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ABT Swan Lake

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What's the deal with the two Rothbarts? Is this just Kevin trying to be different or is there some dramatic point which completely escaped me?

In Friday's performance, Julie Kent was lovely, although she isn't my favorite Swan Queen. Corella, typically, was all flash and little substance. Needless to say, the audience went wild.

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Thank you, Stan Bowker. This will be one of my favorite posts of all time. PLEASE post more often!!!

(I cannot answer your excellent question, for I am not the Delphic oracle, but I think there's a dramatic point. Perhaps Rothbart will plead that he's a multiple personality if the case ever comes to trial?)

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I also went Friday night -- I have a lot of problems with this production, but overall enjoyed myself. I have always thought, though, that there is one Rothbart (a magical nature creature) who disguises himself as a nobleman in order to enchant his victims. Personally I find all of Mckenzie's choreography for this production awkward and unflattering (and there's quite a bit of it) and the elaboration of Rothbart's "character" unpersuasive, but, hmm, I do always enjoy watching Malakhov ...

I don't think Corella is without substance -- I find his dancing at times quite beautiful (as opposed to just flashy) and I thought he at least tried to make his big act III solos expressions of delight and excitement. I do think he's a little young and temperamentally boyish for this part. There are emotional notes he just doesn't have (yet?). Kent is not an ideal match for him (a little too tall for one thing) which aggravates the problem. The encounters between them definitely seemed as if between a human and an entirely otherworldly creature (more Firebird than Swan Lake), and that skimps some of the ballet's interpretive possibilities. Though I do like the Act IV image in this production in which she is standing atop the rocks and he is below her kneeling on them and looking upwards -- and Friday evening, that about summed the way Corella seemed to relate to Julie Kent throughout. This was the best I have seen Kent -- she WAS lovely -- but not terribly compelling emotionally either. She did bring a wonderful, almost patronizing allure to the final seconds of the black swan pas de deux. (I think it would be fair, though, to characterize the fouettes as determined.)

The pas de trois was very interesting. Herman Cornejo was just wonderful -- he has an extraordinary spring to his jumps, but also brings a lot of attention and care to the details of his dancing. You feel he is paying attention. Xiomara Reyes danced beautifully, though she seemed a bit precious. Erica Cornejo has something like her brother's spring and the jumps were remarkably high in a woman dancer. Other qualities of her dancing were more uneven (to me) -- but the jumping, wow! I also enjoyed a number of the women in the character dancing of Act III, especially Stella Abrera and Carmen Corella in the Spanish dance. Otherwise the company dancing as a whole was pretty good, but uneven in patches (first Swan Lake of the season though, so it's likely to get better). And there were some nice details in the miming in Act I etc. -- peasants too nervous to look directly at the Prince etc.

[ 06-16-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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Re: The 2 Von Rothbarts - I saw McKenzie speak in a seminar last year before the premiere of his Swan Lake and he said that his villain was 'a shape-shifter, evil personified'. This made me think of the X-Files but it clarified the fact that von Rothbart really is one personality that changes form at will. I also felt that when we first see him camouflaged as part of the tree that that meant that he was a universal symbol of evil in the natural world and thus in us all. (Sounds overly simplistic but it worked for me)

I wonder if the ballet has changed since those performances in DC? I liked the overall production but I remember that none of the Prince Seigfried's could ever figure out their cue to get to the stage on time for that solo that was inserted for them into ActII. They always seemed to be rushing in late. Also Maxim Belotserkovsky was the only prince that dove off the cliff with grace in the final scene and who didn't look like he was going for a belly whopper in the lake below! Perhaps one of the readers who have seen it this year can let me know if these things have been corrected.

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I thought Kent was quite wonderful in the white acts, and a bit less so in the Black Swan. I'll agree her fouettes looked a bit determined, but she did crank 'em out. I really did love the way she reached down and lovingly caressed Corella's cheek just before flinging herself into that triumphant backbend at the pas de deux's climax. Very telling and very effective gesture.

There's so much of this production I cannot bear, from Swamp-Thing Von R waving around that toy swan that looks like a stuffed goose, to Swamp-Thing's endless, endless death throes. (Does he run up the cliff to peer down and see if Siefried and Odette have hit the water yet?) The fourth act verges on criminal. And, am I going nuts or does he use the Russian Dance music twice? Once for the Benno's girlfriend in Act I and then again for Purple-Boots Von R's "steal-the-princesses" dance in Act III? And why can't Odile exit with Purple-Boots behind the flash powder? Why does she have to run off into some obscure corner of the castle? I can't believe that the extra ten seconds needed for her to exit properly would make or break her Act IV costume change!

