Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×


Recommended Posts

The new production of Swan Lake opens on Friday and lots of photographs have just appeared on the company's website:


The first runthrough shows J'aime Crandall and Alban Lendorf in the leading roles, the rest show Holly Dorger and Ulrik Birkkjær.

There are also several brief videos of rehearsals - the latest one makes me very happy as in the background you can hear the music for the end of Act 2 being played really fast - no dreary slowing down for Odette's last entrance. The conductor for the first part of the run is Vello Pähn, who was also in charge when I saw the Peter Martins version in Copenhagen a few years ago and produced the most exciting reading of the score I can remember.

Link to comment

Your Danish (very high) taxes at work! And you thought the Peter Martins version was weird.

I shouldn't worry too much about the Danes' taxes, Natalia - apparently the company had a hefty donation to make the production possible. Actually I think the set looks wonderful rather than weird and am very much looking forward to seeing it in the theatre!

Link to comment

I went Saturday. Ulrik Birkkjær as Siegfried and Holly Dorger as Odette/Odile. The Queen attended again! I loved this new, fresh interpretation of the story and especially the pacing spoke to me. I love Swan Lake, but usually the three/four acts do drag on and leave me a bit bored in places, but not this time! Not at all. Two acts, generally very clean and minimalistic. The costume porn didn't clash with the simiplicity of the set, but rather the two really complimented and enhanced each other.

This was the first time I watched Swan Lake live and I must say, this has - by far - been my favourite production. I forgive the first castle scene for being a little messy and including too many Royal Ballet pupils (don't get me wrong, I love the tradition the RDB has of including its ballet children, but this time they went a bit overboard and crowded the stage). There was a brief prologue where the King is buried and Siegfried told to find a wife, so he can take his place as regent. Then, the first castle scene. Jonathan Chmelensky as Rothbart was marvelous and I am glad to see they made a virtuoso role of the villain, rather than the usual approach... It reminded me a lot of the Zurich version by Spoerli which is a very good thing. Actually, a lot in this version reminded me of Spoerli's version.

Jón Axel Fransson as Benno really took the stage in the pas de trois along with Alexandra Lo Sardo and Silvia Selvini where especially Alexandra Lo Sardo took my breath away. The pas de trois was definitely the best part of the first castle scene. Then, the prince is sent to the forest to hunt swans where he meets Odette. I hadn't really seen Holly Dorger in anything significant before, so I didn't know what to expect. In Odette's entrance and her first encounter with Siegfried, her nerves were very visible and I remember thinking to myself: This is going to be a bumpy ride. However, after she excited the stage and made room for the corps of swans (that were the living proof that the RDB corps ranks way up there amongst the very best, OMG it was a sight for gods) and then re-entered for her pas de deux and solo... Something had changed. It was like Holly Dorger had left her nerves in the wings and just given herself over to the role. Her Odette was so vulnerable and all eyes. Big, fearful eyes. I was completely smitten and it definitely also helped that she and UIrik Birkkjær had chemistry that could electrocute you.

I don't think I have ever seen the role of Siegfried come as much alive as it did in the hands and by the feet of Ulrik Birkkjær and I bought and rooted for his romance with Odette from the very beginning. All in all, the last part of the first act really made me realise that I was watching Swan Lake live for the first time and the light and shadow play along with the dancing... I shed a tear or two, I admit it. The dance of the cygnets was amazing and precise. I think the dance of the big swans holds a lot of potential, but the four dancers had little hiccups that kind of made it feel a bit understated in the wake of the cygnets' dance and Siegfried's solo.

Second act, the second castle scene. Susanne Grinder danced the Hungarian dance and although she had an unfortunate fall (it looked like the floor was slippery or something, because Stephanie Chen in the Russian dance almost slipped in the exact same place), she completely slayed and owned that choreography. I just hope she didn't get hurt, because she's set up to dance as Odette/Odile tomorrow... I have had my eyes on Stephanie Chen for a while now. I thoroughly enjoyed her as Effy in La Sylphide and she was just wonderful in the Russian dance. So charming, so confident. Not to mention that she looked flawless in that smashing costume. After the Hungarian and Russian dances followed the Spanish and Neopolitan. Amy Watson danced the Spanish dance and I liked the choreography well enough, but Amy Watson is just not my kind of ballerina. I think I would have enjoyed it more in Alexandra Lo Sardo's interpretation. Ida Praetorius danced the Neopolitan dance and I really loved her attitude and as always, her dancing itself was flawless, but the choreography bored me somewhat. However, enter Odile from stage right! I had really looked forward to Holly Dorger's Odile, because it was the "role" she had been featured in in the promotional trailer. She didn't disappoint. Her Odile was mocking and bitchy and so confident, very prom queen like which I enjoyed. It was lovely seeing her Odette and Odile being two so distinct personas and that she executed so well.

