Korsakov injured his back in Russia two weeks ago and isn't here at all, although listed in the program.

The opening night pas de trois girls were Golub and Tkhachenko.

Since then Gonchar and Selina may also have danced. Zhelonkina is not here.

A friend told me the opening night pas de trois was the best she has ever seen, so I am eager to see them this weekend.

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I saw Vinogradov's "Swan Lake" too. It premiered in Los Angeles in May 1992. Makhalina and Zaklinsky danced. The scenery was very gothic. I'll never forget what Martin Bernheimer said in his review - that the ballroom scene for Act 2, ". . . would cause guilded feelings in King Ludwig of Neuwanstein." :D The scenery was very heavy and covered in gold. Act 1 scene 1 was in pale pink, but the scheme looked alot like the scenery and costumes that were in the Yevteyeva/Markovsky film from 1970. Act 1 Scene 2 had a chapel ruin on stage and was equally dark in style - everything awash in blue moonliight. He didn't change Act 1 Scene 2's choreography. The choreography for the Act 2 was the same too. In Act 3 there was (IMO) an inferior opening and Dance of the Swans to the Valse Brillante. He did away with the farewell pas de deux to "Un Poco di Chopin" and replaced this music with the music from the 1877 score that accompanies Odile's, Siegfried's and Rothbart's entrance pas de trois in the Grigorovich production. After Rothbart gets his wing torn off, he dies. Siegfried? I don't remember: I think he either died or left the lake. (Ari do you remember?) At the end, the swans, repeat their first entrance in Act 1 Scene 2 in reverse and leave the stage, and Odette follows them the same way. Then curtain. I agree with Ari it was decent and it was a different way of looking at the work. But,

IMO it doesn't compare to the Sergeyev version at all. I believe the Kirov should look into reconstructing the original 1895 "Swan Lake," - ideally with the 1877 music for the apotheose - uncut. The music just begs for the tragic ending.

Happy New Year everyone!!!

Edited by Cygnet
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I just remember having thought it was an acceptable production, which I would not say of the Sergeyev version.

:D But what do you call an acceptable production of "Swan Lake" then, Ari?

The arrangement of the corps in the white acts of the Kirov's production never struck me as being unharmonious - seen from above or from below. Could this have been caused by possible limitations of the stage at the Kennedy Center? Did anyone else notice this too?

Siegfried doesn't die in Vinogradov's version, but he is left alone by Odette who disappears with the swans. It's true the last act is a total mess and nobody seems to remember exactly what's going on. In a review Alastair Macaulay picked on the absurd Vinogradov choreography for the black (or burgundy) and white swans in the final scene, where the whites hit the upbeat and the blacks the downbeat - "as if 'you say potato, and I say potahto' had reached Swan Lake" he joked :D.

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But what do you call an acceptable production of "Swan Lake" then, Ari?

My gold standard for Swan Lake has always been the old Royal Ballet version, with traditional choreography adapted to RB style by Ashton, and additional choreography by Ashton and de Valois. That production had just the right balance of dancing and mime, and careful attention to everything that happened onstage. You never saw courtiers just wandering on and offstage in the ballroom scene, for instance; if someone entered of left there was a reason for it, and you could see the reason. The national dances had the flavor of the countries they represented. There were opportunities for dancers from all levels of the company to shine onstage and grow into new roles. It also had the bonus of not one but two fourth acts (never given at the same time!). There was the traditional Ivanov-channelled-by-Aston one, and the all-Ashton one. Both gorgeous. If I were the Royal, I'd revive this production pronto and alternate fourth acts every year. :D

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Ah, I thought we were talking about what is acceptable or not - but you're basically talking about taste. Both (RB/Ashton and Kirov/Sergeyev) are company-adapted versions of a classic with their merits and flaws, not to mention the fact that years of performing eroded the initial ideas. But I don't see why the current Kirov production would be anywhere less acceptable than the old RB version. Personally I feel much closer to a Russian "Swan Lake" than to an English one (at least the Russians still know how to do the character dances), but that's only a matter of taste again.