I'll second all the comments about the Cornejos, and Reyes. I'd tried to give her the benefit of the doubt and try to believe that some of her overdone cuteness had to do with the roles I'd seen her in. Olga in Onegin isn't exactly the sharpest pencil in the box, and Amor in Don Q bleeds cuteness. Having said that, I still found myself reaching for a flyswatter when watching her Amor coyly wag her finger at Don Q, who was probably wishing he'd remembered to include his lance in his dream. (Anne Milewski's Amor managed to be sweet but not saccharine, which was a nice change for this role.)

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I saw Friday night's performance. Thought Herman Cornejo and Malakhov, for the men, were standouts - Cornejo in particular, because I'd never seen him dance before. I wish Malakhov's Rothbart had more dancing; he was quite wonderful.

Kent was lovely throughout. I do agree that her White Swan was more impressive than her Black. She seemed quite tired in the fouettes- they lacked "oomph".

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What's the thing that Odette does with her arms just before her exit in Act II when she's boureeing across the stage with her back to the audience? When it's done right (and maybe you have to be double-jointed to do it right), there's a magical sensation of utter fluidity, as if there were no bones in the arms. I missed that in Kent's performance. The Firebird does the same sort of thing just before her exit and I thought Bouder was better.

FWIW, the best I ever saw was Makarova.

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I saw two "Swan Lakes" on June 16th - the matinee and the evening performances. Let me start by saying that I wish Kevin McKenzie would bring back the David Blair production of "Swan Lake". My criticisms of Kevin McKenzie's "Swan Lake" have been repeated many times (both last year and this year), so I'll try to be brief.

First of all, the prologue is so bad it's laughable - especially at the end when Odette turns into the stuffed toy duck or goose or whatever it is. No matter what explantions McKenzie gives, I don't think there's any need for two von Rothbarts. I also find von Rothbart's big number in Act III to be rather jarring. It was very well danced by Marcelo Gomes at the matinee. Vladimir Malakhov's performance in the evening was so superb it almost justified the inclusion of von Rothbart's solo. But I don't think this dance has any dramatic purpose. It's as though McKenzie said to himself "I have a lot of strong male dancers - let me create another part for them."

The biggest weakness of this production of "Swan Lake" is the brevity of Act IV. And as Manhattnik has already mentioned, von Rothbart's death in Act IV was really overdone. (In my opinion, it ranked with the prologue for stupidity and bad taste in ballet.)

At the matinee performance, Julio Bocca was an ardent Prince Siegfried. Both his acting and his dancing were first-rate, but for some reason Bocca changed some of the choreography for the coda of the Black Swan pas de deux. Ashley Tuttle as Odette/Odile was much better than when I saw her dance the part last year. Both times Tuttle was a wonderful Odette who danced with lovely, lyrical phrasing. But last year Tuttle was a weak Odile who fell off pointe after doing about 9 of the famous 32 fouettes. This year she was a wickedly seductive Odile. Her fouettes were not great, but at least she managed to hold on for all 32 of them.

At the afternoon performance, Sean Stewart stood out in the Neopolitan dance in Act III, and Ximora Reyes was excellent in the pas de trois in Act I. I really enjoy Reyes' dancing - it's so light and crisp and clean. As Benno, Joaquin De Luz was very exciting - great leaps, turns, etc. But he really needs to watch his line.

As good as the matinee performance was, it was nothing compared to the evening performance. It may be the best "Swan Lake" I've ever seen (only imagine if the production were better) and I think it probably ranks as one of the five best ballet I've ever seen (in 21 years of attending ballet.)

The reasons it was so great were the performances of Dvorovenko and Belotserkovsky. I can't decide whether she was a better Odette or Odile - she was so wonderful in both parts. In fact it seemed to me that Dvorovenko became those parts - she fully inhabited both roles. And talk about great boneless arms (is there a ballet term to describe that?) I think they are even better than Nina A's. It really made the end of Act II both exciting and poignant. Those arms showed that von Rothbart had won, and no matter how much Odile loved Siegfried, she was forced to become a swan again. And in the Black Swan pas de deux, Dvorovenko was just perfect. Her fouettes were great - fast and right on target. I don't know whether she did doubles or triples. I hate to admit this, but I have no idea how to tell the difference between singles, doubles, and triples, especially when the fouettes are so fast and furious. But to me Dvorovenko's performance was not about technique - it was about using the technique to become the part. The fouettes are an important part of Odile's (and von Rohtbart's) plan to entrap Siegfried so that Odette remains a swan forever.

