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Act IV problems

Mel Johnson

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I've seen just about everything happen to this poor old ballet, which seems to be wrenched about partly because, "Everybody knows the original."  Well, it's been so long since anybody did a standard version, that now there is a large audience that DOESN'T know what the original looks like.  One of the most revolutionary things a company could do right now is produce a plain-vanilla Swan Lake, with no additions or corrections.

Amen. I'm so tired of everyone putting their own spin on Swan Lake - it really stands on its own. I would love to see a plain simple SL with the 4th act intact and no modern interpolations or "streamling" of the Petipa/Ivanov choreopgraphy. I think the ABT Blair staging is probably the closest to the original I've ever seen. Of course, I've never seen the original so I don't know for sure. I love the Kirov's version, though I know the Jester is an addition and of course, the ending is wrong. Reading these archives has made me realize that I don't even know the music as well as I thought I did. I always thought the music of the apotheosis justified the "united in heaven" ending, rather than a straight tragedy. Now it seams that music was an interpolation, too. I would love to see (and hear) a reconstruction like the Kirov's reconstruction of Bayadere.

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w/ regard to the use of black for the corps de ballet in balanchine's SWAN LAKE, i think it's important to note that this came to into rep AFTER balanchine died. kirstein claimed balanchine had bought all this black fabric, or something like that, to defend the choice of this look for the alain vaes designs. balanchine's own schemes for the staging - both in the beaton and in ter-arutunian productions - presented a white-dressed corps de ballet and odette.

i for one have never swallowed the undocumented (so far as i am aware) assertion that balanchine wanted this scheme devised under kirstein's watch.

i know balanchine's SWAN LAKE fantasy in I WAS AN ADVENTURESS, w/ vera zorina, shows that swan queen in black but she's also wearing black tights and toeshoes, something that does not pertain in the current NYCB 'black-scheme' staging.

in addition to the new setting and new costumes this post-balanchine re-do involves a corps de ballet of increased numbers, a detail i find unconvincing to the choreography as set by balanchine for a smaller ensemble.

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I think part of the problem with Act IV is that the powerful music is meant to accompany a huge flood, which most companies can't afford, and to which a lot of flapping and running about in an anguished manner can't really compare.

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True, small companies run the risk of producing something closer to Swan Puddle.

A large, beautifully trained corps of swans is one of the thrills of this ballet, right up there (in my book) with the solo dancing. That's why I felt so bad about the way the director of the Great Performance/ABT version kept cutting away from the swans, rarely allowing us to see them moving en masse in the wonderful patterns of the choreography.

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I think that last act of almost every "dramatic" or "sad" ballet can be described as underdone. I, personally, think the Swan Lake last act is quite good if it's done well. La Sylphide's ending isn't dramatic enough, Giselle's ending isn't dramatic enough but I believe these are due to the fact that the music isn't dramatic enough. Completely the opposite is with Swan Lake. Swan Lake's music may be slightly over dramatic. So much so that the choreographer has a hard time finding something to do in all that dramatic music. I love the dance of the swans in the last act.

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Act IV has always been controversial in every SL stage through the years. I've seen several versions of it, and frankly, for the modern public, way far from the XIX Century Russian one used to a very different and early technique, it's kinda hard to endure a full length IV act in the way Petipa intended. In her version for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Alonso has three acts plus a condensed epilogue, which uses some of the '77 music of the last act. According to her account she had observed how in some Havana productions from the past-(Mary Skeaping's)-people wouldn't stand in the theatre for the IV act, giving that the last piece of bravura_(the Black Swan PDD)-was over. The public would just leave during the III intermezzo, so she came out with the idea of a brief ending after the ballroom scene-(without intermezzo, hence kind of forcing the audience to stay)-, in which the backdrops would quickly change in the back, in the dark, while Sigfried would rush his way to the lake to look for Odette-(to the so-called "storm music"). Lights back on, lakeside, Odette/Siegfriend/Rothbart, the fight...and done deal, finito, your hands still warm after the Odile's fouettes clapping while you indulge in the vision of the two lovers reunited in the final apotheosis.

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I've been listening lately to the Dutoit's SL in my car, and I was just thinking about coming back to this thread. I've come to the conclusion that the only secret to a successful act IV is just to follow Tchaikovsky's design of the score and forget about Drigo's reworking. SL's last act is not like other warhorses, where all the way 'till the end we're still waiting for bravura moments-(some of them has the most difficult stuff right toward the end, like Sleeping Beauty and the Nutcracker). The focus of SL at the very end is not technical but rather dramatic, which reaches its climax at the suicide scene. Hence, I don't think we need to endure an endless series of dances for the corps that goes on an on with no purpose. I don't have the combined timing of the two pieces added by Drigo, but I know they're quite long and I don't feel they quite work with the over-dramatic quality of the last minutes of the ballet. Without them Act IV is shorter, more condensed and easier to digest...I think. So let's stick to the '77 score, AD's!!

1895 Act IV order of numbers.


-Scène - DELETED

-Dance of the Little Swans - DELETED

-Drigo's Interpolation no.1 - Valse Bluette. (Valse des Cygnes, a.k.a. Waltz for White and Black Swans, orch. by Drigo from Tchaikovsky's Op.72 for Piano - No.11 Valse Bluette)

-Scène Part 1. (ends at bar 26. Continues after the next number)

-Drigo's Interpolation no.2 - Un Poco di Chopin. (Scène Dansante, inserted after bar 26 of Part 1, orch. by Drigo from Tchaikovsky's Op.72 for Piano -No.15 Un poco di Chopin)

-Scene Part 2.(continues at bar 27. The so-called "storm music" was deleted)

-Scène et final. Apothéose

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