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Swan Lake on PBS -- Great Performances


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Dale Brauner previews tonight's PBS broadcast of ABT's "Swan Lake" in DanceView Times:

ABT's "Swan Lake" on PBS!

ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie’s 2000 staging of “Swan Lake” is a pretty safe pick. It received the luxury casting of Gillian Murphy in the dual role of Odette-Odile, Angel Corella as Prince Siegfried, and Marcelo Gomes and Isaac Stappas as twin-sided von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer. Even the smaller roles are impressively filled, with ballet mistress Georgina Parkinson as The Queen Mother; Frederic Franklin as Wolfgang, tutor to the prince; Herman Cornejo as Benno, the prince’s friend; and Xiomara Reyes and Erica Cornejo filling out the pas de trios.

The production has been discussed on these pages before. On the plus side, McKenzie restored several mime passages that had been excised from previous ABT stagings, including the touching sequence when Odette explains to Prince Siegfried how she became a swan and how she lives on the lake created by her mother’s tears. McKenzie also opts for the traditional unhappy ending and has stayed relatively clear of some of the more psychologically charged scenarios that have made it to the stage under the guise of “Swan Lake.” You know, the ones, where Prince Siegfried is either in love with his mother, his tutor or his stepfather.

However, the split role of von Rothbart has received mixed reviews. In his green rubber suit, von Rothbart was quickly nicknamed “The Swamp Thing,” while in his more seductive guise, he was called “The Purple Pimp.” More egregious, in my opinion, than the plumped up male roles is the complete desecration of the final act as McKenzie has cut most of the music and action.

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This is a rare chance for all of us on (in the US at least) to experience a grand ballet performance at the same time. Wherever we live. Whatever our level of ballet involvement.

I hope everyone will feel the urge to post a response. The idea of that is almost as exciting as the anticipation of the telecast itself.

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My heart is so full, it's hard to draw breath! I was so lucky to be able to see this in Canada!!!!!! (Thank you, Rochester!)

Who would have thought: von Rothbart (Marcelo Gomes) performing the Russian dance! How perfect it was!

So many other thrills, not the least among them Gillian's incredible fouettés!

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I enjoyed the performance very much (Act I lederhosen shorts notwithstanding: bad Village People flashbacks). I thought Murphy was a much more effective Odile than Odette, though the much vaunted fouettes lost a little oomph there at the end. Corella grew on me: I found myself wondering how much better he probably came across to a live audience than a TV audience: he's a very broad performer with a very broad face. Loved Mr. Cornejo: what a spark of something special there. Loved Gomes, though the costume seemed to emphasize rather than hide some of the more ungainly aspects of his build. But he just oozed evil sexiness! And I liked the pacing of the edited version. Kept it moving for me.

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Just finished watching it! I'll write my thoughts while they're still fresh in my mind.

The corps was better than I've ever seen them before, and certainly better than they were in Sylvia. The second act swans were heavenly!

Can I just say again how much I love Marcelo? :wink: What a great 'evil'!

Now, for the principals. Individually, they're both exceptional dancers, and their styles are both athletic and dynamic. But I saw ZERO chemistry between them. Angel actually had more chemistry with Julie Kent, who is very much his opposite in terms of style.

Speaking of Angel, did anyone else think he looked kinda different?

I've seen Gillian dance in several other roles, but not Odette/Odile. Based on what I had seen, I expected her to be phenomenal as Odile but less so as Odette. It's surprising that it turned out to be the opposite. I found her Odette tender and vulnerable without appearing wimpy. She was innocent, sympathetic, and graceful. Even her final suicide conveyed Odette's earnestness. It was actually the best 'suicide' I've ever seen :dry:. She hesitates before jumping, making her decision look like an absolute last resort rather than an impulsive move. Rather than belly-flop, which is what most dancers do and which looks ridiculous IMO, Gillian maintained a graceful pose in the air and actually looked up, as if imploring for someone to understand her plight.