And Belotserkovsky was also superb, both in his acting and his dancing. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I never put him in the ranks of Corella, or Bocca or Stiefel as far as exciting male dancers go. But Belotserkovsky really does possess a powerful technique as well as a wonderful line, and he used that technique to enhance his performance. And as good as their individual performances were, together Dvorovenko and Belotserkovsky were so much better. Their performances just dripped with passion.

I already mentioned how impressed I was (as always) with the performance of Vladimir Malakhov as von Rothbart in Act III. Sean Stewart again was excellent in the Neopolitan dance, but this time his partner was Hernan Cornejo who was even better than Stewart. What an exciting dancer Cornejo - so clear and crisp and precise. Michele Wiles was very good in the first act pas de trois. Marcelo Gomes as Benno was first-rate. He's a very elegant dancer with a superb leap.

So as I think was mentioned last year, if the performances are outstanding, ABT's production of "Swan Lake" comes together. And I'll never be able to see a production of "Swan Lake" again without comparing the performances to those of Dvorovenko and her husband.

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I'm going to throw out a question here: what OTHER productions of Swan Lake (aside from the one under discussion and the Royal Ballet's late 60s Carl Toms-designed production - and soon lost from that presumably for reasons of timing) have had a prologue wherein one sees the transformation of Princess Odette into a swan? :)

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Flemming Flindt's in 1966 in Copenhagen, I think, and I think there were others around that time. When you start messing around with it, you all of a sudden realize that the audience can't figure out what's going on, and so add a prologue to a) explain everything or B) really confuse everybody. That's my theory, anyway.

Thanks Drew, Mahnattnik and Colleen for such nice long reviews. I think we'll do "Swan Lake" as the next Ballets in Detail. Threads up tomorrow.

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I haven't had the pleasure of seeing this Swan Lake and so greatly appreciate the vividly descriptive reviews.

Comments about the 'endless death throes' of Rothbart reminded me of what I consider two of the most uncomfortable passages in ballet - the interminable deaths of first Mercutio, then Tybalt, in Romeo and Juliet. Their lengths dictated by the score, I realize. Nevertheless I am always thrown off by the histrionics. They would seem even more disturbing within the context of Swan Lake's (Tchaikovsky's) purity and Classicism.

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Colleen, I missed Tuttle's Swan Lake, but I wouldn't have missed Dvorovenko and Belotserkovsky for the world.

I'd expected these two to be great in Swan Lake, and I wasn't disappointed. I've been struck this season with Beloterskovsky's poise and confidence. It wasn't long ago he'd be pushing, pushing, pushing to make every leap, step, turn as big, clean and perfect as possible. Now he just dances, and I love his elegant style -- he's a perfect Prince. He really made some sense of those endless "yearning-in-arabesque" solos for Siegfried. Funny how a promotion to principal dancer can work wonders for one's confidence.

As for Dvorovenko, she's much better suited for Odette than Giselle. She dances grandly. Everything's writ large -- she knows she's got magnificent long limbs and extension, and she's not afraid to use them to the hilt for both technical and dramatic bravura. I've always found Dvorovenko's acting to be adequate, but her emoting to be first-rate, and she's at her best when she can give free rein to her instinct for the dramatic, if not melodramatic. Her Odette doesn't simply suffer and love, she Suffers and Loves, and if Dvorovenko paints with a broad brush indeed, her strokes were nonetheless telling, and never more than in her dancing: dramatic plunges into penchees, heart-wrenching poses in those beautiful and tortured upward-swept attitudes, and always the sweep of her magnificently flexible back. I was enthralled with the sheer grandeur and amplitude of her dancing, but also noted that she stopped just short of the sort of grotesquely overdone "calves-to-the-ears" extensions that we see too much of these days. Dvorovenko is not incapable of subtlety -- she's just very judicious in its use. (These qualities made her Tatiana in Onegin quite wonderful and over-the-top, and her Kitri is almost too much fun for words.)

