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The State of Swan Lake?


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Food for thought as the year opens in Sarah Kaufman's review of the Kirov/Mariinsky Swan Lake (thanks to Ari for the link)

Kaufman does mention the revised happy ending, but if the Sergeyev production, which is not a bad production but has tinkerings, especially in Act IV, is considered marvelously pure and direct, what have we been serving up as Swan Lake?

A sobering thought. Is there ANYWHERE in repertory in a major company a version of Swan Lake that bears some resemblance to the "traditional" version? I put traditional in quotes because it's a difficult question, Swan Lake went through revisions very early on in its history, but let's just say a version with the tragic ending, without sublimated passion between Siegfried and his mother or the tutor, where the Swans are still women and Siegfried and Odette are not the British Royal Family and where we actually see at least a portion of the choreography we accept as either Ivanov's or Petipa's?

I'd be fine on all the leafy variants if the roots of the tree were healthy, but I think if any great ballet needs rescuing, it's this one. Perhaps that should be our grassroots effort and contribution to ballet, to get a traditional Swan Lake back into rep somewhere.

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State of Swan Lake? Don't know any state of Swan Lake. Couple villages, though.

I'm in hearty agreement here - this ballet is the epitome of all grand-style ballet, and it's being wheeled around like every ballet master's occupational therapy. It's got to be put right by someone, or we'll lose the common references found from the 1895 production. One of the greatest novelties for any large company to do would be an "Old, Unimproved" staging, so that new generations will know the work and not be led astray by Additions and Corrections!

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the short answer to the initial query, is: NO

russian/soviet routes are a problem before the 'happy socialist-realism ending' b/c of the gorsky changes to the 'standard' ivanov text.

i suppose the british royal family lineage productions that were filmed of nicholas sergeyev's 'reading' of the imperial notebook/notations is as close as we're likely to get. thus for act 2 one could look at the royal ballet tape w/ fonteyn & somes.

or, for a recension of all that, the blair staging filmed w/ ABT.

otherwise and on stage somewhere today, the landscape is bare.

(i know the royal opera house at covent garden has an in-house - and thus kept under tight wraps - video of the initial wiley-consulted dowell staging w/ the student dancers in the swanmaiden ensemble, but as that particular detail was soon dropped, seeing the dowell prod. nowadays doesn't offer that aspect of the 'original'.)

still i suppose if one were to look past the fussy/eccentric/tattered sonnabend designs for dowell's swanlake, one can find the vaguest facsimile to what is being sought here regarding the choreographic 'text'.

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There's a bit of Swan Lake Act II in Red Shoes, too, isn't there? (I haven't seen that in about 20 years, so I may be misremembering.) If I'm remembering correctly, that staging has the huntsmen -- one huntsman for every 2 swans. Something which, I believe, disappeared when the huntsmen became soldiers in World War II.

But RG is right: There's no authentic staging. The Royal Ballet's old staging -- not that we have a hope of ever seeing THAT again -- that was based on the Stepanov notations, was so changed by Ashton (beautifully, IMO, but that's a different question) that it's "traditional" only in that it's in the same line as the Petipa-Ivanov.

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So far as I remember the children were still there in the RB's Swan lake last season - maybe they don't take them on tour? The current production is supposed to be back-to-Petipa/Ivanov but there is curiously little detail about it in the programme notes.

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Quite, the children as swan maidens were still there in the last run of the RB production.

It's too vague to be specific about it, but I always wondered if that "authentic version" would be such an improvement and if it would make "Swan Lake" as popular as it became now? (Do we really need that Benno person and everything ?? :wub: )

There is also more or less of an attempt to recreate the original White Act in Neumeier's otherwise dutifully adventurous version.

(I know you are dying to see the Fabre version, Leigh :grinning: )

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As self-appointed chair of the Bring Back Benno! movement, I must speak :wub:

Benno. Why was he there? For the story, because he's a nobleman and gave Siegfried a friend of his own rank. Siegfried has someone to talk to, and originally Benno and Siegfried had a few moments of conversation (mime). Choreographically, Benno is present for, and participates somewhat in, the white swan pas de deux, making the occasion formal, not Valentine's Day Romantic, and his participation anticipates a similar role for Rothbarrt in black swan. 19th century pas de deux have become concert numbers, but originally they were interwoven with the action. And also, in building a ballet company, Benno was a good training role for a young Siegfried to be: how to walk on stage, how to look like a nobleman, how to stay in character for a long time.

What happened to him? After the Revolution, when you had a very new audience and lost (sometimes to the cemeteries) people who'd been brought up in the Maryinsky tradition, people didn't understand why he was there. Who's this guy who doesn't dance? We did the same thing -- we, Western Europeans and Americans when we first met Swan Lake. The theory was that he was "helping out" in the partnering because Gerdt, the original Siegfried, was too old -- that never made sense to me, not from when I first heard it, when 50 sounded ancient. He doesn't do that much. But he does complete a choreographic theme.

Hang in there, Benno. In only another 200 years or so, they'll want you back. They'll have tried everything else.

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many, many thanks for the info. re: the 'student' swan maidens; i'd always figured they were dropped b/c, seeing the prod. on tour showed the staging to be childless. i guess the logistics aren't in place to have them chosen and rehearsed on tour. too bad, but at least one can hope that if the RB keeps the staging there's still a chance of seeing them when the prod. is done in situ, at the op. house.

one grasps at straws in such cases.

re: owls, i was interested to read that robt hughes new bio. of goya refers to the owls in his famed 'dream of reason' etching as symbols of stupidity. i'd always thought of them as being symbolic of wisdom. can they really be alternately seen as such extremes of 'meaning'?

hrmmmmmmmm.

