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Birdsall

Mariinsky in London 2017

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The London audience for the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi is far more mixed than the Covent Garden audience which usually attends ballet performances there. It is composed of Russians living locally, foreign visitors; people who only attend ballet performances when the Russians are in town and a small sprinkling of "regulars" whose interest in the artistic health of one of the world's great ballet company's outweighs other factors such as ticket prices,audience behaviour and K.Sergeyev's  textual choices.   

 

As Mashinka says the prices charged for performances by visiting Russian companies appearing in Bow Street deter a lot of the local ballet going audience. In addition to the deterrent effect of the pricing I know a lot of "regulars" who won't go near a Russian Swan Lake because of a combination of the  "amateur audience" and the text danced. As far as the text is concerned lots of regulars don't much admire performances which seem to be more like evocations of Swan Lake than the ballet which Petipa and Ivanov created. However wonderfully stylistically cohesive, and beautifully refined the Mariinsky corps de ballet is there are quite a lot of Covent Garden "regulars" who don't find that its performance or that of the dancers cast as the Swan Queen and her prince compensate adequately for the presence of the intrusive jester and the all dancing Rothbart; the loss of key mime passages which prevents anything approaching effective story telling or the substitution of a happy ending for the original tragic ending and apotheosis. I think that a few more "regulars" will be found to have braved the ticket prices and audience behaviour to see La Bayadere.

 

Ticket sales have been far slower than usual. Swan Lake sold out but there were still tickets available until a few weeks ago.La Bayadere has only recently sold out. I think that there were actually special offers for Don Q. Although there are only two performances Anna Karenina took ages to sell out and both performances of the "Contrasts" mixed bill which includes Paquita are each said to have over a hundred tickets available for both performances.I hope that the poor sales don't put further visits in jeopardy.

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Flying into San Francisco is always iffy because of fog, and I got to War Memorial late for "Don Carlo.". I was let into standing room with the rest of the latecomers, and it was like being in a singles bar.

 

People were a lot better behaved in the Ampitheater for Royal Opera and Royal ballet the last time I was there, but I don't remember wine being allowed yet.  (I was scandalized when they not only sold ice cream -- branded, no less -- inside the auditorium, and people shoved their empty containers under the seat like it was a baseball game.)

 

But I met a lovely fellow armrest-less sardine from one of the islands, who was in town for a culture binge.  

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1 hour ago, Helene said:

People were a lot better behaved in the Ampitheater for Royal Opera and Royal ballet the last time I was there, but I don't remember wine being allowed yet.  (I was scandalized when they not only sold ice cream -- branded, no less -- inside the auditorium, and people shoved their empty containers under the seat like it was a baseball game.)

 

When I was at the War Memorial Opera House last spring, they had instituted a new policy allowing covered beverages into the theater. Alas, those ancient seats don't have cup-holders, so I found myself holding a cup of coffee during the performance and decided - never again.

 

I love the little ice cream cups at Royal Opera house and they seem to be all the rage with audiences. I was most surprised at all the elegant dining tables tucked into every available lobby area, with people enjoying their food at intermission (oops - intervals) and then seeming to skip the next act so they could finish.

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I think I am one of the few who loves the Sergeyev Swan Lake more than any other version. To me the production has such a poetic and beautiful mood unlike the Royal Ballet's current version, the POB or Bolshoi. I have seen clips of the Ratmansky reconstruction and even though I find that fascinating it has a cutesy, almost childish quality I am not used to. I love the high Russian attitudes Odette does in the Sergeyev version. I do not miss mime at all because I know the story and find mime fairly boring and needless since I know the story (I know many will find that sacrilegious). I am also one of the only Americans who loves the Jester. I don't understand why people find him annoying. It is a chance for a petite male to shine. The London audiences (I heard many English people) seemed to love him. The happy ending doesn't bother me either because I think the double suicide with Odette and Siegfried together in Heaven is also a happy ending. I see no difference between being happy together on Earth or happy together in Heaven. Both endings are beautiful and result in the same thing. I actually hate the Disney World atmosphere of ABT's version! 