Murphy's Odile, on the other hand, was too bitchy and rude. The role of Odile requires a dancer to be scheming and conniving, yet flirtatious, seductive, and irresistable. She has to make Sigfried want her more and more even though he knows he might be making a mistake. She has to draw him in and wrap him around her little finger and give him only reasons to want her. She can't turn him off, and that's what Gillian's Odile did. I was sitting there wondering what Sigfried could possibly see in someone so unlikeable. When I saw Irina Dvorovenko in this role two years ago, she was so enchanting that she even got the audience on Odile's side, even though we knew she was the bad one. Irina's Odile was like a drug that you can't get enough of even though you know it's bad, while Gillian's Odile was like a gadfly you can't wait to get rid of.

Furthermore, Odile has to be similar enough to Odette to make Sigfried believe that they're the same swan. Other than the physical (obviously), I didn't see any similarities between Odette and Odile.

Angel played a lovestricken but betrayed Sigfried very well, but in context, Sigfried looked foolish rather than earnest.

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I wasn't a huge fan of McKenzie's choices for abridgement, but the dancing was fantastic. Particularly notable moments: The first act pas de trois (brilliant jumps from all three,) second act pas de deux, and third act coda (those fouettes!) A big bit of the fourth act was missing, so for the tv broadcast they lumped acts one and two together, and acts three and four. The whole thing was only two hours long. I wish that we could have had a more complete version, but I won't complain too loudly when there hasn't been a pbs ballet broadcast in so long...other reactions?

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Loved Gomes, though the costume seemed to emphasize rather than hide some of the more ungainly aspects of his build.
Are you maybe confusing von Rothbart at the lake (Isaac Stappas dressed somewhat as a swamp creature with bulging thighs) with von Rothbart at the ball? I think Marcelo looked gorgeous in his costume!
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Kevin McKenzie, marketing genius – who knew? I have substantial reservations about the live version of this production. So much so that even though Swan Lake is my favorite ballet, and there are several ABT ballerinas whose performances I’d like to see every season (well, all of them, really) – I won’t do it because I can’t sit through this production that often and I just find it so unsatisfying. At an absolute minimum they really need to restore at least the first 5 minutes of the 4th act. You know, everything that happens before Sigfried finds Odette! Still, this staging plays BEAUTIFULLY on TV. It’s amazing. The costumes & scenery looked so lush, Parkinson & Franklin were priceless, Gomes oozed evil sensuality and Murphy & Corella came across beautifully. Really, the whole company looked great. This production is a perfect introduction to Swan Lake for the casual ballet fan, i.e – the TV viewer. My hat’s off to McKenzie.

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I still don't care for this version. It's better than Peter Martins', but so is a broken leg. I am reminded of Dr. Samuel Johnson writing to an author, "I have seen your new work. It is good and it is original. Unfortunately what is good is not original and what is original is not good." The Russian Dance as executed by Gomes is fine and appropriate. In the 1877 version, it was supposed to be danced by Odile. I resented the music cuts in the csardas and mazurka. The Act II parts which were unchanged gave me the happy collywobbles, but still the central quadrilles of the corps seemed unfamiliar with the concept of a straight, evenly placed line. Both the Act I waltz and the Neapolitan Dance seemed to owe much to both the old Blair staging and Ashton, the latter especially in the Neapolitan, less a girl. I still think they should do a plain-vanilla version of this ballet. Von Grünbart is not a good idea. I think I used to hide under parts of his costume in Vietnam!

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Is it me or does anybody else find the end of Swan Lake really silly when they throw themselves off the rock into the unknown? I always find myself chuckling.
Yes, but not nearly as silly as the time poor Jose Carreno bounced back up! Talk about breaking the (already cracked) mood! Yikes!

:jawdrop:

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Is it me or does anybody else find the end of Swan Lake really silly when they throw themselves off the rock into the unknown? I always find myself chuckling.

I don't have a problem with it, unless they've landed on a pile of mattresses and they pop back into view! Actually, even though it's suicide, there's an intent to show water cleansing past errors, like baptism, and the resurrected lovers are seen in the sunrise.

