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Nat. Ballet of Canada at Kennedy Center

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National Ballet of Canada's Swan Lake opened at the Kennedy Center last night. There was an open rehearsal in the afternoon, which I attended.

Based on seeing the rehearsal, I think the production is really terrific. The soloists did a bit of marking, but otherwise the dancing was full out. The male corps has a great section in the first act. The female corps showed great unity. The costumes are amazing, especially the black swan tutus with deep purple trim and some of the elaborate headdresses.

There was no casting information provided, and I am lousy at matching faces seen from the balcony to faces shown in studio shots on company websites, so I have no idea who did the principal roles.

Were any other Alertniks there?

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National Ballet of Canada's Swan Lake opened at the Kennedy Center last night.  ?

Since I will not be able to see it due to the fact that I live in Holland, I would greatly appriciate it if you keep us informed especcialy concerning the main pricipals that are involved.

That way I can imagine a little how it looks like.

Swan lake is my all time favourite.


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There was a review in the Washington Post today by Sarah Kaufman, who didn't really think this production had enough drama. However, I nearly always disagree with Kaufman's reviews.

Two young ladies from my office (who, as far as I know, rarely go to the ballet) went last night and loved it, though one noted that she sometimes felt like there were long stretches without "amazing dancing". She also noted that one male dancer seemed to have landed badly and then ran (elegantly) into the wings, and wasn't sure whether that was an injury or a planned exit.

I will be going tonight.

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I'm sorry I won't be seeing this production, but one thing struck me as strange in Kaufman's review: A Bird of a Different Feather. This Swan Lake is "a man's world," she says, with men holding the spotlight. But

Purists, don't worry: The swans are still women (the homoeroticism doesn't go quite as far as in Matthew Bourne's fabulously alternative Broadway version, with its flocks of boy birds).

Bourne's version is obviously homoerotic, but while I haven't seen the production, to me nothing Kaufman goes on to say lends credence to that description for Kudelka's work. There is only the fact that Siegried's indecision leaves open the possibility that he's not attracted to women. But even that only gives us a fresh plausible perspective on the the leading male character. Is the choreography homoerotic, I wonder, or does the way the story is told just de-emphasize Odette's plight and play up the Prince's?

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Is the choreography homoerotic, I wonder, or does the way the story is told just de-emphasize Odette's plight and play up the Prince's?

With all of the marketing hype in the Ballet British Columbia brochure -- one performance NBoC's Swan Lake was part of each BBC subscription -- and the program notes, I expected a version of the ballet with an emphasis on Siegfried and his discontent with the corrupt court, etc. etc. I was astonished at how there wasn't much of a difference in the way Siegfried was portrayed, except perhaps the several excerpts where von Rothbart did a shadow dance behind him, which actually contradicted the program notes view by positing Siegfried as someone having a dark side, instead of the pure-hearted soul who was disgusted by corruption.

In the first act, Siegfried and his friends are partying at the local post-hunt lodge. There's a dance for the men with the local wench. I've read reviewers who thought this suggested a gang-rape scene, but in the performance of Act I that I saw, the wench seemed to be having fun being tossed around, and there was little that was threatening. This may depend on the peformance, but if a Point is supposed to be made here, it wasn't completely clear. The entire "Prince Upset By Corrupt Court" concept in Act I didn't really register, because his friends were dressed up in comparatively casual hunting clothes, albeit the equivalent of the $300 Goretex jacket kind, while Siegfried was dressed as if he'd make an entrance into the ballroom. Dramatically, it was as likely that he was annoyed by always having to act like The Prince and never being allowed to get his clothes dirty that caused his discontent.

The third act, though, was stocked with gender politics. Each of the four foreign princesses wears a headdress thing that creates a tented canapy over her face. The court men go up to each, peer into the "tent," and decide her worth after the little peep show. Each also had a patriarch "handler" type who mimed during her variation, trying to "sell" her to the Queen Mother. During much of this, the women in the court were segregated upstage, while the men in the court treated the entire "auction" as their turf.

I think the theme was "It's A Man's World," but I didn't really see how Siegfried's character was emphasized that much, except as a contrast to the average guy. That made it even more tragic in a way: it wasn't just a man with an unknown yearning empathizing with Odette, but also a sensitive, enlightened man who still couldn't get it right, despite his best intentions.