 

I will continue to see the Sergeyev version whenever I can. It touches me by its sheer beauty more than any other version. For me it is poetic even in the first scene watching the Mariinsky corps with their gorgeous, flowing arms. 

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Putting aside Tchaikovsky/Petipa/Ivanov's intentions, I still can't agree that the two endings are both comparably "happy." The desperation of the suicide, followed by an etherial otherworldly comfort seems dramatically very different than Siegfried defeating the villain, reviving Odette, and going off to be married.

 

The whole "meaning" of the ending is different too. The lovers heavenly happiness hangs on their having made a sacrifice --there is no thought of earthly happiness. The sacrifice also proves their love--Siegfried in particular has to be redeemed for breaking his vow.

 

(I guess there is no way to decide the matter, but I would have also said that Siegfried and Odette do not know they are going to their reward--only that they can no longer live in a world controlled by Rothbart. That adds to the sacrifice. They aren't saying "see you later" as they fling themselves off the cliff.)

 

All of this seems quite different to me from the more ordinary happiness that concludes Sergeyev's version--and much more worthy of Tchaikovsky's extraordinary music for the closing minutes of the ballet.

 

I happen to enjoy Sergeyev's version anyway and certainly the most profound performances of the ballet I can remember seeing were by the Mariinsky in this version. But I wish Sergeyev had kept, or been able to keep, the "tragic" ending...that is, the ending in which happiness on this earth--the world of Acts I and III (Scene I and Act II in Sergeyev's version)--is no longer possible.

Edited by Drew

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I guess I view the general idea of love overcoming obstacles whether in the afterlife or in this world as what I get out of it. 

 

In fact, the way the world is going I actually find the concept of finding happiness on Earth as a huge fairytale that is a beautiful dream. Many of us are contemplating jumping off a cliff like Odette and Siegfried with the way the world is currently so unbelievably disgusting, so, in my opinion, in 2017 the double suicide is more realistic so less dreamy. I am now pro-Death. Even being in a permanent sleep 6 feet under is a better world than what we live in currently. Finding happiness on Earth is the much bigger fairytale!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to DREAM so I choose Sergeyev!

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1 hour ago, Birdsall said:

I guess I view the general idea of love overcoming obstacles whether in the afterlife or in this world as what I get out of it. 

 

In fact, the way the world is going I actually find the concept of finding happiness on Earth as a huge fairytale that is a beautiful dream. Many of us are contemplating jumping off a cliff like Odette and Siegfried with the way the world is currently so unbelievably disgusting, so, in my opinion, in 2017 the double suicide is more realistic so less dreamy. I am now pro-Death. Even being in a permanent sleep 6 feet under is a better world than what we live in currently. Finding happiness on Earth is the much bigger fairytale!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to DREAM so I choose Sergeyev!

 

Sad...but this also made me laugh ... I can certainly identify with the feelings you describe.

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My favourite Swan Lake used to be the old Royal Ballet one where the lovers are seen gliding away into a better world, but yes the Kirov version is probably the best around.  I've always assumed the Russian happy ending reflected the triumphal music at the ballet's end, but it could I suppose be interpreted as the triumph of death.

 

I rarely bother with Swan Lake at all these days but decided to see Kondaurova and Osmolkina and admired both, the latter is an O/O of exceptional sensitivity.

