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Mariinsky Swan Lake at Costa Mesa

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Last night's performance of Swan Lake by the Mariinsky Ballet at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa was decidedly one of the most unexpectedly odd I have experienced. Setting aside my standard complaint about usage of the "happy ending" version, which, for this work, I

A) Despise;

B) Abhor; and

C) Abominate,

my general remark is this: The members of the company--other than the impeccable, as ever, corps--seemed largely distracted and wrapped up in their own thoughts such that I wondered if something had happened backstage or back home to take their minds off of their performances, or, perhaps more accurately, off of integrating their own performances with those of the others onstage. They frequently gave the impression of being out of sync with each other and indeed with the music; and even the orchestra sounded harsh and unintegral, as if the members were each trying to be heard over the others. The difference between the tempi for Siegfried and those for Odette was unpleasantly prominent. Considering the reputation of the company, and my past experiences with it, this all was so odd that I thought I myself must be "off" or in the wrong mood; but then I noticed others around me giving quizzical looks and making remarks during the intermissions.

This is not to say for a moment that the dancing was in the least bad; and our Jester, Ilya Petrov, gave a focused, spirited, and freshly playfully humorous performance, interactive and aware, deepened by genuine-feeling moments of insight and poignant affection for his master. His is the performance which will remain for me the keepsake of the evening. Our Odette/Odile was intense and crisp, splendidly so in her Odile; her Odette came across to me as somewhat cold, bordering on something of a Myrtha . . . which made another feature of this performance more chilling than intended. Our Siegfried, Vladimir Schklyarov--and more about him later--has a very boyish appearance, which in fact sorts well with the character's part in the tale. Meantime, our Odette, whatever her chronological age, projected a maturity which, in this case, made me a little uncomfortable: There was an (unintended) air of an innocent being taken advantage of. Schklyarov should be paired with a Swan Queen who projects more naiveté and vulnerability. Schklyarov's dancing was strong, exact, and soaring, his terminations crisp; but his tempi were by far the slowest I've heard for the role, and the impression left was that he was being, while beautifully skilled, too cautious. That said, his acting, his emoting in the role, had an affecting depth and sincerity, perhaps the best I've seen in a Siegfried.

Our Rothbart, Alexander Romanchikov, was strong and faultlessly splendid. The national dances were delivered with brio which came close to dispelling the strange listless atmosphere which hung over the rest of the performance. As mentioned, the corps was impeccable, wonderfully so.

All in all, a performance which left me with uncomfortable and ambiguous feelings...

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The Mariinsky is getting raves. Skorik (woman) and Schklyarov danced Tues. and were praised in the LATimes. I saw them Sat. night and I half-way agree. Laura Bleiberg of the Times said Skorik had "exceptionally pointed feet". Well, maybe pointed but I hardly saw one arched foot all night long. I think it's their shoes; you can't have that degree of training without arches. And the women were very noisy. Again, the shoes, right? I found Act I one of the most boring I have ever seen. Act II made up for it. Skorik is Very thin; this seems to make her hands and feet look quite large. And then there's the missing arches issue. But Act II worked; it was glorious. The lighting was perfect, making the white swans stand out against the blue background of the lake and sky. Skorik got hung up on her final foot-fluttering move of the pas de deux and leaned heavily on her partner but I doubt very many saw it; still it was jarring after the beautiful pas de deux. Act III belonged to Schklyarov. Great soaring technique without being annoyingly hammy. Act IV, which I've been known to skip, was short and lovely. The corp ... ah,the corp. They were a perfect frame for the dancers, and a mirror or each other. Rothbart's "bird" costume was over the top but I liked it; however his make-up made him look like the character Death from The Green Table. The orchestra was wonderful. The audience was not; they applauded everything including the recorded message at the beginning of the performance telling patrons not to take photos, etc. I kid you not.

I'm going again Saturday.


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however his make-up made him look like the character Death from The Green Table.

I wonder why the Mariinsky makes Rothbart looks so monstrous in the Black Swan act. In the older Makhalina Swan Lake (commercially released) he is not made up like a monster in the face. In that video he looks like a normal man, so you understand why Prince Siegfried's mother has him sit next to her. He and his "daughter" are her guests. But if anyone walked into a palace looking like the monster the Mariinsky now makes of Rothbart I think Siegfried's mother would make them leave. At some point they decided to make him look very over the top monstrous, even though the sets and costumes look the same. Rothbart is simply more like a monster nowadays. Maybe due to ABT's version (competing with the monster in that version?)......