I saw two Siegfrieds who were quite contrasting: in the afternoon, Patrick Lavoie, who was quite weak dramatically and technically, performed the role. However, he was originally cast in another semi-major role in the evening performance, and didn't perform, which could have meant that he wasn't 100%, and I look forward to seeing him again in the future. In the evening I saw Guillaume Côté, and I was over the moon with his dancing and personification of the character, but, again, I didn't see anything intrinsically different in the role.

[Edited to add: this was based on the Vancouver performances from last fall.]

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I attended the performances on Tuesday the 17th and Wednesday the 18th. After reading posters’ impressions of James Kudelka’s Swan Lake from 2003 and this past fall, I wasn’t anticipating much and have to agree with the generally negative assessments of this production.

Knowing that I was going to see NBoC’s Swan Lake, I printed out an article by Paula Citron of the Globe and Mail from November. (It appears in Links on November 16, 2005; unfortunately, the article is no longer available.) Citron interviewed NBoC principal dancers and coaches to get their opinions about what this ballet is about because, according to the article, Kudelka rarely explains his ballets to his dancers. Theories ranged from homoeroticism (Siegfried and Benno have a mostly non-contact PDD in Act I, Odette/Odile as a diva worshipped by gay society), to a defense of nature (Rothbart is actually the good guy who is saving the earth from the corruption of humankind, and Siegfried as prince is the human leader), to a feminist critique of the abuse women receive (women certainly don’t fare well in this ballet). Several dancers speculated that elements of the ballet are autobiographical.

I can see parts of the ballet that support all of these theories, but it seems as if Kudelka was simply trying to be ambiguous and provacative. There is no focus to this ballet, either in the overall theme or in the story. All of the conflict is external and emotion tends to be flat. According to the program notes, Act I is supposed to suggest that Siegfried is trying to escape a world in which he’s not comfortable, rather than finding an ideal love. Odette is simply a swan. Act II takes place during daylight, and there is no suggestion either in the ballet or the program notes that she is a women trapped as a swan. Her emotion in Act II is limited to fear that Siegfried will kill her and then falling in love with him. There is no sadness or sense of the inevitable. It’s also unclear what Rothbart’s role is.

Some of the more “interesting” elements of the ballet – a Queen (with hideous headdress) coming down to the docks where Siegfried and the knights are having a post-hunt drinking party to tell Siegfried that he needs to get married; a wench, who seems to be thoroughly enjoying the party up until the end when ugliness (a gang rape?) is implied; the pas de trois danced by Benno, the fool (jester), and the wench; a “game” where the knights and the wench blindfold the tutor to tease him; in Act III, princesses who dance for Siegfried rather than with him (and dance for Siegfried themselves rather then bringing their countrymen to entertain the court); princesses with male handlers (“ambassadors”); princesses who dance in front of leering knights and then stand on pedestals for Siegfried to chose which one he will marry; lakeside swans who are white in Act II but black in Act IV with no explanation of the change (Siegfried’s betrayal? the flood at the end of Act III?). In this version, only Odette survives at the end of the ballet.

Kudelka’s choreography, which predominates in Acts I and IV, is repetitive and uninteresting. Act I is male dominated; the only women are the wench and the queen, who only appears long enough to tell Siegfried that he must marry. Lots of jumps and jetes, and the knights often had a hard time staying in sync, especially on Wednesday night. In Act IV, the black swans do a lot of posing, for lack of more innovative choreography. (For example, at one point, there are five swans on stage, all holding a different pose. It’s not attractive.) The choreography in Acts II and III is more after Petipa/Ivanov, although there are definite, unappealing changes.

Costumes are often weird and tacky. The swans and Siegfried fare well, but I thought the costumes for the fool, Rothbart, the queen and her attendants, and the knights in Act III were pretty awful. Someone aptly described Rothbart’s Act II costume as “hippie,” and the princess’ headdresses are these billowing capes in garish colors. Sets are sparse and unattractive. On both nights, a wayward mechanical swan had to be rescued from the edge of the scrim by a stagehand at the end of the prologue.