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I like elements of both Mariinsky and Royal Ballet versions.  Like Birdsall, I don't mind the jester per se, and I do think the Mariinsky Swan Lake is the finest in the world, unbelievable beautiful and poetic, and with the most outstanding dancers in the world and the best corps.  The corps alone is worth the price of the ticket with their beauty,  refinement, unanimity and eloquence - a huge tribute to the greatness of their talent and dedication,  Vaganova training and their wonderful coaches.   Their epaulement is beyond beautiful!  However, I too miss the mime scenes which are such an integral part of the storytelling and I also prefer the sad suicide ending with yes, agree Mashinka, Siegfried and Odette gliding away into a better world.  To me, the "fight" between Rothbart and Siegfried always appears somewhat ludicrous with apparently the loss of one wing causing his death.  I think Tchaikovsky's music is far more appropriately portrayed with the apotheosis of the lovers after death...  Well, we can argue until the cows come home about authenticity but overall, if I could choose ONE Swan Lake to see, it would still be the Mariinsky's!  :)

Edited by MadameP

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4 hours ago, Drew said:

 

Sad...but this also made me laugh ... I can certainly identify with the feelings you describe.

 

Yes, I try to laugh too. 

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9 hours ago, Drew said:

Putting aside Tchaikovsky/Petipa/Ivanov's intentions, I still can't agree that the two endings are both comparably "happy." The desperation of the suicide, followed by an etherial otherworldly comfort seems dramatically very different than Siegfried defeating the villain, reviving Odette, and going off to be married.

 

The whole "meaning" of the ending is different too. The lovers heavenly happiness hangs on their having made a sacrifice --there is no thought of earthly happiness. The sacrifice also proves their love--Siegfried in particular has to be redeemed for breaking his vow.

 

(I guess there is no way to decide the matter, but I would have also said that Siegfried and Odette do not know they are going to their reward--only that they can no longer live in a world controlled by Rothbart. That adds to the sacrifice. They aren't saying "see you later" as they fling themselves off the cliff.)

 

All of this seems quite different to me from the more ordinary happiness that concludes Sergeyev's version--and much more worthy of Tchaikovsky's extraordinary music for the closing minutes of the ballet.

 

I happen to enjoy Sergeyev's version anyway and certainly the most profound performances of the ballet I can remember seeing were by the Mariinsky in this version. But I wish Sergeyev had kept, or been able to keep, the "tragic" ending...that is, the ending in which happiness on this earth--the world of Acts I and III (Scene I and Act II in Sergeyev's version)--is no longer possible.

I thought the explanation for the Soviet ending was pretty clear in the historic record. The Communists were atheists, so they couldn't tolerate an ending that relied on a religious afterlife where people could find happiness. They needed to force an ending in the here-and-now, where good triumphed over evil in this world, not some fictional afterlife. Given the resurgence of religion after the fall of Communism in the early 90s, it has always surprised me that the Russian companies did not revert to the traditional ending, but perhaps they just got used to the Soviet version.

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There is of course a third possible ending, more rarely seen. with Siegfried drowning in the lake leaving Odette in Rothbart's power for eternity, or perhaps until a prince capable of discerning black from white comes along.

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Quote:

 

"Art, such as ballet, helps me to dream. The happier the art, the happier my dreams."

 

Sam Poet  

Edited by Buddy

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1 hour ago, Mashinka said:

There is of course a third possible ending, more rarely seen. with Siegfried drowning in the lake leaving Odette in Rothbart's power for eternity, or perhaps until a prince capable of discerning black from white comes along.

I love this! Wasn't this Baryshnikov's rationale for putting Odile in white in the ballroom scene -- that Siegfried would not be so stupid as to not recognize the difference between black and white? Of course, thanks to Ratmansky's reconstruction, we now know that the original Odile was in green and black with lots of sparkly things.

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I've also read that red and gold was traditional for Odile, like she was wearing a party dress.  The original music for that pas de deux, which Balanchine used in "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," was a lot softer and less in-your-face bad girl, which made it a lot more reasonable.

 

I think the dramatic subtext starts with people having their private mode and their public mode, especially royals.  If he weren't in such a panic being pressed to make a decision in public, he might have sussed Odile out, but she showed up as a savior just in the nick of time, in the current "tradition" in a little black dress.  It's easy to see him as an idiot, but there's a solid dramatic context for the way he acts, and the more dramatically adept Siegfrieds manage to convey this.  We'd all like to think we'd be clear thinking in that kind of pressure-filled situation, but easier said than done.