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It's also a matter of what one is used to -- if you grow up with a Jester, then he must seem "right." The old RB version is the gold standard for me, too -- and I would make the case for the mime. There is no story in the Sergeyev -- no command to marry, no explanation of who Odette is or what is her plight, no oath, and so the two-seconds of betrayal that happens in the ballroom scene doesn't make sense. And then there's the happy ending which, as has been mentioned, is at odds with the music.

The character dance issue is a good point -- though when I first saw the RB production in the 1970s (slipped, I know, from the 1960s) their character dancing was at least as strong as what we saw here this week from the Kirov -- the Venetian was lovely (though that's not really character dancing) but the Spanish was more classical than character in delivery, and the czardas and mazurka were rather palid.

I am glad they do character dances and not semi-classical ones, though.

Another comment on the Jester. Having him be "sweet" on one of the pas de deux girls to the point of following her around with a rose is in the worng key, for me, as is having him comment on the suitability of each Would Be Bride. I don't find any of the additions to the old Royal production anachronistic or inappropriate to the ballet.

So yes, that's the one I'm used to, but I do think there are differences.

Now, compared to the Grigorovich, the McKenzie, the current Royal, I'd take the Kirov's in its current state.

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This is sort of a minor point, but I remember really loving the Spanish dance in the Sergeyev version...I recall a moment when the women somewhat suddenly stretch/curve their bodies way over to the side with a fan-wielding arm overhead -- and, as they reach the extreme point of the curve, they open their fans. It looked as if their bodies were doubling the movement of the opening fans. I also thought that this version of the Spanish dance was more or less kept in the Vinogradov version -- though someone may correct me. I do hope no one will tell me that my memory is inventing this altogether, since it's one of the highlights of my Swan Lake recollections!

When I saw the Vinogradov version, I had been warned how dreadful the ending was, but actually liked it a little more than...well...than anyone else did. I semi-joked to a friend that, conceptually, it was perfect for post-Soviet Russian since evil (Rothbart) was defeated, but even so, good (Odette and Siegfried) did not triumph. I won't fill in the dots on the political allegory, since we try to keep politics off the board, but I assume it's obvious enough even to people who disagree with me. I also found it visually effective to see the swans exit as they had entered -- and I felt that it captured a melancholy, dark tone while leaving the future still a little uncertain.

To return to the thread topic -- thanks to everyone for reports on these performances (and more please). I had hoped to come to Washington to see some for myself, but in the end was unable to do so...

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I wish you had been able to come up, Drew -- I saw three of the performances and even though I didn't care for two of the ballerinas, the performances as a whole were very strong.

A word to the side about my request not to discuss politics here: what I want to avoid is partisan politics in the sense of having comments like, "of course, any country that would go to war..." followed by, "watch it, my son is in the army" followed by "of course, only a Republican would say something like that." I've seen that happen on other (nondance) boards and I just don't have the time or patience to deal with it here. What you refer to is, in my book, history -- of course, an American view of Soviet ballet in a political context might be quite different than a Russian view, and a Pole may have something else to say about that, but I think we should be able to handle that.

Back to Swan Lake, I couldn't figure out what Ari meant by the groupings of three, and saw them last night (I had been sitting close earlier; not a good vantage point for seeing patterns). In the fourth act, there's a cross-mirror image pattern: a group of three swans at the back stage right mirrored, on the diagonal, by three in the front stage left; and the reverse with four swans. I don't much care for the fourth act choreography, but only in comparison to either the Ivanov or the Ashton (or the Nureyev; I like his fourth act). Compared to the Grigorovich, not to mention the 70-11 dozen minor versions bobbling around, I think it's a bit dull, but not bad.