Although I knew that I was probably not going to like this production, I bought tickets for two performances in order to see Greta Hodgkinson/Aleksandar Antonijevic (Tuesday) and Heather Ogden/Guillaume Cote (Wednesday). Hodgkinson and Antonijevic were somewhat of a disappointment. They both have beautiful technique and line, but were a little flat emotionally (not that Kudelka gives them much to work with). I preferred the second cast of Ogden and Cote. Cote had to adjust a few of his landings, but otherwise had a solid, engaged performance, and I can see why he has moved through the ranks so quickly.

I know that people have mixed feelings about Ogden and that she is supposed to be very strong technically, but sometimes has trouble dramatically and projecting to the audience. I was fearing a performance similar to the performances of some of the more junior female principals at ABT (strong lower-body technique, weak acting, obviously coached). Maybe I’m being too generous, but I thought she acted and projected very well, at least from the back of the 1st Tier. Maybe she’s really been working on her artistry and has finally internalized the emotion of the ballet?

Other dancers who impressed me were Stephanie Hutchinson (wench), Patrick Lavoie (Benno), Tanya Howard (Spanish princess), and Jillian Vanstone (Italian princess).

I realize that the Kennedy Center and NBoC had announced this program long before Kudelka resigned as artistic director and Kain took over. (In other words, Kain was stuck with it.) Based on what I saw and the reviews I’ve read of the company’s New York “The Contract” performances, they might want to consider non-Kudelka programs for future international tours. I saw Kudelka’s Nutcracker in Toronto a couple of years ago and didn’t like it, and I’m already dreading seeing Kudelka’s Cinderella at ABT this spring. His choreography is weak and the ballets sensationalized. This production of Swan Lake reminded me of the current trend in opera to focus on the overall production (unique and provocative interpretations, unusual sets and costumes), to the detriment of the more substantive elements of the opera. The NBoC dancers deserve better opportunities to show what they can do while on tour, and I really wish they had brought one or both of the Balanchine programs that NBoC is doing in Toronto this winter instead of this.

One other note – I have been attending ballet at the Kennedy Center for several years now and have never seen such poor attendance. On Tuesday, the 1st Tier was about 2/3 full, and it was about half full Wednesday night. I couldn’t see the 2nd Tier either night, but it looked as if there were a lot of empty seats in the Orchestra on Tuesday. Most of the people around me, especially on Wednesday, seemed to have subscriptions. It doesn’t look as if they’re selling many single tickets for this production.

Koshka, I was also at the public rehearsal on Tuesday. The Odette/Odile was Ogden. I think Siegfried was Patrick Lavoie, but I’m not positive about that.

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I was there tonight (Thursday). THe principals were Aleksandar Antonijevic and Greta Hodgkinson. They were terrific. Hodgkinson was far more effective as Odile--she was deliciously evil and Siegfried fell for her much more so than for Odette.

When the corps is supposed to be doing something together, they are generally in sync and look terrific. I agree that the corps choreography with everyone doing something different just doesn't have any appeal.

As for the plot (do we really go to the ballet for the plot???), the first act is indeed weak. The whole wench role is weird, and one can't quite figure out if Siegfried is just alienated from life or is enjoying his life as a carefree bachelor. Plot problems aside, I quite enjoyed the men's dancing in the first act. I did not like the raggedy costumes for the fool and the fool's sidekicks (???)--I thought they really detracted from their dancing, which was very good.

In the second act, the baby swans were a bit tired looking but the corps work was otherwise lovely. As above, the chemistry wasn't quite there.

In the third act, I rather liked the princess costumes with the tent/cape headpiece things, and the handlers didn't seem so out of place. The leopard trim on the aqua handler's coat was something else. As above, both principals really seemed to come to life in the black swan parts--Odile is a delectably evil bad girl, and Siegfried falls for her quite convincingly.

In the final act, the black swans didn't cause me much consternation--after all, they are female and they've had an hour or so--why wouldn't they change outfits?

The black tutus are trimmed in purple and are gorgeous.

Rothbart has some dreadful costumes throughout--something raggedy early on, then black (ok) with faux torso muscles (eeeeuw) at the end.

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Thanks, LAC and koshka, for your very helpful observations. I wonder why the parse attendance. Can it be that Swan Lake has - for a while -- been overdone in Washington?

And, LAC, welcome to Ballet Talk. I hope that you will introduce yourself on the Welcome portion of the Board, and that you'll continue to help keep us aware of and informed about the increasingly interesting ballet scene in Washington DC.