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I thought it was pretty well done myself. Looking back, I wonder if there were extensive cuts in Act IV that might have added to the story a little more. I would rather have sacrificed some of the national dances for the more cogent aspects of the storytelling.

I thought that Murphy was better as Odette than as Odile. Also I, and the people with me were amazed at how much her extension was better to her right side than her left.

Corella was very workman like I thought(if that kind of brillance can be called workman like?)

The real show-stealer for me was Gomez dancing Rothbart. Holy smoke!!!! That guy can dance. His scissons were unbelievable, and that control and balance. He really impressed me so much that I want to see him dance the prince this summer. I would love to chase him in a class and see what he can do. Well done.

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Is it me or does anybody else find the end of Swan Lake really silly when they throw themselves off the rock into the unknown? I always find myself chuckling.

Sometimes it does. But I remember performances in the old Blair production, especially with Makarova and Nagy, where it tore out your heart. They did the mime, and they took time with it. She'd look at him, mime "I'm going to die," and then run to back and jump. You could see him think, just for a second, and then he'd make the same gesture and follow her. It was a half-second more than impulse. He knew what he was doing. They both believed in it, and so I would too.

Re the telecast, I thought the company looked good, both principals danced beautifully but I want more than clean execution in a "Swan Lake." I can add nothing to what has already been said on this board about Swamp Thing. But I did miss the fuzzy little short-necked "swan" :jawdrop: It's exactly the kind of stuffed animal Swamp Thing would take to bed with him. (And why don't they just go ahead and change the mime scene to, "I was pattering around in my nightie -- I know I shouldn't, but I just love the night air, and not one single member of our royal retinue was around to accompany me -- when I spotted this, well, I thought he was a gentleman because he kissed my hand, and he invited me home to see his etchings and..." That scene robs me of all sympathy for Odette. Any Princess who sneaks around at night talking to strange men deserves to be changed into a swan as far as I'm concerned. So there. :)

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I really enjoyed this. No comparison at all with the Llive from Lincoln Center telecast of the NYCB version.

Highlights for me (before I can collect my thoughts):

-- the pas de trois with Cornejo, Cornejo and Reyes, in Act One;

-- Gomes commanding the stage, cape-swirling, and moving those incredible arms and hands;

-- the cygnets and the corps of swans generally, when they were given something to do (not often);

-- Act One generally;

-- set for Act III

-- the Black Swan pas de deux as a set piece independent of the plot.

Disappointments:

-- Siegfried's suicide: like a last-second decision to jump through a closing subway door;

-- Rothbart's death, which became the main topic of the end of Act IV by virtue of the big green costume (clashing ludicrously with the swans' tutus) and the much-earlier disappearance of the protagonists

-- the pas de deux to the violin solo in Act II, which can be (but was not) heart-wrenching

Gilliam Murphy is a powerful dancer and not like one I've ever seen before. Talk about plastique!. I wondered whether it might not be an illusion of high definition tv. At times her sheer physical presence seemed to overwhelm Corella and everyone else, too. In some of the lifts she sailed above the rest of the cast like a mighty galleon. Some posters seem to prefer her Odette; others her Odile. I found them both impressive, but basically two different versions of the same thing. She was always working. All that work was effective, but I cannot imagine her being of interest in repose. Or inspiring tenderness or pity.

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Is it me or does anybody else find the end of Swan Lake really silly when they throw themselves off the rock into the unknown? I always find myself chuckling.

Sometimes it does. But I remember performances in the old Blair production, especially with Makarova and Nagy, where it tore out your heart. They did the mime, and they took time with it. She'd look at him, mime "I'm going to die," and then run to back and jump. You could see him think, just for a second, and then he'd make the same gesture and follow her. It was a half-second more than impulse. He knew what he was doing. They both believed in it, and so I would too.

As far as I'm concerned that video should be required viewing, the "gold standard" of productions. Pity it's no longer available commercially. It is the standard I hold other productions up to, and Makarova & Nagy's performances are the ones I measure all others against. In fact, before I comment on Murphy's performance I'm going to pull out that tape,watch Makarova's act II again and try to analyze exactly what I find missing in Murphy's Odette.

