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Asaf Messerer's "Swan Lake"

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The second of three Swan Lakes I saw while in Petersburg was the reconstruction of Messerer's production for the Mikhailovsky. I really didn't write anything down, so my recollections are now a bit foggy. It is quite a beautiful, colorful production, with a heavy vintage 40's/50's feeling. One of the first noticeable things from Act I is the use of character shoes for all the girls in the garden party, except the two soloists of the Pas de Trois, who wear pointe shoes. The customary Soviet jester is there, of course-(he has never bothered me that much, and with him we always have the opportunity to listen to the Petipa deleted "Dance of the Corps de Ballet and the Dwarves" in the ballroom act).

Act II's MAJOR minus is the refashion of the Pas de Quatre-(Cygnets)-into a weird Pas de Six. This dance is probably one of the very few in the classical repertoire that never changes from company to company, from continent to continent. I think this is the only time I have seen it reworked, and the result is less than successful. The dancers split and dance separately, so the whole magic of the pas gets completely broken. They dance, turn and do many silly steps I can't remember, but I guess they have been trying to stay 100% faithful to Messerer's choreo so Pas de Six we have. The other faux pas I found, in my book, is the entrance of the swan corps before Odette, right with the accords of the famous theme, along with the hyperactive little winged Rothbart. I find this entrance really breaks the magic of Odette's entrance, which is usually the first white tutu we see in the ballet-(unless proven different in the recent recon, which I haven't seen ). What also happens is that the following usual iconic entrance of the corps of maidens is not then as effective.

The Love Duet stays pretty much the same as we all know it, except for a longer that what I remember harp cadenza for its beginning.

The ballroom act is very luxurious...The Mazurca, Czarda, Spanish Dance and Tarantella are all very pretty. I always enjoy the Russians in the national dances in Swan Lake. They really know how to do czardas and mazurcas!

The Black Swan pdd was also pretty much as we know it, with the exception that, for Siegfried's solo it uses the 1877 orchestration, which starts with a tremolo violin solo that connects its beginning with the end of the adagio, and uses more of violin than brass in the bulk of the music.

The last lakeside act has Siegfried and Odette dancing to the Petipa deleted "Andante con Moto" from the ballroom act's '95 omitted Pas de Six. The end is the standard Soviet silly re invention of Swans turning into humans while one winged spasms-driven Rothbart dies on the floor.

Odette was nicely danced by Anastasia Soboleva and Siegfried by a disconnected Victor Lebedev, who seemed to be comfortable only when dancing by himself.

Generally speaking, I enjoyed the production. Again...being in such a beautiful theater, with a great sounding orchestra and a terrific corps made up for a great night.

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Thanks so much for the precis here. With the wealth of new information that we've been absorbing over the last several years about the Petipa repertory, I think we're all thinking about how we got where we are. This production is a fascinating example of one of the intermediary steps.

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Thanks so much for the precis here. With the wealth of new information that we've been absorbing over the last several years about the Petipa repertory, I think we're all thinking about how we got where we are. This production is a fascinating example of one of the intermediary steps.

I think so too. As a side note, I was just looking at the video online of this production and got confused, for which it shows the Act II's Pas de Quatre-(cygnets)- as we all know it, with the traditional choreo, instead of the reworked Pas de Six I saw at the Mikhailovsky. One thing that still upsets me-(and that I've always been very vocal about)- from all the Soviet productions-(K.Sergueev for the Kirov, Grigorovich for the Bolshoi and Messerer's at the Mikhailovsky)-is the altering of the libretto at the end. I have had talks with people about Swan Lake, and have been asked what is the story about. I always proceed to recount the storyline...the encounter, the ballroom with Odile faking as the other girl and Odette's decision to die as the only way left to brake the spell, followed by her lover. I have also been told sometimes in reference to videos that I suggest, some of them Russians, that this is not what they saw, to which I go to explain the Soviet decision to rework the finale and make it a silly "happy one" unrelated to the afterlife concept of Vladimir Begichev and Vasily Geltzer's original libretto.

As per Mikhail Messerer, who was responsible for the reconstruction of this production..."To my mind, the production corresponds to modern society: everybody wants a happy end today, and our Swan Lake will provide it".

That "everybody" is quite a generous generalization...

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I think in some cases, "everybody" meant "everybody with power."

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"In one of Gorsky’s versions - and I’m not joking - he had boys in grey shorts dancing the cygnets' dance" (from Messerer interview--link below).

The 6 cygnet choreography was added or, rather, restored to the Mikhailovsky production fairly recently. Plans for the change are mentioned in a 2010 Mikhail Messerer interview with Ismene Brown that also gives a lot of background to the production. One thing I found quite interesting in view of recent discussions of Ratmansky's Swan Lake:

"After all, if you think about it, the original Swan Lake got altered because it was constantly restaged and reworked by its creators... You know, I am sceptical about those Harvard notations - I don’t think it’s possible to recreate from notes. It is not easily recreated even from film, even if you danced in it yourself..."

Brown and Messerer return to this subject later with Brown pressing him more and more--he concludes one response rather acerbically, but still making (I think) a serious point:

"I think it’s more important for people to be good stagers than good historians - or they just become librarians."

He also responds to Brown's question about the ending:

"One can have the tragic ending, but there aren’t any in Russia that are famous. But it’s not my job to make changes for the better or for the worse. I wanted to preserve a complete period piece as a piece of art of its time - the 1937 version as performed famously in London in 1956."