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50 minutes ago, Helene said:

I've also read that red and gold was traditional for Odile, like she was wearing a party dress.  The original music for that pas de deux, which Balanchine used in "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," was a lot softer and less in-your-face bad girl, which made it a lot more reasonable.

The historic record is somewhat muddled, but I had understood that Tchaikovsky wrote that music to appease the ballerina in the 1877 Bolshoi version (which flopped), as he heard she didn't like his music and was substituting some of her favorites from other ballets. But she didn't like his substitute either and it was never performed, either by Bolshoi or Mariinsky. It was discovered in a Moscow library in the 1950s, Balanchine heard about it and purchased the rights, then used it for Tchai pas. So it does have the "feel" of Swan Lake, but was never actually used.

 

I don't know that we know a lot about the 1877 version -- perhaps the red and gold was used in that one. But I assume the historical record is slim for a flop.

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7 hours ago, California said:

I thought the explanation for the Soviet ending was pretty clear in the historic record. The Communists were atheists, so they couldn't tolerate an ending that relied on a religious afterlife where people could find happiness. They needed to force an ending in the here-and-now, where good triumphed over evil in this world, not some fictional afterlife. Given the resurgence of religion after the fall of Communism in the early 90s, it has always surprised me that the Russian companies did not revert to the traditional ending, but perhaps they just got used to the Soviet version.

 

That was the explanation I was always taught -- though it doesn't seem to have been a consistent principle in Soviet stagings of 19th-century ballets generally.  (Idealizing "sacrifice" for the sake of the future is perfectly consistent with Soviet communist ideals--just not a literal faith in the afterlife.)  Presumably, in 2017 loyalty to the traditions handed down to them, not state atheism, keeps the "happy" ending in place in Russian productions. Since Sergeyev's production is in many respects splendid I can easily understand that loyalty. But I don't find this the most profound way to end Swan Lake.

 

My reasons (sketched above) have to do with how I understand the ballet and its music--I don't think this is just a difference of taste but rather a difference of interpretation. I think Swan Lake is about freedom as much or more than it is about love. Of course many people may well prefer to see Siegfried and Odette rewarded in this world, but the meaning of the ballet becomes slightly different when it ends that way and, I'd say, becomes less profound.  The music, in particular, calls for something more.

 

As it happens, after the fall of the Soviet Union, at least two major Russian stagers/choreographers changed the "happy" ending. In a Vinogradov staging for the Kirov/Mariinsky that was brought to New York, Rothbart is defeated, but since Siegfried broke his vow, Odette and the other swan-maidens still remain captive to his enchantment. The ballet ends with the Swan maidens exiting the stage in movements echoing their entrance in the first Lake scene. Many people hated that ending, but I thought it was a perfect allegory of that chaotic moment in Russian history--from a certain perspective at least: an "evil" had been defeated, but no clear "good" had emerged (certainly the economy was in shambles.) Grigorovich also changed the ending of his version which is now not so much tragic as grim--showing Siegfried to be nothing more than the victim of his evil genius. (I don't remember what Grigorovich calls Rothbart, but he acts like an 'evil genius;') It's not clear that Odette even exists in this version. I have some thoughts about what Grigorovich may be allegorizing too--but perhaps too much politics for one post...

 

(This isn't about knocking K. Sergeyev or the Mariinsky--I have enjoyed performances of Sergeyev's Swan Lake a great deal, and the Mariinsky is, in fact, my favorite company in Swan Lake. By far. Their corps in the final act more than makes up for what I think the "happy" ending lacks. But my preference for the double suicide with the lovers united in the land of the dead remains strong.)