... But I did miss the fuzzy little short-necked "swan" :jawdrop:  It's exactly the kind of stuffed animal Swamp Thing would take to bed with him.  (And why don't they just go ahead and change the mime scene to, "I was pattering around in my nightie -- I know I shouldn't, but I just love the night air, and not one single member of our royal retinue was around to accompany me -- when I spotted this, well, I thought he was a gentleman because he kissed my hand, and he invited me home to see his etchings and..." That scene robs me of all sympathy for Odette.  Any Princess who sneaks around at night talking to strange men deserves to be changed into a swan as far as I'm concerned. So there. :)

Now that I think of it, maybe one of the reasons I thought this production worked so well on TV is that I got back to my hotel room late and missed the prologue. Alexandra's right - a Princess who wanders around in her nightie is fair game for any ogre that crosses her path...

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Gilliam Murphy is a powerful dancer and not like one I've ever seen before.  Talk about plastique!.  I wondered whether it might not be an illusion of high definition tv.  At times her sheer physical presence seemed to overwhelm Corella and everyone else, too.  In some of the lifts she sailed above the rest of the cast like a mighty flagship.  Some posters seem to prefer her Odette; others her Odile.  I found them both impressive, but basically two different versions of the same thing.  She was always working.  All that work was effective, but I cannot imagine her being of interest in repose.  Or inspiring tenderness or pity.

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I found this assessment very interesting, bart. I think Murphy is, in a curious way for someone so technically strong, a slow develoer. She's still, as you write, working -- but while I find her cold (and not inspiring tenderness or pity, as you say), I don't find her empty -- I think there are depths in there, and I think we'll see them when she is absolutely sure of what every fingernail is supposed to be doing at every moment. Some dancers have the outline of the role and take some time to get the technique and the polish, and some start with the steps and work out from there. Some never get beyond the steps, of course, but I think Murphy will.

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Loved Gomes, though the costume seemed to emphasize rather than hide some of the more ungainly aspects of his build.

Ungainly aspects? Marcelo? Intrigued, chauffeur, because I haven't yet noticed any.

The second act swans were heavenly!

Too bad about the jumpy camera work in (especially) Act II. I could have done with a lot fewer closeups and a lot more fidelity to the phrasing. I'd rather see a single, steady shot of the whole stage (during the waltzes) than half the ensemble, then the other half. I wondered if there's something about that theater that limited the camera placement.

On the other hand, using that theater and having Caroline Kennedy as host had a special meaning -- a reminder of a time when our nation's leaders thought the arts were a source of national pride and it was their enjoyable duty to support the them. Very nice touch there, but perhaps too subtle for those to whom the message may have been directed.

Now, for the principals.  . . .  I saw ZERO chemistry between them.

Good for you! I saw less!

Speaking of Angel, did anyone else think he looked kinda different?

The hair. :jawdrop:
[T]his staging plays BEAUTIFULLY on TV.

TV also changed the scale of the principals' performances. Angel, who comes across on stage as an enthusiastic performer, seemed dramatically heavy handed here; Gillian's reserved style was perfect for the small screen.
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Alexandra, I think I forgot how young Murphy is. I suspect you're right, that she is building towards a characterization. The planning, scaffolding, and framing are visible -- not (yet) the finished building. Should be very interesting to watch her progress.

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I can't add a darn thing. Agree that there was no chemistry and that

Corella did indeed look different; perhaps it's because he's usually such a pixie and it's hard to put him in a princely mode. But that Murphy!! I haven't seen much of her, especially in leading roles, and tho she's not an actress her dancing/technique more than made up for it. Simply yummy.

Giannina

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I agree with you Cabro and Alexandra with your points. I think it must be me: Angel didn't change his expression until Act 4. Maybe I imagined it. However he is a virtuoso's virtuoso! Okay, I'm spoiled. I didn't care for the cuts in the score or the abridged performance. I didn't care for the conductor's interpretation of the music either; for me he phoned it in from the podium, (please forgive me - memories of Victor Fedotov). Truly, a masterpiece played "by the numbers." However, the concert master was the cat's pyjamas - excellent! Now, I know that this was a T.V. performance. I must see the live version. I didn't care for the camera angles during Acts 2 & 4. I want to see the feet and the precision,

thank you very much. The scenery and concept was A+++. Stappas was excellent and he dies very well; he just needs to lay down on the stage in the back, not sit down on the steps of the ruins.

