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"Swan Lake" a la Liam Scarlett (what to expect .....)


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Yet another deconstructed-and-reconstructed classic is in the offing it seems ..... no escape these days whether be it opera, ballet or food ..... the end is nigh :


(in my early teens when I was a student at an English school in Istanbul one of our teachers, when he didn't think the answer he got in reply to his question made sense, used to say " rubbish ..... tripe ..... balderdash !!"  Can't figure out why this came to my mind now .....)

Edited by mnacenani
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The production it replaces was hideous, many lifetime balletomanes took one look and never went back.  The tragedy was that the previous version was wonderful and there was no reason to ditch it.

Part of me thinks nothing could be worse than what we've endured for the last couple of decades, I'll certainly go and see it and will report back if anyone is interested.   Quite upset that this SL also be set in the late 19th century, I've a fear of getting more of the same.


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1 hour ago, Mashinka said:

The tragedy was that the previous version was wonderful and there was no reason to ditch it.

I had seen a RB production of Swan Lake with Guillem and Legris in (I think) 1993 which was very good (with costumes by Valentino or something). This must have been the "previous version" you have referred to.

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My memory is that the Dowell production was at least respectful of the traditional Swan Lake choreographic template that, I infer, goes back to Nicholas Sergeyev/Ninette de Valois. I'm hoping Scarlett doesn't mess with that too much. (Though if there are to be non-traditional elements, I was mostly hoping we would get back the Ashton Act III pas de quatre; I gather that is not in the offing.)

If late 19th-century setting means a sort of Burne-Jones medievalism, then that would rather intrigue me; I can mentally picture a Swan Lake in that spirit. But if  it means late nineteenth century 'straight up' as in sunset years of the Kaiser, and WWI is coming, then I'm going to be open minded, but it raises...questions. 

Mostly though--Dear Royal Ballet: please light the ballet so someone over forty can see it. My biggest grip with Scarlett (whom I think intriguing as a choreographer based on what I have seen so far) is that he sets his ballets in shadow. Sometimes it's so dark that if he reproduced those same lighting effects in Swan Lake one could not blame Siegfried for mistakenly shooting at Odette thinking she was still an actual Swan (except perhaps from an animal rights point of view)...or, for that matter, blame him for mistaking Odile for Odette.

(I should explain perhaps that if Mr. Drew's work plans pan out as planned, then I will be seeing this production in June as that helps make the trip to London do-able. As I live far from major ballet companies--though my local company has its strong/interesting qualities--this Swan Lake is my big classical ballet "event" of year so, to say the least, I'm pretty determined to enjoy this production one way or another. But... even I, at my most pollyanish, have limits.)

Edited by Drew
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9 minutes ago, JMcN said:

I saw it on 15th April 1989 and have never wanted to see it again!  (So I haven't).

So the SL I had seen in Jan 1990 and again in May 1993 must have been this production. I am a little confused - I don't remember much but I thought that what I had seen in Jan 1990 was a new production staged first time that season, and that the costumes were done by a famous designer.  Well, I might just be making things up ........ AS USUAL  :D:D

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Thanks for drawing attention to this, JMcN.

" it has always been a curiously unlovable and un-atmospheric affair. Yolanda Sonnabend’s camply garish designs now look more suited to a pretentious Shoreditch bar than to a staging of a 19th-century balletic masterpiece. And, unlike Birmingham Royal Ballet’s and English National Ballet’s quietly elegant, infinitely purposeful versions, it seems fussily over-keen to draw attention to itself as a Big Production."

The choreographic text was actually good, it was the overall look of the thing that put so many off such as the overpopulated stage in act I and those awful Swan costumes that only flattered girls above 5'8".  Is should have been replaced years ago.

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There was no real problem with the Dowell production as far as the choeographic text was concerned apart from the fact that Ashton was so upset by the removal of all of his choreography for the ballet that he refused to let Dowell use his Neapolitan Dance. It was Sonnabend's design which people objected to and which led many to stay away from the Royal's performances of the ballet for years. The Neapolitan Dance which had been part of the text of the Royal's Swan Lake since 1952 was only restored after Ashton's death. Unfortunately the bling laden designs remained with us until the very end. I somehow suspect that if it had not been Dowell's production the designs at least would have been replaced long ago. 

Last season Scarlett was interviewed by Monica Mason at an Insight evening. I found it intriguing when he said that he had only agreed to be interviewed because she was to be the interviewer. At one point he said that she had not let him undertake some projects and that he now recognised that she had made the right decision. The frightening thing for me was that he said that he liked the design ideas for Dowell's Sleeping Beauty which was another design disaster as far as I was concerned.Towards the end of the interview she asked him what he could say about his Swan Lake. He answered that he was still doing his research but he was keeping the Ashton Neapolitan Dance because he had enjoyed dancing it. He said that he was aware of the company's tradition and he recognised what a great responsibility he had been given. I have to say that I was rather impressed by this response from someone in his early thirties.

