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BBC Tchaikovsky experience January 2007

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The Mariinsky's Swan Lake

Odette/Odile: Uliana Lopatkina

Siegfried: Danila Korsuntsev

Rothbart: Ilya Kuznetsov

Conductor: Valery Gergiev (!)

This was a presentation of ‘extended highlights’ of the Mariinsky's Swan Lake, presented by Darcey Bussell (who is fast replacing Deborah Bull as the BBC’s resident ballet anchorman) who acted as narrator in between ‘highlights’.

The Production

Minuses: Happy ending!!! Ugh, ugh. And a Joker, who, though danced well by Andrei Ivanov, was extremely irritating. I had never seen the part which I think was the Valse Bluette in the last act: for me, it’s a nice idea but it really stuck out, the music not fitting in with the ballet at all IMO.

Pluses: Pretty décor. No narrative jiggery-pokery, just straightforward dancing and storytelling. This must be the best Swan Lake around for broadcast, since it is quite conventional (no Swamp Monsters). Hooray!

The Performance

Ambivalent about Lopatkina.

Minuses: Her Odette was a little too remote: she relied a little too much on lowered eyes and a furrowed brow, which created a character but was not emotionally involving. Also, I don't mean to be crude but her extreme thinness was really quite distracting sometimes, though her arms are wonderfully graceful. Finally, I prefer the Black Swan pd2 as a pd2, not a pd3. I always feel like swatting Rothbart at this point, to get rid of him.

Pluses: In Act II, her dancing was very beautiful: really going through demi-pointe coming off pointe really makes a difference, giving a creamy legato quality. I had never noticed this quite so much before. The Act II Adagio was seriously Adagio. (Not quite sure how it ranks against Makarova's speed but must be quite close.) And she did pull it off! Also, her Odile wasn't evil-evil-evil all the time: she was actually quite likeable for a change! And strongly danced, of course. Her Odette and Odile were clearly differentiated, and she didn’t try to over-complicate things dramatically.

As has been said, either you get Lopatkina or you don't, and I'm tending towards not getting her atm, though I can see why she is so admired.

Korsuntsev: The Prince in this production is a bit of a dope. He has to look happy through Acts I and III, and pained/romantic in Acts II and IV. Or at least, that is how the BBC decided to cut the ballet. Perhaps they reduced the amount of Prince-acting that reached the screen. So Korsuntsev did what was required, and his dancing was OK if a little clunky.

Kuznetsov: Poor Rothbart, he has such an embarrassing death: to be honest I’d rather Odette and Siegfried died so he could just fall down dead instead of having his (rather small) wings being ripped off. Rothbart had many energetic leaps to do, but an unfortunate comedic element was introduced because he was always leaping around in the background behind Odette/Siegfried, framed between them, and they didn't seem to be taking much notice of him! But Kuznetsov has a lot of charisma, and was a great evil presence.

The rest of it

The Mariinsky really produced an all-star cast for this performance, and it was interesting to see dancers who are promoted on tours (Obraztsova, Somova) doing corps/coryphée roles. Therefore we had Ekaterina Osmolkina, Irina Golub and Anton Korsakov in the pas de trois. Surprisingly, not very striking: Golub was quite neutral, Korsuntsev looked a bit bored to be honest. Only Osmolkina was lively and lovely. Obraztsova was amongst the cygnets; Osmolkina, Somova, Tkachenko and Tereshkina were the big swans. Quite a line-up!

Gergiev's tempos seemed quite reasonable, and considerate of the dancers esp. when ending variations, which sometimes broke the flow of the music but mainly gave a refreshing together-ness of dancers and orchestra. The camerawork was interesting, with quite a few stage-level shots right up amongst the dancers. And it was rarely disruptive or awkward, with (as far as I can remember) few partials ! :)

Biggest disappointment: cuts were quite extensive, missing chunks out of all acts, with a final running time of only 90 minutes. Unfortunately they left in the Neapolitan Dance which was frankly leaden.

What with all the hyperbole surrounding Lopatkina and the Mariinsky Swan Lake (considered by some as ‘the ultimate’) I was perhaps unfairly expecting something incredibly – incredible. Of course, magic would have been lost in the transfer from stage to screen, and the cuts didn’t help. As it is, it was very enjoyable but seemed slightly underwhelming from such a top-flight company.

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I saw the telecast. It starts with Darcey Bussell teaching some girls some moves in Swan Lake. Cute, but a bit contrived. Also some brief but fascinating B&W footage of Margot Fonteyn as Odette from the early 1950s. Interviews with Gergiev, and then some clips (again, seem a bit contrived) of Makhar Vaziev drilling the Kirov corps. Interview with him saying how hard it is to keep a corps de ballet together. Then there's 30 minutes of a masterclass with Dowell and Sibley. But anyway the 'extras' took up an hour's worth of screentime, when presumably they COULD have telecast the entire ballet.