I will also say this: Holly Dorger is, hands down, the first ballerina I have seen perform an Odette and an Odile that I liked equally. Usually, when I see Swan Lake, the ballerina wins me over either as the white or the black swan, but Holly Dorger did both so well that I couldn't pick one, even if I was asked. To me, this is a major feat. She also did the 32 fouettes very well. You could tell that she had to concentrate and she travelled over the floor a bit (forward, so it didn't really ruin the clean lines), but they kept up the pace, they followed the music and she looked strong, exactly as I want my Odile to look. I... actually don't remember much about how this part of the second act ended, not until Siegfried breaks his vow to Odette and rather than showing Odette outside a window, the guests kind of disappear into the background and Odile is bathed in a glorious white light, so that the contrast between black and white really shows - like this, she exists the stage, leaving Siegfried to race back to the lake. It was a magnificent, thrilling moment and it gave me goosebumps. I can't wait to see it again, although it'll be on the big screen, not in the theatre.

Here follows my absolute favourite part of the entire ballet. The final act has always been my favourite, it has always moved me to no end for personal reasons and the RDB version certainly didn't disappoint. First we got the dance of the 8 black swans. I have only heard (and seen) this part in the Mariinsky version and never cared much for it, but I actually think - in the RDB version, this little (black) pearl ranks amongst my favourite moments. A special shout-out to Ida Praetorius' amazing expressions and to Ji Min Hong's swan arms that were unequalled by anyone, even Holly Dorger herself. Then, Odette enters again and Holly Dorger breaks my heart, I tell you. She was so hurt, so frantic, so unable to contain her grief... And the way she shied away from Siegfried when he came to beg her forgiveness. The interaction here, between Ulrik Birkkjær and Holly Dorger was so sincere, so heartfelt - I have never felt the romance between Siegfried and Odette so vividly before, never have I believed in it like this. It was so amazingly well done of them both. I hope to see them dance together again in the future, not only in this ballet. The last scene at the lakeside was just everything I wanted it to be. Odette didn't swear to commit suicide, but was rather transformed (eternally, I suppose) into a swan by Rothbart who then - in the epilogue - arranged for his daughter, Odile, to marry Siegfried and himself gain more power.

Thumbs up to the entire RDB for the mastery they have pulled off in this new production, kudos to Nikolaj Hübbe and Silja Schandorff for thinking outside the box and (mostly) making it work and thank you, sincerely, to a beautiful soloist who took on the role of Odette/Odile and made me feel both characters like I have never felt them before. Thank you, Holly Dorger. Thank you, Royal Danish Ballet. I hope this piece will stay in your repetory for many years to come!

Link to comment

I saw a couple of performances of the new Swan Lake last week: there's a lot to like which makes it all the more frustrating that Hubbe hasn't taken more care to work his plot ideas out properly.

I like the basic concept (as I understand it): the King has died and Siegfried is acknowledged as his heir but must prove his worth before he's actually crowned; meanwhile the chancellor, von Rothbart, is scheming to gain power by marrying his daughter to the young prince. (Quite a familiar story from television and film these days.) Hubbe sets some of this up in the opening moments but from then on he leaves so many loose ends trailing that it's very distracting, and ultimately annoying. For instance I think I've picked up somewhere that the Jester represents one side of Siegfried's character, but you would never ever work that out from the staging and the sole purpose of the Jester actually seems to be to fill out the bits of music that are too cheerful and jumpy to be assigned to anyone else. (The problem with every attempt to modify the story is that no-one told Tchaikowsky...)

The company is using the Opera House rather than the old theatre for Swan Lake and the new sets look wonderful there. (There are lots of photos and videos on the theatre's website ) They are completely unrealistic geometric structures, beautiful in themselves and completely successful in this context - and I have to say that it will be quite a shock to get back to trees and rocks and things next time I see a traditional production. They move around to suggest different locations but never while there is serious dancing going on. The Opera House has a very high proscenium opening and from the stalls you can look up and up and see the criss-cross structures stretching up into the darkness - it's like looking up in a dark old cathedral. One problem though is that the stage is very deep and some of the action would make more impact if it was played further downstage. The whole evening is beautifully lit (the designer is Mikke Kunttu, and the Elizabethan-ish costumes are by Mas Stensgaard) and if you had the misfortune to turn up some night and find that all the dancers had been stranded in fog at some airport, you could really have a very enjoyable evening just listening to the music (very well conducted by Vello Pähn - I love his phrasing in the overture and the way he keeps up the tempo - no dirge-like Act 2 pas de deux here) and watching the scenery.