Anyway, here is the link:

http://www.theartsdesk.com/print/1825

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"In one of Gorsky’s versions - and I’m not joking - he had boys in grey shorts dancing the cygnets' dance" (from Messerer interview--link below).

The 6 cygnet choreography was added or, rather, restored to the Mikhailovsky production fairly recently. Plans for the change are mentioned in a 2010 Mikhail Messerer interview with Ismene Brown that also gives a lot of background to the production. One thing I found quite interesting in view of recent discussions of Ratmansky's Swan Lake:

"After all, if you think about it, the original Swan Lake got altered because it was constantly restaged and reworked by its creators... You know, I am sceptical about those Harvard notations - I don’t think it’s possible to recreate from notes. It is not easily recreated even from film, even if you danced in it yourself..."

He also responds to Brown's question about the ending:

"One can have the tragic ending, but there aren’t any in Russia that are famous. But it’s not my job to make changes for the better or for the worse. I wanted to preserve a complete period piece as a piece of art of its time - the 1937 version as performed famously in London in 1956."

Thank you for the insight, Drew. I remember reading somewhere, a while ago, that the cygnets dance has passed from company to company, from continent to continent and from century to century famously identical, which could be a case of having right there a real piece of Petipa-(or Ivanov) as it was originally created. I also recall seeing a picture of a very detailed diagram of the notation of the pas, so in this case I'm not very sure of the benefit of reworking it, although I see the point on trying to present Messerer's production as much faithful to the way it was presented back in the 30's.

About the ending...well, I keep my fingers crossed that they always keep the original double suicide in ABT so people can have an idea of how the real story line for the finale is, given that "there aren't any in Russia that are famous". (And thinking of it...and this questions goes for the NYrs...How is that Misha didn't import this Soviet staple during his tenure...?)

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[...]

... (And thinking of it...and this questions goes for the NYrs...How is that Misha didn't import this Soviet staple during his tenure...?)

Here is a link to a feature (w. interview) on the Baryshnikov production of Swan Lake that premiered at ABT in the late 80's. I never saw it, but remember it received a mixed reaction--as alluded to in this feature piece. What he says in the interview doesn't address your question directly, but indirectly perhaps. (As the article mentions, too, Baryshnikov never danced Siegfried in the Soviet Union.)

http://www.nytimes.com/1989/05/07/arts/baryshnikov-searches-for-the-heart-of-swan-lake.html?pagewanted=all

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Here is a link to a feature (w. interview) on the Baryshnikov production of Swan Lake that premiered at ABT in the late 80's. I never saw it, but remember it received a mixed reaction--as alluded to in this feature piece. What he says in the interview doesn't address your question directly, but indirectly perhaps. (As the article mentions, too, Baryshnikov never danced Siegfried in the Soviet Union.)

http://www.nytimes.com/1989/05/07/arts/baryshnikov-searches-for-the-heart-of-swan-lake.html?pagewanted=all

Thanks for the link, Drew! Very interesting indeed. About the double suicide..

"None animates him more than the double-suicide of Odette and Prince Siegfried, who choose finally to die for love and liberate the corps of swans from the spell of Von Rothbart. With respect to the leading characters in ''Swan Lake,'' Mr. Baryshnikov has scrutinized their motivation in detail. Their death is an issue that is relevant. This ballet questions: Can a human being sacrifice himself for love in our modern times?'' he says. ''It happens not very often - love, patriotism, justice are the big romantic reasons. And a person who dies for them demands attention. I think it's probably the most beautiful death, because you have to rise with the momentum. Other people kill themselves because they are in disagreement with reality. But for love? Very few people can do that. It's like a sacrifice. That's what I wanted to introduce. And it's in the music, too - the Wagnerian touch at the end is very much a sacred epiphany for the characters".

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What was puzzling to me was that the production that preceded Baryshnikov's at ABT had the double suicide, so that, in itself, would not have been a change in the ABT context. Would be interested to hear from those who saw it ...

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The Cuban company premiered its full length, four acts production in 1953, with Alonso and Royes Fernandez in the leads. This production-(wonderfully crafted)- was staged by Mary Skeaping, and featured the double suicide.

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There is a 1957 film out there of the Messerer production featuring Maya Plisetskaya, it also has 6 dancers in a totally different dance of the cygnets. You can find it on YouTube in its entirety, the cygnets start around 32 minutes into it.

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"Balshoye Spasiba" to Cubanmiamiboy and all other contributors for this thread - has been most interesting and informative for me. Am in Spb to see Yakabson's "Shurale" and saw this version of SL with Soboleva-Lebedev last evening. Agree that the iconic cygnets PdQ turned into a PdS is really weird - if it ain't broke why fix it ???  Don't really like this version of the finale either :  "Red Baron von Rothbart shot down ... wing breaks off, goes into a spin and crashes !"  Hope you will not find me "conceited" but after seeing SL at the Bolshoy 4 or 5 times in last 3 years with Zaharova/Smirnova/Nikulina and Rodkin/Chudin, getting accustomed to the precision of the dancers and the CdB I did not click with this SL. Imho Swan Lake is a ballet which very quickly lays bare the difference in the "quality" of the dancers and the CdB, especially the latter. Of the various version I have seen so far I found the Bolshoy Grigarovich and the Stanislavsky Burmeister versions most noteworthy, will certainly make a dedicated trip to see the Burmeister again.

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