 

Edited by Drew

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23 minutes ago, Drew said:

 

That was the explanation I was always taught -- though it doesn't seem to have been a consistent principle in Soviet stagings of 19th-century ballets generally. 
 

No kidding! I've always been amused that willis and sylphs survived the Soviet regime, but not heaven. But atheistic communism wasn't really a well-worked-out anti-theology. The main goal, I gather, was to crush the influence of organized religion in Russia. When rebellion struck in Poland and later the entire eastern bloc, it was religion that seemed to be one of the major driving forces to demolish communism.

 

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I love the Mariinsky Swan Lake last act-although I do adore Purple Rothbart.  New video on A Ermakov's channel from London-music and choreography at 3:05-major Ermakov lift, then 3:26- Shklyarov lifts Tereshkina in the swan diagonals and chases Rothbart.   

 

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"Even in my moments of deepest reflection, I've always felt that beauty should be beautiful."

 

Sam Poet

Edited by Buddy

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Possibly everyone would agree that it’s so much of the beauty within the art form that draws us to the ballet. This beauty has its own spell. Couldn’t/shouldn’t the ‘literary content’ be worked with as much as possible to elicit/reinforce the exact same response ?

Edited by Buddy
spelling correction

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Perhaps I could clarify what I’m trying to say. I’m talking about the pure beauty of the dance and I’m thinking primarily about the Mariinsky, which possibly exemplifies this best. As good a focus as any is its Swan Lake. I’ve mentioned before that when I watch the Mariinsky’s performance, all my attention centers around the famous White Swan duet. It stands by itself as perhaps the most enchanting passage of pure dance in all ballet. After that, all I want to do is to conserve and continue that experience. I focus primarily on whatever follows that maintains and reinforces this. I truly appreciate any aspect of the story line and its interpretation that accomplishes this.

 

Is this an abstract approach? Maybe. Is it a case for abstract ballet? Maybe it is. As in pure instrumental, there are no words. The pleasure is the pure dance. Why look at it this way? Because companies like the Mariinsky do it with such remarkable beauty. 

 

The Bolshoi is a slightly different matter. Its pure dance can be just as fine, but the importance of expression and characterisation is also very evident. Thus the ’story line’ and its interpretation have more impact. I think that ultimately I value the pure dance of any company the most. The Bolshoi never overwhelms the dance with the drama and the message. As an example, I recall Svetlana Zakharova (I believe) once saying that the Bolshoi actually tries to smooth out the Odile character. And I would add that the Bolshoi’s Maria Alexandrova performed one of the most delightful Odiles that I’ve ever seen and for me it worked just fine. In addition it helped to maintain the gentle, delicate and uplifting aura that for me is the essence of this work and perhaps all of ballet.

 

Edited by Buddy
several words added for emphasis

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3 hours ago, Buddy said:

Perhaps I could clarify what I’m trying to say. I’m talking about the pure beauty of the dance and I’m thinking primarily about the Mariinsky, which possibly exemplifies this best. As good a focus as any is its Swan Lake. I’ve mentioned before that when I watch the Mariinsky’s performance, all my attention centers around the famous White Swan duet. It stands by itself as perhaps the most enchanting passage of pure dance in all ballet. After that, all I want to do is to conserve and continue that experience. I focus primarily on whatever follows that maintains and reinforces this. I truly appreciate any aspect of the story line and its interpretation that accomplishes this.

 

Is this an abstract approach? Maybe. Is it a case for abstract ballet? Maybe it is. As in pure instrumental, there are no words. The pleasure is the pure dance. Why look at it this way? Because companies like the Mariinsky do it with such remarkable beauty. 

 

 

You only focus on the White Swan pas de deux? I think the beauty of Swan Lake is the juxtaposition of the poetic lakeside scenes with the earthiness of the "colored" scenes. To only focus on one aspect of the ballet is not really getting the ballet at all.

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It sure did.But who else has his power to distill the essence? 

Edited by Olga
Typo

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