Most of the choreography is attributed to Hubbe and Silja Schandorff 'after Petipa and Ivanov': the Act 1 pas de trois, most of Act 2 and the Black Swan pas de deux look more or less untouched (though some of the pd3 looks bizarre to my Royal Ballet trained eyes); the prince's solo in Act 1 is by Erik Bruhn; and the national dances in Act 3 have been entrusted to two of the dancers. The Hubbe/Schandorff sections are respectable enough, and rather more than that in some of Act 4; Oliver Starpov's Russian Dance would make a perfect gala number some time, and Gregory Dean's Neapolitan pas de trois is witty and interesting.

The RDB is stretched by a big piece like this and everyone, principals included, is kept very busy - for instance on both the nights I was there one of the Neapolitan princess's near-interchangeable escorts was a dancer new to the company this season and the other one was Alban Lendorf. Jon Axel Fransson and Jonathan Chmelensky alternated as Von Rothbart (a big dancing role) and Benno - Fransson goes for everything and is exciting to watch even when he doesn't quite make it, Chmelensky is quieter but his von Rothbart was possibly slightly the more scary. The corps de ballet of swans was outstandingly good - one of the highlights of the evening.

I saw two casts in the leading roles: Ida Praetorius with Marcin Kupinski and Caroline Baldwin with Andreas Kaas. All except Kupinski were making their debuts. Praetorius got most of the pre-opening publicity - she is clearly being promoted as a future ballerina and it's easy to see why. Her dancing is lovely but she's still very young and her inexperience in building such a major role showed somewhat in Act 2 - much against expectations she made a much stronger impression as Odile. Both she and Kupinski might perhaps look better with different partners - Kupinski with a more sophisticated Odette and Praetorius with someone whose acting style was a better fit with her own.

Baldwin was a surprise in the opposite direction - I'd expected her strong Odile but was pleasantly astonished by her Odette - lovely clear, simple dancing and and excellent rapport with her partner. Kaas was wonderful, starting with a beautifully controlled and elegant account of the Bruhn solo and following that with as touching an account of Act 2 as I've seen in a long while. Completely in love from the first moment, he never took his eyes off Odette and partnered her with such tenderness and wonder - it was as if he knew how to tame a wild hawk and guessed that the same thing would work here, persuading her gradually to trust him. It's a very young man's interpretation and I guess he may well have grown out of it even by the next run of the production, but I'm really happy that I saw him at this stage!

I have another cast to see later on in the run and am looking forward to it despite the shortcomings of the staging.

(posted also on another board - sorry if that's against the rules!)

Link to comment

I saw this production on its last three nights, and, while I admired some things about it, in the end I thought there was too much that didn't make sense.

First, some positives: I really enjoyed the costumes, especially the court garments and styling. In some ways, the garments were very traditional, with wide skirts, long trains, and corseted bodices, but throughout the piece the costumes also use fantasy elements, including elaborate, strange headpieces. I felt I was seeing a touch of retro futurism here -- sort of like the luxe weirdness of Bram Stoker's Dracula with a hint of Queen Amidala. These strange, beautiful costumes help create the sense that you're in another time and place, one that's worth seeing. I also adored the color palette worn by the corps at the beginning of Act I: the ultra-pale yellow of the women's dresses, the barely visible dusky rose in the little girls' dresses, and the pale grays present throughout. I didn't care for the sleeveless collared shirts that the men wore -- these read "Chippendale's" to me. But overall I would give the costume designer very high marks. I should also note that I liked the dresses of the swans; the bodices looked like negligee tops, making them a little sexier than the average swan costume.

I also loved the lighting and set design. When Odette dances in the White Swan Act, it's before a deep, gorgeous blue. When Siegfried joins her at the climax of their courtship, the light turns to a brilliant golden white. I wouldn't have minded more of a suggestion of a lake, but I respected the minimalistic approach. I also quite liked the projection on the curtain at the beginning of the performance, during the overture. The image in the projection resembled the large, more-or-less triangular set pieces that would later descend from the rafters and which looked, to my eye, like big metal gears. In the projection, the image changes in a way that makes you feel you're moving closer and closer to the center of those gears, and each time you think you're coming to the end, you see that there's more coming, more complexity. Finally you can make out figures behind the curtain (the prince and court members, standing grim-faced because of the king's death). It's a powerful introduction. I thought it created the feeling that you were about to enter an elaborate, dark, mysterious plot.