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I see that in composing and recomposing my comment, I accidentally edited out my mention of our Odette/Odile's name: Oxana Skorik.

I read the review in the Los Angeles Times, was excited about what it seemed to forebode, and was disappointed in the outcome. I think my hopes began to disintegrate during the first act pas de trois; the "friends of the Prince," while proficient, seemed to me to be just going through the motions. The excellent speaker at the preview spoke of that moment before the curtain goes up when the people on both sides of the curtain are anticipating the give and take of meeting each other's needs during the performance. I largely did not feel that connect at this performance; for the most part, I felt the sterile feeling of watching a ballet on TV. I agree that Act IV, the first half of which always just feels like "filler" to me and so I usually get fidgety, was quite good in this production. And I agree about the wonderful lighting, very subtle and dramatic with Rothbart in particular. The very traditional sets were beautiful, and suitable through not being ostentatious and calling attention to themselves (and away from the dancers). I particularly liked the way in which the vision of Odette was handled; in other productions, it often doesn't work as well as it did here.

Romanchikov (Rothbart) had a most curious look on his face during the applause at the end, as if he were at a loss to explain why the audience was applauding. Orange County audiences tend to be clap-happy, which actually I find rather endearing. They're there to enjoy themselves, come what may, and I think feel that, if everyone claps hard enough, it makes a good time come true. But my own applause, usually enthusiastic, was pretty moderate this time, for the various reasons already mentioned. I'm glad if the show succeeded elsewhere in the audience; but in my "neighborhood," it didn't go over at all. The couple to my right was very chary with its applause, more so than I. The couple to my left was complaining (without prompting from me!) about the same air of disengaged listlessness I had observed. The couple in front of me left after Act III. At the end of the show, the look on Romanchikov's face echoed my own.

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I went to the Sun. matinee. My degree of enjoyment was the same as Sat. night but there were differences. Kolegova gave a more controlled performance in the white pas de deux, which is my preference, buuuuut she looks at the floor while dancing. Even while vamping Sigfried she was floor fixated. I felt that Schklyarov out-danced Askerov but both were weak in partnering their ballerina in supported pirouettes, the latter more than the former.

The audience didn't applaud the opening recorded announcement. That's about all they didn't applaud.


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I went on Friday night (missed 1st Act), then both Saturdays and Sunday (last one to primarily enjoy the PERFECTLY executed formations (lines, arches, "flowers" ect) by the corp from the elevation of 3rd tier). The highest praise (from me) goes to Corps, so synchronized, so graceful, such "swanly" backs and arms WINGS). Different to many, i like the happy ending Soviet version, and i don't find the Act IV as a filler, it has great dancing (imho). I also like the "russian" Act 1, filled with lots of wonderfully executed group dancing, compared to ABT version. I liked Kondaurova, Kolegova & Korzuntsev, Schklyarov, and was curious about Skorik and Askerov (whom i saw at Stage door - they both are equally very tall). To comment on the loud landings - the dancers told me the floor was way too hard and covering way too slippery. What i told my NYC friends at intermissions - Skorik has a terrific body (may be TOO thin). But as my "first-time-ever-to-see-a-ballet" friend commented- she didn't see a swan or a bird - she saw a thin overflexible dancer. Some lifts and steps were skipped, bourree was not present, and I would not blame lack of lift on just Shklyarov, as even Rothbald had difficulty lifting or holding her up. And in black act, if she was seducing anyone it was ironically-Rothbald. She rarely looked at her prince. Kudos would go to Shklyarov for super difficult combinations in his solos (Askerov skipped them). I can't point my most favorite prince on this tour, as i liked Shklyarov technic, but Korzuntsev is the VERY noble prince (and solid technic and great partnering skills). Ivanchenko was not as passionate i remember him in Saint Petersburg this April. Kolegova was a solid (not mind blowing) but a good O/O. I loved Jesters (I missed the missteps of the Jester on Friday). Next-(not liked Ratmansky) Cinderela in DC