Also ... if Vaziev wanted to showcast the MT corps, this was not the right telecast, because almost all of the corps de ballet parts are cut! Here are the cuts (that I counted):

1. The Act 1 waltz.

2. Dance of the Swans

3. (most unforgivable) -- the lovely harp introduction to the White Swan pdd where the frightened Odette finally folds up her "wings" on the stage. We cut right to the beginning of the White pdd. Grrr x 10!

4. (also unforgivable) the coda to the White Swan act, with the four swans hopping across the stage, etc. We don't even get Odette's solo for that! Instead we cut right away to Odette's transformation back into a swan.

5. a whole bunch of Act 3 divertissements.

6. the mournful dance of the swans in Act 4.

It reminds me of the bad old days when filmmakers thought audiences couldn't "handle" complete ballets and instead made drastic cuts. But I thought they'd at least keep the sacred Act2 intact. But I guess not.

About Lopatkina? She certainly is the Swan Queen. Most regal Odette I've ever seen. Her long arms are boneless and beautiful, her mile-long legs make Svetlana Zakharova look stubby. But Lopatkina's performance is not only glacial, it is marblelized. She does not really dance, she poses. A bunch of admittedly beautiful poses, but the White Swan pdd is taken at a pace so slow Makarova would check her watch. Even in variations she seems more interested in posing than actually dancing. She even avoids most jumps (injury?), but somehow it seemed appropriate. Statues do not jump. Some people find it divine, I found it beautiful but incredibly remote.

Surprisingly I found her Odile more appealing. She uses her almost freakishly long limbs for good effect -- she's sinewy, silken, and undeniably sinister, much less interested in posing. Her somewhat hard chin becomes more prominent -- her Odile is tough as nails. Her fouettes are clean as a whistle, and she throws a bunch of doubles in there too. A nice bravura performance.

This is a very "strong" review but I felt like another great opportunity was lost. Despite my reservations about Lopatkina I thought this could have been *the* Swan Lake performance. But the cuts are unforgivable. I wonder if the whole performance will ever be seen. I check Dana Sanderson's website and it says that only "highlights" will be on dvd. Grrrrrrrrrrrr. :angel_not:

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...Lopatkina's performance is not only glacial, it is marblelized. ...

Which is precisely what I have notice in Lopatkina's performance of this role since her return from extended maternity & injury leaves. The beautiful robot -- almost a parody of herself. Just because she's a National Treasure doesn't mean that she must dance like a monument!

It's almost the same thing with her Nikiya in Bayadere, especially in the 'Shades' scene.

Fortunately, she still dances most other roles in a less calculating manner. I am sure that her recent return to old roles -- such as Giselle and Raymonda -- show her in much fresher and spontaneous light simply because she hasn't had the time to think & rethink the angle of every finger in relation to every note of the music.

About your review, canbelto:

This is very sad news for serious ballet collectors, who would love to have a film of the complete Kirov Swan Lake with the present generation, including the full corps. A waste, indeed, from our point of view. Alas, I'm afraid that this entire BBC-1 enterprise was intended for 'family viewing' and mostly newcomers to the ballet, rather than we the 'experts.' Not to sound snooty but I believe that such was the intention of the producers.

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Good news is at least the other telecast (the Sleeping Beauty) is complete. But a complete Kirov Swan Lake with their prima ballerina would have been a treasure, despite my reservations about Lopatkina. Maybe a Russian channel will telecast the whole performance? Was the whole performance even filmed? :angel_not:

What a letdown. The other upside is that the POB is releasing *their* version of Swan Lake with Letetsu and Martinez.

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Johan Kobborg talked about the telecast on his website, and indicated that it was a complete performance, much like the Giselle. Originally he was slated to dance the Prince but he's had a rather bad foot injury and Frederico Bonelli took his place.

I saw the new/old SB in D.C. but not with Cojocaru. I saw Nunez who was wonderful.

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The masterclasses (and some other programs) are now viewable at the BBC web site. See


Well worth seeing. Watching Monica Mason run three different Carabosses through a scene was quite instructive, seeing how she developed individuality in each of them.

Dowell and Sibley take Pennefather and Cutherbertson through some of Swan Lake act 2 (they make their debuts in May).

Dowell coaches Acosta in the prince's Act 2 solo in beauty (lovely snippet of archive film of him in the role).

Peter Wright is the coach for the Nucracker.

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