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About attendance: I sit in the front row and didn't take a very close look, but attendance on Thursday did not seem overly weak. It's true that Nut sold out, but I found it quite easy to pick up an extra front row ticket for NYCB's Saturday matinee performance in March. So it's hard to say.

I will try to take a better look on Sunday.

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It's been great to read everyone's reports! Personally, I am not a fan of Kudelka's production and I think it's a shame, as LAC mentioned, that this is what the company is taking on tour. For the past few years, the NBoC has performed Kudelka's work almost exclusively when on tour (The Contract; The Firebird; there, below; Chacony; etc.). Kudelka was quite vocal about moulding the company in his image. He wanted *his* choreography to be the star of the company, rather than any particular dancer(s). Hopefully, with Kain's directorship the NBoC will move towards a more balanced repertoire.

I guess you could say I was against this production from the start. Kudelka should just keep his hands off the classics! Furthermore, the $1.7 million price tag put the company into debt and was one of the major sources of disagreement that led to the Kimberly Glasco fiasco. On the other hand, the Bruhn version that the company had been performing earlier had its own flaws too. The design looked dated and some of the choroegraphy was lacking. Bruhn also expanded the psychological depths of price's role; some argue that his interpretation of the prince is quite Freudian. Nevertheless, Kudelka's Swan Lake is hardly an improvement and it certainly wasn't worth the money. Nureyev's Sleeping Beauty also put the company into a huge debt. It was a big risk, but it paid off when they brought it on tour. Nureyev knew that they needed to go 'all out' for this production.

But Kudelka's Swan Lake is more 'out there' than 'all out'! Are those mechanical swans in the prologue even necessary? What do they add to the ballet? Don't even get me started on Rothbart's costumes. How are we to make sense of it? He goes from a sort of 'dark angel', naked with gigantic wings to 'hippie/sewer man' in that green unitard and headband to some kind of Batman wannabe in a black muscle suit. I agree with LAC here. Kudelka doesn't seem to be trying to send a message. He just presents an ambiguous and unclear message and hopes that people will label him as a post-modern genius.

I feel that he has stripped the ballet of it's original beauty and dignity. The Act I waltz calls for an elegant couples dance. Instead we get a male petit allegro exercise. The black swan pdd becomes a menage a trois between the prince, Odile and Rothbart- not to mention Rothbart's pervasive presence in Act II.

I agree with Helene that the prince's role isn't actually emphasized that much. He is on stage a lot, but mostly standing around, looking mopey. He seems to dance a lot more with Benno than with anyone, but I doubt this was meant as some homoerotic suggestion. I certainly don't appreciate the treatment of women in the production, however. The women fall into two categories: evil and domineering (like the Queen) or weak and dependent objects (the princesses, the wench).

Ogden has been performing Odette/Odile for a few years now and has grown into the role considerably. I noticed a big difference from the Fall 2005 performances and the last run before that.

For LAC, Kudelka's Cinderella is actually quite a departure from his previous work. I think you might be surprised. I myself really enjoyed it. It's comical, witty, original and touching. His adaptations of the classics (Nutcracker, Swan Lake) are not a great indicator of his choreographic skill that's for sure.

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Thanks, Bart, I will introduce myself, although there isn't much to say!

I have to say that I was pretty surprised about the attendence. ABT's Nutcracker (which I also didn't like -- things better pick up!) did very well at the box office. From mid December to mid January, the musical "Wicked" played in the KC Opera House and was completely sold out. I know January is a tough sell for more casual audience members, and maybe people are still in post-holiday letdown mode. But, Swan Lake is usually a guaranteed box office hit. I'm sure things will pick up this weekend. The public rehearsal sold very well, by the way.

I feel bad for being so negative about the production, but I just really feel for the dancers. They deserve a better showcase for their talent, especially on tour. I saw some very good performances from the dancers, which made it bearable.

Paquita, I know that NBoC usually announces their new season in late January or early February, and I'll be very curious to see how much Kudelka is programmed. I suspect that Kain will get things back on track, especially with the move to the new opera house.

I'm glad to hear that Kudelka's Cinderella is better, and I'll definitely watch it with an open mind. I'll be travelling to New York from the Washington area to see it, and I want to be pleasantly surprised!

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I was wondering about what people think of Kudelka's revision of the standard choreography.