PS: I was glad to hear the Mariinsky Orchestra

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I am a bit late in contributing to this page regarding the Mariinsky's Swan Lake ballet in Costa Mesa but I wanted to share my joyous experience having attended 3 of the performances. It is October 19th and the performances continue to (quite literally) fill my dreams at night. I wake some mornings feeling wonderfully refreshed yet wishing they lived here instead of St Petersburg so that I could attend all year long! As a working artist and art teacher I make sure to "stop and smell the roses" as the saying goes...its a matter of wellness. The truth and beauty present in the Mariininsky ballets signature offering, Swan Lake remains for me the quintessential art experience where for a time all else faded away and I became as a child, completely imersed in the moment ,free of thought, rich in sensuality ,unified as a person. In praise of heavenly bodies , artful movement and bountiful grace I express here my gratitude to the dancers and their love for the dance and for the blessing they bestowed upon me.

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Thank you for the lovely, heartfelt post, Bungalow Kev! May you have many more nights full of dreams and, better yet, a voyage of balletic discovery throughout your life. What a company and what a ballet with which to commence the joyful voyage!

Welcome aboard!

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Thank you Natalia! All well wishes to you too. From where do you hail? With so many posts and being a foreign correspondent I am wondering if you live closer to The Mariinsky than I do?

I lived in StP for several years when working for a US agency. I'm from Puerto Rico (USA), married to a Russian, and now living in Peru. When not overseas, I live in Washington, DC. Cheers and, once again, welcome!

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Lopatkina's birthday was on Oct 23rd. youo might be right about the number - and I wish her LONG LONG dancing years, happiness, success and all she wishes for ;-)) Having had a chance to interact with her in person, i owe her personality (not to mentione her performance, skill, dedication, purity, depth and breadth of what goes into her being on stage)

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...Wondering if you might know if Ulyana Lopatkina of Mariinsky is still dancing or if she is now planning to retire?I think she is age 39. I hope to see her !

Best Wishes!

I don't think the Mariinsky has a forced retirement age (like the Paris Opera Ballet). And they seem inclined to keep popular dancers about, even if they probably need to step aside and give the young ones a chance. The Mariinsky used to be a strict hierarchy but in recent years there have been some odd promotions (some dancers moving up before their time, or later than seemed fair). I think Lopatkina will continue to dance for a few more years. Then she most likely will be hired into the administrative level of the company or Vaganova School, perhaps Ballet Mistress...

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The number of viewings of this thread has made me think that perhaps some readers would be interested in my expanding on some of the remarks I made in my initial posting:

1. Why do we attend a story ballet? Each of us will likely have a different answer. Many, noting that members of the audience are rarely in doubt as to the outcome of the tale, essentially attend ballet as a sort of dance exhibition in fancy dress; neither the story nor the theme hold much interest to these folks, except inasmuch as they give the dancers varying opportunities to show their stuff. Others such as myself, while giving equal value to the dancing per se, cling to the notion that a story ballet is drama presented through dance, and so ponder the story well on that basis, and meditate upon the abstract theme just as they would with a play, a poem, a novel, a statue, a painting, and so on. We enter the ethos of a piece of Art, consider the conditions and realities of its circumscribed world, and then, with that newly-gained perspective, look upon our own world with new eyes, drawing new conclusions (or not being able to draw them, as the case may be!). I feel that the “happy ending” version of Swan Lake completely undercuts the thematic value of the presentation. Essentially, we are led as the story develops to believe that vows and the conditions and outcomes of vows are immutable absolutes. The story indeed falls apart midway if we and the characters do not believe that. What are the vows and conditions of concern? I quote from Wikipedia’s pleasantly to-the-point description: Odette explains “that Rothbart's death will only make the spell [girls into swans] permanent […]. […] Siegfried vows to love Odette for eternity, promising to save her from Rothbart's evil enchantment. He invites her to attend the Ball at his castle and promises to choose her as his bride. Odette agrees, but warns him that if his vow to her is broken, she will remain a swan forever.” And so, in due course, we come to the grand conclusion, and find that . . . ha ha!, fooled you: Odette was wrong about what would happen in the case of Rothbart’s death, and vows, and the breaking of vows, don’t really matter at all in life if one is good at fisticuffs and can tear a wing off of an adversary. Very enlightening. We, with Rothbart, thus learn that the secret to worldly success is dedication to upper body work at the gym.