The Mazurka dancers must have heard that some idiot was saying the Royal danced the character dances better -- they were splendid last night. (only joking about the first part of that sentence)

I saw both performances yesterday -- Gumerova/Korsuntsev in the afternoon and Sologub/Sarafanov in the evening. The audience seemed to love both Gumerova and Sologub, and I do not understand why. I thought both were technically adequate and absolutely empty. Gumerova was stronger than Sologub, whose attention to the finer details is not very rigorous. One of the glories of the Kirov school, for me, is the way the instep of the working leg cuddles the knee in passe She seemed to swat her knee -- front or back, who's looking? Both women got through the fouettes -- Sologub throwing in a double here and there, which made her lurch forward -- and both traveled. But more importantly, there was nothing individual about their dancing or their portrayal. I liked Korsuntsev very much and wish he'd have been paired with Pavlenko. Sarafinov is too slight and light a Siegfried for me, and he was off-form in the solo, but his carriage, deportment and investment in the role were flawless. I hope he grows into it physically.

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I caught today's matinee, and liked Pavlenko very much indeed. She had oodles of technique, making it look like this was something she did for relaxation, and her stage presence has warmed up since I saw her last. I was also very grateful that she did not bend her knee in arabesque as many Russian women do. Only her hyperextensions marred the performance.

The girls in the first act pas de trois were the same as on Thursday (would someone who knows tell us who they are?) but the boy was different. It was a better performance than Thursday's, too.

I think the first and third acts (excepting that dratted jester) are stronger than my first impression of them, but I still find the swan acts unlovely and unpoetic.

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Sunday afternoon the pas de trois was sheer delight. The girls were Golub and Tkhachenko. The boy was Scherbakov, who also danced it at Saturday night's performance (with Gonchar and Osmolkina). He was spectacular both times, with unsurpassed elevation and ballon. At the Sunday matinee Scherbakov and Zelensky were standard bearers for male classical dancing, Kirov style: exquisitely polished, devoid of flash, overkill and gimmicks.

At Saturday's matinee, Mikhail Lobukhin, who graduated in 2002, danced the pas de trois with Golub and Tkhachenko. He was a little rough but definitely promising.

Alexandra had said it was also Scherbakov for Thursday night's performance (first Sologub/Sarafanov performace]. I wasn't there.

Zelensky was much more expressive and involved than the last time I saw him dance Siegfried in 2000 with Part.

Sarafanov is much too immature for Siegfried. Odette/Odile would seem not to be Sologub's role at all, but it is hard to gauge her potentials in this performance because Sarafanov's partnering was adequate at best; I sat close to the stage and during the White pas de deux it was clear she was in places in and out of lifts she never intended to be. Some of Sarafanov's variation was gorgeous, but he was turned in in the grand saute a la seconde and sometimes his landings were needlessly violent. On the other hand, he was calmer and less overstated than he had been as Solor. This time his arabesques were 90 degrees, whereas in Bayadere he was hiking everything to around 150.

The corps was magnificent, the male corps considerably better than even a few years ago, while the women are the gold standard for classical ensembles today, in my opinion.

I thought this was Gumerova's best White Act ever, and Korsuntsev was dignified, stalwart, and even technically impressive.

Pavlenko is not as tall as one usually pictures Odette/Odile, but she was eloquent and beautiful.

Alexandra Iosifidi in the Big Swans made me want to see her dancing the lead, but she is even taller than Gumerova and it might be hard to find the right partner.

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This is sort of a minor point, but I remember really loving the Spanish dance in the Sergeyev version...I recall a moment when the women somewhat suddenly stretch/curve their bodies way over to the side with a fan-wielding arm overhead -- and, as they reach the extreme point of the curve, they open their fans.  It looked as if their bodies were doubling the movement of the opening fans.  I also thought that this version of the Spanish dance was more or less kept in the Vinogradov version -- though someone may correct me.

Not I.

This passage is more or less artifactual. It goes back even to the 1895 version, at least from what I can tell from still photos taken of the Spanish dancers in what must have been staged studio shots. Beaumont also records it in his print description of the dance. Most companies have forgotten this accent, and it's too bad.

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