Unfortunately, the mysteries of that plot are never adequately revealed. From the beginning, I felt there were problems of logic and continuity. For example: the grim funeral scene at the beginning doesn't segue gracefully into the happier party scene. Then in the party scene, you see a man whose painted face suggests he might be a second jester, and he spends a lot of time leading small children in a happy dance. Who is this child-friendly man of the court? It's the evil Rothbart. Hmm.... For reasons that aren't apparent, Rothbart seems to somehow be in charge of many people, including Siegfried's friend, Benno, and the jester. Rothbart is often seen whispering in the ears of the other two, seeming to give them instructions. I actually liked the feeling of paranoia that came from having these three, and perhaps others in the court, all being in cahoots with one another, but the idea isn't well executed. For example, as the party scene ends, with a procession of people filing off stage, Rothbart stops the procession after about two-thirds have already exited. Rothbart appears to command the remaining six or seven people to stop, turn around, and basically stare down Siegfried, who had been bringing up the rear. In response, Siegfried stops short, seeming confused (as I was). I liked the weird, conspiratorial feeling of the moment, but it didn't connect to anything that had come before, and it never culminates in anything understandable that comes afterward.

Since the ending has already been revealed in this thread, I'll go ahead and comment on it, because I think it's another example of poor continuity. For me, it came and went so quickly, it felt very tacked on. I could be on board with a Siegfriend-Odile ending (if that's what it was), but I think it should involve a little more than her running out in a black dress and standing there for three seconds, just long enough for you to figure out who it is before the curtain falls. I actually think there are other ways you could interpret it (other than as a Siegfried-Odile wedding), but for me there just wasn't enough there -- it was more confusing than anything else.

I have more complaints, but I will move on to what I thought was the clear A+ of this production: the Russian dance. I am always baffled as to why more companies don't stage a Russian vignette, as the music is gorgeous, but for whatever reason it is often omitted. So I feel that this production gets points just for having a Russian dance. And what a dance! It was so inventive. Stephanie Chen Gundorf, as the Russian princess, was spectacular in embellished black shorts, a sleeveless shirt, and a velvety looking red headpiece with straps that fastened below her eyes. The men were similarly striking, wearing long crimson skirts and going shirtless. But it was what they did that was truly fantastic! Every time the music reached a crescendo, it was accented in some way, but never in the same way twice: once it was Gundorf hitting the crest of her leap, another time she was being tossed into the air, and I particularly like the moment when she jumped into the air, showed us a gorgeous arm, then each of the men followed behind her in a slightly different pose. It reminded me of Matryoshka dolls opening up before me. I rarely shout "bravi," especially when I am part of an audience where no one else is doing it, even for the leads. But after seeing these dancers deliver on three consecutive nights, I couldn't resist!

I also enjoyed the Italian dance quite a bit, which I twice saw performed by Ida Praetorius. She was wonderfully sly in this role. In general, I had been nervous about all four national dances being on pointe (because the Grigorovich version does that, IMO not very well). But in general, I liked these dances. The one exception was the all-female Hungarian dance, which wasn't bad, but in my view it pales next to the more traditional version of this dance.

The Siegried-O/O pairings that I saw included Holly Jean Dorger and Ulrik Birkkjaer; Ida Praetorius and Marcin Kupinski; and Caroline Baldwin with Andreas Kaas. My favorite was Praetorius/Kupinski. She turned in the cleanest performance of the three O/Os, and I thought she had the best stage presence. I felt that she and her partner also had the best chemistry.

The Rothbarts I saw included Jonathan Chmelensky (twice) and Jon Axel Fransson. Both were excellent -- great athleticism, great stage presence, very clean all around. I couldn't choose between them.

The first night I attended, I thought the corps had problems. The little swans had a lot of synchronization mistakes, and other things seemed off. On later nights, I thought the swans did better, but the corps in the first part of Act I (the party scene) never seemed to be in synch in those places where I thought they should be. I was also never impressed with the pas de trois. Benno was always good, but the women all seemed to have little shortcomings.

This was my first time seeing the RDB, and in general I was most impressed with the men. I saw a lot of great leaps that seemed to hang in the air. On all three nights, it was a treat to watch Rothbart, Benno (the nights I was there, this role was performed by the alternating Rothbart dancers: Chmelensky and Fransson), and the jester (Tim Matiakis and Alexander Bozinoff). I just wish that the jester had had more to do. As others have noted, in this production the role seemed a bit wasted.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...