Greatest moments: The pas de trois - Reyes and the Cornejos were out of sight, the Cygnets, (whoa - for a minute there, I thought was watching the Maryinsky), and Gillian's Act 3 solo and tripled fouttees. Gillian is a heroic ballerina. I feel she is more convincing as Odile than Odette. She's still finding her Odette. Her Odile is alot more evolved than the other O right now. Gomes was wonderful! He really oozed sex in the Russian Dance. He was the ladies' man, upstaging the man of honor in his own castle. The four princesses completely forgot about Sieggie, and so did I :jawdrop: !

Not so great moments: I missed the polonaise in Act 1 - okay, so sue me! Act 1 was well done, but Siegfried's brooding with Benno and the courtesans, and the opening duo of Sieggie and Ben in Act 2 found me going to the kitchen to get a piece of pie. These segments reminded me of the Freudian Grigorovich version's transition to Act 2. I missed the stuffed swans gliding across the lake. Tiny scenery gripe: In Act 2 the castle waaay in the distance with the drawbridge light on needs to be taken out; with the huge harvest moon its just too busy.

Other not so great minutae moments: I missed Odile hitting the stage like a hand grenade, and I missed Siegfried running out into the night in despair. It's a new experience for me to see him get locked down in his own ballroom by VR. The character dances were a little stiff for me, but nonetheless well executed. The two guys from Italy were great! The Czardas needed more paprika. The Spaniards, had very little espanolada - this dance demands fire, and it begs for fans or castanets. I missed the opening of Act 4 and the dance of the swans (either McKenzie could have created one, or the Valse Bluette would have done). Logistics aside, its just too short for the dramatic flow.

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I hope everyone will feel the urge to post a response.  The idea of that is almost as exciting as the anticipation of the telecast itself.

Okay, I'll play.

I had mixed feelings about the overall production. In general, the costumes were gorgeous, but I felt they looked stiff and heavy for a ballet. I finally got to see the much discussed "Swamp Thing" and spent some time when he was onstage trying to figure out how he fit in with the Tudor-esque/Renaissance-ish set decor and costumes. I had to give up on this one, unless he's a demon or something with those horns.

The music seemed to be taken at the slowest pace possible and just about everybody looked like they were more interested in getting perfectly pointed feet and making no errors rather than just dancing full out. The corps de ballet was quite impressive in their synchronization. And their port de bras much better than I expected.

The principals did nothing for me. I had seen Corella before in a televised gala doing Don Quixote where he had much more charisma and dash, but here he seemed to be working too hard at it. Part of it may have been the choreography with the anguished, melancholy Prince with the adagio solos. (And couldn't the curtain scene with Siegfried and Benno between Act I and Act II been chopped instead of other bits for the telecast?)

I had expected Murphy to come across better than she did as Odile, since it is something that can be effective for a virtuoso who just does it with minimal acting. At one point I thought she was trying to model some of the adagio after Plisetskaya's but I couldn't really tell because the camera work cut out Siegfried's reactions.

The high point for me was Swamp Thing's alter-ego (Gomes) in Act III with the thigh-high boots, the audacity in his manner, and the dynamics of his phrasing of the steps. How many guys could get away with a held balance in arabesque or some pretty nifty turns ending in a dead stop on demi-pointe in attitude?

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Loved Gomes, though the costume seemed to emphasize rather than hide some of the more ungainly aspects of his build.
Are you maybe confusing von Rothbart at the lake (Isaac Stappas dressed somewhat as a swamp creature with bulging thighs) with von Rothbart at the ball? I think Marcelo looked gorgeous in his costume!

No confusion, Marga. I merely thought that Gomes' costume at the ball emphasized how long his torso is.

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