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re the stupid/wise owls -- it's possible there can be opposites. I've still not gotten over the shock of learning that in Norse mythology, the sun is feminine and the moon masculine. So perhaps in different mythologies and different climes, owls suggest different things. Our Rothbart certiainly isn't wise. (Although, of course, he could be a rat, say, who transformed himself into an owl so that we'd think he was wise. A thoroughly modern thing to do.)

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Another thing about Benno -- he helps flesh out Siegfried's world. In productions now, Siegfried is alone, surrounded by anonymous courtiers and, sometimes, the local peasantry (or what could be a folk dance troupe rented for the occasion). And his tutor.. And his mother, who may well wander on without her entourage. Also, there were often pairs in 19th century ballets -- the dark and the fair, the good and the bad, the good and the better. Contrast, playing one person off another, was a storytelling device.

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Count me in among those who wouldn't mind a "Bring Back Benno! movement." I always thought a third would intrude on Odette and Siegried, as Balanchine said, "when you have a man and a woman on stage, what more story you want." However, after seeing the Royal Ballet film RG mentioned, I saw what having a full-fledged Benno could do. The "duet" didn't really change all that much choreographically, most everything we're used to seeing is there, but the expression of Somes' Siegried was very touching - the way he stood back and admired Odette, the way he went down on one knee and bowed to her as she was shown off by Benno. We can't get that when Siegried is busy partnering. I guess nowadays we see a woman and two men and we immedidately conjure up a romantic triangle, but I don't think it was meant to be seen that way.

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I guess nowadays we see a woman and two men and we immedidately conjure up a romantic triangle, but I don't think it was meant to be seen that way.

Bring me my smelling salts! :wub: I can see it now. Benno comes back, and he and Siegfried engage in their own pas de deux while Odette is left hanging in arabesque. I think you're right, Dale -- there would be that temptation these days. (That, or Odette would have "done" Benno in a previous ballet.)

I liked your points about Benno allowing Siegfried to show his love -- that's what I was getting at when I said that stories were told through contrast, but I didn't finish the thought. It's the old SHOW, don't tell. You can see Siegfried falling in love by his reactions.

Another parallel is that of the 4 Princes in tihe Rose Adagio (Mary C and I were talking about this the other night, so she may chime in here). I think in Russia they're still danced by principals -- Princes, and stars. And often we, who are not brought up in that tradition, say, "What a waste!" because they don't dance. But again, they add to the picture. It's not that Aurora goes to sleep because her father only offers here the 4 tallest guys in the corps de ballet, or soloists working their way back off the injured reserved list, as husband material. They're real princes -- just not The Prince. And they make the birthday party a true court celebration -- not, again, one King, one Queen, two servants, and the rest the nice neighbors who live down the road.

Benno haters and jester fans are, of course, invited to post. A lot of these issues -- mime or no mime, Benno/Jester -- depend on how one views the ballet. What is the ballet? The score, and any choreographer can take the music and, if s/he treats it with respect, do with it what s/he will? The libretto? The original choreography, amended -- and of course this is the most difficult issue -- as years go by in a way appropriate to the ballet; meaning that an addition looks natural, not like like a wooden leg.

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I guess nowadays we see a woman and two men and we immedidately conjure up a romantic triangle, but I don't think it was meant to be seen that way.

More likely, it was meant to show the contrast between platonic and romantic love.

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How far back does the Russian happy ending extend? In reading Beaumont (1938) he states that the Soviet version of Act IV, Rothbart injures Odette and she dies, and Seigfried (or the Count as they identify him) stabs himself and jumps over a cliff. I have sometimes wondered if the happy ending had any correlation to the great suffering of the Russian people in WWII, perhaps it was a good thing to leave the theatre on a high note.

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That's what they used to do in the Blair and the Royal version -- she jumps over cliff, then he jumps over cliiff. But they still had a happy ending -- they went up to heaven in a beautiful little swan boat. I don't know the date -- someone else will, I'm sure. I always assumed that going up to heaven was not a Soviet-approved happy ending for religious reasons, but there may well be another reason (and needing a happy ending during sieges, bombings and wars is certainly undestandable!)

What I loved about the tragic ending wasn't that it was sad, but that it had so much more depth. She doesn't just die -- she dies because otherwise, she will be a swan forever, and she'd rather die a woman than live a swan. (And wouldn't that be a terrific metaphor for time of war?") And then he realizes that he has no life without her and dies too -- and it's not old-fashioned. They did the same thing in "Splash" (which I always thought had to be written by a ballet fan -- it's got bits of La Sylphide and Swan Lake in it) :D

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I want Benno back, too :D. And God bless the Kirov for having nobility in Act I (not peasants) who dance like it, who bow to each other and are waited on by servants (not each other), men who stand in third position and do not drag their ladies around by the waist and a queen who looks and acts like a queen and travels about with a little retinue.

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ATM - It sounds like Beaumont is describing Vaganova's revival of Swan Lake from the 30's - she was director of GATOB (what I think the name of the Mariinsky at the time was) and is the one who renamed Siegfried "The Count". From what I know of reading about her, her version was a great departure from the original in libretto. It's interesting, Vaganova has a mixed record as a keeper of ballet tradition. Very strong on maintaining and strengthening the pedagogy. Very spotty on maintaining the choreography. For all his progressive ideas, Lopukhov probably kept the Petipa in better shape.

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Don't know exactly when the happy ending was forced upon. In any case with Sergeyev's staging from 1950 the tragic ending was gone. Funny thing is that Konstantin Sergeyev who now usually gets criticized for having staged a "Swan Lake" with a happy ending, didn't want one. He wanted to follow Tchaikovsky's music, but wasn't allowed to. As Grigorovich found out when he argued that Tchaikovsky called for a tragic ending, the authorities corrected him that even Tchaikovsky could be wrong. :D

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