Her Odile is similarly over-the-top. She just drips with power, hunger and pure sexual aggression. She was the Bad Girl our mothers all warned us about (or should've), and she loved every second of it. I'll never forget how she swept into the throne room on Malakhov's arm and as he promenaded her past Belotserkovsky, shot him a quick, assessive glance like a cat sizing up a platter of fresh tuna. This Siegfried was doomed from the instant this Odile set foot onstage, and, it seemed, everyone in the audience knew it. I don't think I've ever before heard chuckling from the audience at the plight of hapless Siegfried, yet in this context it seemed perfectly appropriate.

To mix metaphors and venues, Dvorovenko's a slugger. She swings for the cheap seats, and usually connects. My only disappointments with her Odile were that she didn't hold that balance in arabesque near the end of the adagio for more than a split second (I felt her similarly shaky balances in the Don Q pas de deux were also a bit of a letdown), and she didn't embellish her fouettes -- No doubles or triples or tricks, but they were fast, dead on the music and she barely drifted at all.

As for the rest, well, this is a Swan Lake that makes me yearn for a Jester. How I wish they'd go back to the David Blair, but that's not to be.....

Anyway, in the pas de trois, Cornejo was again wonderful, although his landing from his double tours weren't as clean as is his wont. Anne Milewski was a game substitute for Stella Abrera (I think), but she flagged a bit in her solo and coda. I haven't said much about Michele Wiles' dancing this season, but she seems much more relaxed and happy, and more connected to what's going on around her. Throughout her solo she made it clear she was dancing for Siefried, to try to lighten him up a bit, not just to have fun with Benno.

As always, Ekatrina Shelkanova was a delight in the Czardas.

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I think the Stanislavsky Ballet brought a Swan Lake to Washington a few years ago with a prologue but I didn't get to see it first hand. Maybe one of our members recalls it. To continue with Mahattnik's baseball metaphors, I love the rhubarb that ensues each time either Martin's or McKenzie's Swan Lake is mentioned. But even though ballet & baseball are different venues a 4-6-3 double play turned at second base sometimes has the poetry of dance to it. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself. The Washington Post's lead story was the reitrement of Cal Ripken after this season)

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I know we pretty well raked the new ABT Swan Lake over last season, but some things are worth repeating! The problem I have with the whole idea of the prologue is that it just sneaks the ballerina in and destroys the wonderful musical and dramatic buildup in Act 2, which is one of the most amazing entrances written. If we have already seen Odette in the dark behind a scrim running around before the ballet even starts, much of the thrill of Act 2 is gone. And if Odette is going to do the mime (and she definitely should), the story she tells should be the same one we saw at the beginning. ABT's beginning looks like some Macmillan rape scene, but Odette tells Siegfried about her mother. Though I don't know if I would like a mime scene that had to refer to a big green man and a little stuffed duckling.

[ 06-19-2001: Message edited by: cargill ]

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Another unforgiveable point dramatically about this production (in addition to what Mary and Eric have already mentioned -- though this relates to Eric's point about Von Rothbart taking too long to die) is that Von Rothbart's death has replaced Odette and Siegfried's denouement as the emotional and musical climax of the piece.

At the end, to one of the greatest passages of Romantic classical music, the orchestra swells and all the musical themes combine and what do we see . . . Von Rothbart dying! Odette and Siegfried have already jumped.

Do you remember the Dance Magazine piece before this production last year, with Susan Jaffe on the cover, where ABT claimed that this production would revolutionize ballet, reinstitute narrative as ballet par excellence, and mark the end of abstraction on the balletic stage?

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I went back to see Julie Kent with Vladimir Malakhov Tues. evening. In my opinion, this is a better pairing than Kent/Corella -- certainly for Swan Lake. Although I am a big fan of Malakhov, I was not quite as won over by his Siegfried as I was by his Albrecht or even his James. The interpretation did, though, have many lovely romantic qualities; in act II his hands seem to linger ever so slightly wherever they touched or held Odette, and the sheer length and stretch of his line seems designed to express balletic longing. He was not having a completely impeccable evening technically (some flubs a the end of his doubles tours in Act III; his spins in the coda not perfectly centered). At other moments he settled for simplicity, albeit simplicity perfectly executed; his multiple pirouettes were, for example, all doubles -- but that aspect I do NOT complain about as I really do mean perfectly executed and the result was at once beautiful and expressive. (I know we are wary of rumors on ballet alert, but my understanding is that he is coming off some sort of minor injury/surgery that caused at least one earlier performance this season to be canceled.)