Now, turn we to the “sad” ending (which really isn’t sad at all, just sobering). Siegfried broke his vow. Yes, he was tricked into it, but life often tricks us, and still we have to bear the consequences, gym work or not. Again, we are beholden to Wikipedia for a clear-eyed précis: “Odette returns to the lake in despair over Siegfried's betrayal. He follows her, finds her amongst her companions and begs her to forgive him, swearing that he loves her only. She forgives him, but explains that she is now under Rothbart's spell forever and the only way she can escape the enchantment is if she dies. Rothbart appears to part the lovers and reminds Siegfried of his vow to Odile. Siegfried declares he would rather die with Odette than marry Odile and a fight ensues as Rothbart tries to take Odette away. Unable to live without her Prince, Odette throws herself into the lake and Siegfried follows her. In the climax of their sacrifice, Rothbart and his powers are destroyed and Odette's companions are finally freed from the spell. As the sun rises, Siegfried and Odette ascend to Heaven together, united in love for all eternity.” The terms of the story are fulfilled; we have the satisfaction of reflecting on the fact that, on some plane, true love—not mere violence, with its built-in ambiguity as to outcome—will in the end overcome all obstacles. The story is æsthetically consistent with itself; and, while some may roll their eyes at notions of true love and its powers, and at considerations of responsibility and dedication, still, I leave it to others to discard these from their lives.

2. I wrote “[…] Odette came across to me as somewhat cold, bordering on something of a Myrtha . . . which made another feature of this performance more chilling than intended. Our Siegfried […] has a very boyish appearance, which in fact sorts well with the character's part in the tale. Meantime, our Odette, whatever her chronological age, projected a maturity which, in this case, made me a little uncomfortable: There was an (unintended) air of an innocent being taken advantage of.” I thought of Hamlet: “[…] The spirit I have seen/May be the devil: and the devil hath power/To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps/Out of my weakness and my melancholy,—/As he is very potent with such spirits,—/Abuses me to damn me.” Siegfried has seen Odette, will see Odile; he falls for the one, he falls for—or is at least excited by—the other. How is he to know which is taking advantage of him? In point of fact, left to himself, he doesn’t. It is vital for the integrity of the work that a performance’s Siegfried and Odette be not only well-matched but that they also have a chemistry or empathy which projects abundantly to the audience. Otherwise, we might as well be watching Albrecht and Myrtha.

3. One point I only alluded to glancingly previously here, but enlarged upon elsewhere privately, was that the company seemed largely disengaged in this performance—disengaged from each other, from the orchestra, and from the audience. As an audience member, I felt as if I had wandered in to a rehearsal. For the performers, what distinguishes a dress rehearsal from a performance? What do you personally put onstage for a performance that wasn’t there for a rehearsal? Addressing this subject is not an easy task, as it involves factors which, by their very essence, are intangible, instinctive, personal, even largely subconscious. As an audience member, I can feel a collective spirit being formed by the audience—can’t you?—and it varies with each event. Before the curtain goes up, perhaps there is a thrill in the air, perhaps the audience is already “dead,” but, either way, there is a mood which prevails. Think of the audience and its mood as waves at the beach; think of the performers as surfers who either catch the wave or don’t. The ones who don’t, don’t get anywhere; the ones who do are in place to show their more tangible expertise. There are performers who can simply appear onstage, and they’ve already “caught the wave,” they’ve already tapped into the prevailing spirit in the house because part of their talent is in being receptive to the audience’s mood, in being sensitive to the vibes. They and the audience are engaged with each other from the word go. The audience member feels completely invested in the performer’s leaps, gestures, expressions; the performer feels in return the energy and good-will of the audience. The dynamic between the two feeds on itself and intensifies the experience. Similarly, there are whole companies which seem to be able to tap into this—Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba quickly come to mind—how this instinct becomes company-wide, I won’t even try to guess. It was this spirit of engagement with the audience which was, in my estimation, lacking for the most part in the Mariinsky performance which prompted my original posting; and the disengagement at this performance seemed to me to encompass co-performers on stage and the orchestra as well. The dancing at the performance was brilliant, and I think dazzled many people who look only for dancing at ballet events. For others, it was a cold performance of beautiful dancing. We wanted Odette; we ended up with Odile.

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