Editing to change the emphasis of the story, even the locale or time period, as well as changes in decor, etc., seem quite acceptable in principle, even if you don't like the results. But I have more trouble with extensive and systematic changes to the received choreography.

This review by Jean Beatty Lewis, posted in full in today's LINKS, suggests that this is what Kudelka has done in his version. Does this concur with what you all have seen? What's your take on this issuse?



"The choreographer's tinkering ignores the great emotive swell of the music and gives us something drier and darker. His arsenal of dance steps seems limited. There are lots of simple leaps and an overabundance of landings in arabesque. His way with group patterns -- so vital in a work in which we have come to expect a glorious sweep of swans in the second act -- is busy but not enthralling. Some choreographers (Paul Taylor's "Esplanade," Christopher Wheeldon's own "Swan Lake" and Mark Morris' "L'Allegro" come to mind) have made us realize that beautiful patterns onstage can create a moral force of their own.

"At times, Mr. Kudelka's simple, athletic choreography brings new energy to the ballet, but mostly his approach is timid: beginning a sequence in the traditional way and then adding lesser choreography of his own that doesn't stand up to the original.

"One example among many is his treatment of the well-known dance for the Four Little Swans. Usually their quick, prancing steps, performed with amusing unity, continue unbroken through much of the dance. In Mr. Kudelka's version, these are interspersed with bourres, little fluttering steps on pointe, that let the dancers catch their breath -- easier to do but less exciting to watch. He also rides roughshod over the great sequence of pas de deux in what traditionally is the work's second act."


The Link to the complete review is


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I find Kudelka's revision of the white acts irritating and unnecessary. Lewis points out a good example with the baby swans. One thing that bothered me was that he modified some of the port de bras so that the swans arms are not held alonge but rather curled over the head, cutting the line short (sort of like in Mathew Bourne's version). See Heather Ogden in the background of this picture.

Act II

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There were a couple of things that I did like about the "handlers," although they did occasionally distract from the divertissements. In the standard version, there are unaccompanied princesses. Either they are generic, when the divertissements are entertaining tributes to the prince sent from foreign lands, or they are foreign princesses leading their own contingent. von Rothbart makes an appearance with Odile. He's always a striking figure who often chats up the Queen, sitting next to her or across the stage in a similarly prominent position. But he's an unusual contrast to the protocol.

In Kudelka's production, each one of the princesses has her chaperone, and each has his own personality and relationship to the princess. That relationship plays into the way the princess plays to the court, and how much she is interested or appearing against her own will, and what their strategy is for winning. ("Don't touch until you've paid" vs. "Get a good look.") If I'm remembering correctly, in the Russian dance, the princess is distant and proud, and her handler is very protective of her, in a patriarchal sort of way.

In my opinion, what this does is two-fold: it puts von Rothbart in the same context, which makes dramatic sense, and it is a set-up for the emotional range that Odile acts out to capture Siegfried.

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I am astonished that the Company is marketing this ballet as traditional. In Canada, the hype was that it was a story about Siegfried, who rejected the corrupt court. The marketing approach wasn't quite as personal as Peter Sellars' synopsis of Tristan und Isolde in the Opera Bastille program ("Act 1: Two damaged, angry, desperate, and hurt human beings are on a long trip in the same boat. Neither expects to survive the journey. For Isolde, suicidal despair takes the form of violent, destructive moods swings, bitter sarcasm, uncontrollable weeping and the need to talk everything out. For Tristan, it is the scarred, painful silence of emotional blockage and denial...), but when I saw this Swan Lake, I had to scratch my head, because Siegfried was played well within the dramatic tradition, especially if Nureyev's and others' attempts to expand Siegfried's role are counted.

I guess the gang-rape was so tasteful, I missed it. I must have been looking upstage.

I had forgotten one detail: when Siegfried is about to be forced to choose, all four princesses are lined up in a row, on their stools. Siegfried pushes one of them off -- I can't remember who is at the downstage right end -- and as she and her handler leave the stage in a huff, he replaces her with Odile. I guess this act of rudeness signifies his complicity with corruption.

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At Friday night's performance, the principals were Heather Ogden and Nehemiah Kish as Seigfried. Ogden danced exceedingly well, with liquid arms, but she frowned the whole way through even when she was supposed to be falling in love.