Withal, for my taste, the sheer quality of Malakhov's classical dancing -- underline classical -- just puts him in a different category from ABT's other male dancers, terrific as many of them are. Just one rather obvious example: in his grand jetes Malakhov describes a soaring arc in the air, so exquisitely curved, so beautifully shaped in every portion and proportion of his body, that it is as if one were seeing the step in its essence, at once idealized and intensified. With Malakhov one gets a rare chance to see the ballet vocabulary as it is supposed to look, but only rarely really does -- if you will, the way one imagines it in one's balletomaniac's mind's eye ... and it is just breathtaking.

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I will take two Rothbarts (Yea! even four!!) to ONE Jester any day.

I saw Gillian Murphy this afternoon and thought she had a smashing success of a debut. Her Odette was a bit distant to her Prince, but it was appropriate for her--after all, she doesn't know the man too well, and up to this point in her life she hasn't had much success with men. Her technique was pristine and I loved the wonderful high arches of her back. One of my favorite parts of Act 2 is the coda, and her beats were sharp, fast and close to the floor. Act 3 was just as assured as her Act 2 (although, she did have a Cook's tour of the stage during the fouettes)--and again, she kept this Prince at a distance. Perhaps she will grow warmer in the role as time goes by--but I found her perfectly acceptable and exhilarating as she is now.

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Wednesday matinee's Swan Lake cast at ABT was not the first line; no principals were seen. But so strong is the company's lineup of excellent dancers they were hardly needed.

Carmelo Gomes and Gillian Murphy danced Siegfried and Odette/Odile with great panache, clean and meaningful. I looked at a video the night before of Peter Schaufuss as Siegfried, and it made Gomes even more a real champion, Schaufuss looked like he'd eaten something bad from beginning to end. Gomes's expression and attitude were always appropriate throughout.

Reviews regularly comment on Murphy as technically excellent but lacking in warmth. But look at her pretty face; it could never be cute or jolly, it's not structured that way. Even when she smiles - rarely - it's still pretty cool. But she's terribly good, just the way she is.

The Pas de Trois people brought the day's loudest cheers: the Cornejos, Erica and Herman and Xiomara Reyes. And I looked with enthusiasm at Ekaterina Shelkanova leading the czardos in Act III.

But not all was completely satisfying. The Corps seemed to me to be not tightened up so that all the limbs were moved in unison, and the spaces filled properly. In the cygnets dance the second from the left was slightly out of sync most of the way.

But the music the settings, the costumes were elegant, and all in all I thought it was great and we were lucky to have one company dancing the classics in New York.

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Wednesday evening's performance marked the last performance in a full-length ballet as a regular member of ABT by Amanda McKerrow. (Yes, Alexandra, this was confirmed to me in person by Amanda and by her husband, John Gardner. McKerrow is still negotiating with ABT about possible guest appearances.) While Amanda still has one more performance with ABT (at the Sat. Matinee), the audience marked the occasion with rapturous applause after the Act II pdd and after the Black Swan. There was a flower throw of colorful carnations. (For those of you who have never been to the Met, getting flowers over the very large orchestra pit is a feat in itself.) The company members could be seen hanging out backstage and applauding when the tabs (curtains) were paged to allow the soloists to come in front of it for their bows. Whoever did the scheduling was kind enough to schedule John Gardner as the Creature-from-the-Blue-Lagoon-Rothbart, so that he could take part in his wife's last full-length performance (it was also HIS last performance with ABT). Noticed in the audience were Cheryl Yeager, Sir Anthony Dowell and Anna-Marie Holmes.

As it was an "occasion", I won't rehash here my feelings about the production :) or write a critique of the dancers - except to say that McKerrow danced beautifully. The rest of the cast were Ethan Stiefel, partnering McKerrow, Marcelo Gomes (replacing an injured Maxim Belotserkovsky - pulled achilles tendon) as the "human-form" Rothbart, and Anna Liceica, Anne Milewski and Joaquin de Luz (dancing on an injury), in the pas de trois. Stiefel presented McKerrow well and was the complete gentleman during the curtain calls. McKerrow is NOT retiring. She and her husband have strong connections with Washington Ballet and plan to guest elsewhere - after a vacation.

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