The corps was ill-served by the choreography. A lot of times especially in the first scene, it first seemed that they were drastically out of sync, but gradually we realized that it was unevenness in the choreography that made it look that way. Actually the dancing throughout was fine.

During the court scene, Siegfried left the stage during most of the second and third divertissements - or perhaps it was the third and fourth ? - so the ladies were performing to an empty chair. (Stool, actually.) Since no other posters have mentioned this, I suppose it must have been some technical or shoe-type problem on that evening.

I for one liked the scenery of the lakeside reeds and rushes and hay bales. It looked like the southern end of Lake Winnipeg and fostered an interpretation of Rothbart as protector of nature.

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A Swan Lake in which Siegfried shows no interest in Odette/Odile, little interest in anyone else, and seemingly not a great deal of interest in dancing is a curious one indeed. It has no core, no heart, no soul. There is no reason for the ballerina to be working so hard. We're still mulling over the Saturday matinee performance in which the most heartfelt applause of the afternoon went to the Italian princess for coping with aplomb when one of her shoes came completely untied. (Yes, this was a show of support for a dancer in a dangerous situation, but it didn't in itself preclude more enthusiastic applause for the principals' pas de deux or pas de trois.)

There were moments to enjoy in this production, but they didn't come in the expected places. Nan Wang's Benno was nobler of line and bearing than Patrick Lavoie's Siegfried. Tanya Howard was a fine wench. Still, the queen picked her imperious way down to the dock not a moment too soon. By all means send the lad on his way! High time!

After a first act of three-by-three-by-three repetitive dancing by the prince's ostensible pals, the differentiated choreography for the princesses was welcome. Their handlers/hucksters/ambassadors also took individual approaches to their task, and the members of the court reacted differently to the succession of princesses. For example, whispering and knowing smiles greeted the Spanish princess. (Julie Hay brought an un-Iberian porcelain prettiness reminiscent of Moira Shearer to the role but danced with appropriate spirit.) As soon as she finished, the male members of the court promptly sat down again.

A small but pleasant touch was the drifting movement of some subgroups of black swans, which was subtly avian. Still, most of the Kudelka interpolations--the skip added to the swans' entrance, the bourrees added to the cygnets' dance--hardly seemed improvements.

It would be very interesting to know how Kudelka explained this production to the dancers, how they feel about it, and how Karen Kain feels about it. She will surely be very good for the company. I look forward to seeing the National Ballet of Canada again in a different program. (Another opportunity to see Suzanne Farrell's production of the Balanchine Don Quixote would be particularly welcome!)

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It would be very interesting to know how Kudelka explained this production to the dancers, how they feel about it, and how Karen Kain feels about it.

Just what I was thinking. In the face of this overwhelming and convincing criticism, is there no one to defend Kudelka's vision and this production? Or at least to explain what so many people must have seen in it to allow it to be (a) funded, (b) produced, and © sent abroad as ane example of the best NBofC can do. :)

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I guess the gang-rape was so tasteful, I missed it.  I must have been looking upstage.

It actually WAS upstage; I made a braino in the review and that ghastly editor didn't catch it :) Also, Kudelka's one-act ballet mentioned in passing is "The Contract" not "The Contract." (both errors have been corrected in the review now on line.)

The quotes from Canadian reviews are all very positive -- "triumphant production!," that kind of thing, bart.

There's another review on DanceView Tiimes, by George Jackson, called:


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is there no one to defend Kudelka's vision and this production?  Or at least to explain what so many people must have seen in it to allow it to be (a) funded, (b) produced, and © sent abroad as ane example of the best NBofC can do.  :huh:

There's not one person here in Canada among my dance friends and acquaintances who has anything good to say about it. The reactions have ranged from mere dislike to disbelief (as in, "what has he done to our SL???") to disgust.

It has generally been considered a man's Swan Lake as well as James Kudelka's personal statement (whatever that may be -- lots of juicy gossip has passed through balletgoers' lips).

Perhaps Kudelka was given carte blanche when the revision was funded, based on his status. I don't think he had to show anyone anything in advance, and the powers-that-be who fund the NBoC may not have had enough ballet knowledge to protest. As for it being sent abroad, all I have to say is that serious Canadian balletomanes are embarrassed that this production has been taken on tour. Who's big idea was this? :)

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