What we have been told about the new choreography suggests that, for good or ill, Scarlett is following the lead of the 1963 production or one of its off shoots which were staged in the 1970's. The indication that he is giving the prince more to dance could simply mean that he is going to give him a moody solo at the end of act one which while it may not be in the original text did the ballet no harm and was part of the RB's Lake from 1963 onward until Dowell's production was staged. It's the suggestion that we might have a dancing Rothbart which gives me more concern.

If the new text is disliked the company has a number of textual options available to it. The real problem will arise if the designs are as badly thought out as those for the Dowell production were simply because they cost so much. 


Edited by Ashton Fan
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That 1963 production was by Robert Helpmann and began with a prologue showing Odette transformed into a swan, the sets were by Carl Toms and I remember lots of gothic spikes but the performance area left clear.  I have a feeling Nureyev staged one of the national dances along with the new solo for the prince.  I think it was this production for which Ashton re-choreographed the 4th act, I remember it as being very beautiful.

As a choreographer I have found Liam Scarlett's work to be hit and miss, much to admire but inconsistent, has he staged a classic ballet elsewhere or is the RB handing him this opportunity without him having a proven track record of similar productions?  If it turns out to be two duds in a row I'll  be feeing more than a bit miffed.


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The short answer is "Too long". In fact Bjornson's designs with overly fussy costumes, a listing palace and the flight of stairs down which Aurora made her entrance just before embarking on the Rose Adagio only "graced" the stage from 1994 until 2003 when Dowell's production was replaced under Stretton's directorship by one staged by Markarova.  

 Unfortunately this production did nothing to endear Stretton to the local audience. He had staged Nureyev's Don Quixote for the company ignoring the fact that its not the sort of ballet which plays to the company's strengths and that de Valois had declined Nureyev's offer to stage it for the company some forty years before.That had been bad enough but with his new Sleeping Beauty produced by Markarova  using Konstantin Sergeyev's choreography Stretton was seen to be ignoring the ballet's local performance tradition. The company was given a version of the  ballet based on revisions to the text made in the 1950's that are part of modern Russian performing tradition which not only ignored the fact that the ballet had an important local performance tradition dating back to the Diaghilev company's staging at the Alhambra in the 1920's but its significance to the Royal Ballet's sense of identity and its understanding of its history and development. For the Royal Ballet Sleeping Beauty is not just a classical ballet it is THE classical ballet. 

Edited by Ashton Fan
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Actually Makarova's production had a lot of admirers in London, the designs in particular were quite lovely.  I am an admirer of Konstantine Sergeyev's productions that still remain the backbone of the Maryinsky's classical rep.  The SB that replaced it is deadly dull, but like Dowell's Swan Lake we are likely to be stuck with it for a very long time as the RB rewards it s directors with the opportunity to stage something, no matter how inept, as a kind of pension pot, so that when they vacate the job that still get money from royalties.

As for Don Q, we are now onto the RB's third production, it may not play to the company's strengths in general, but there are finally dancers available that can do it justice and it is always an audience pleaser, it's about time the RB performed a bravura piece that is nevertheless rooted in classicism, particularly looking forward to seeing Hayward, Sambe and Corrales dance it when it is next revived.

This thread however is in danger of going seriously off topic as we are supposed to be discussing Liam Scarteltt's Swan Lake.


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Dear Mashinka,

You liked the Markarova production a lot of people I know did not for the reasons I have given. I did not say that the text which Markarova selected was bad simply that it was derived from a different tradition. I agree with you about the designs which were good. As far as the current Sleeping Beauty is concerned I think that the main problems with it are the sluggish speed at which the ballet has been performed in successive seasons, some Auroras concentrating on the Rose Adagio at the expense of the ballet's second and third acts and their role's over all trajectory and the casting and coaching of the Prologue Fairies. At times their casting has suggested suggested that they were selected by drawing names out of a hat.At least at the last revival the presence of Mr Kessels in the pit  ensured that the ballet was danced at a speed which reflected Petipa's musicality.

As far as my hopes for the new Swan Lake production are concerned I hope that it will have designs which create an appropriate mood for the ballet, ensure that it is  visible throughout the theatre and that it is danced at a speed and in a style which reflects both Petipa's and Ivanov's musicality thus ensuring that in act two the corps de ballet and Odette look as if they are appearing in the same ballet. I also hope that Scarlett's choreography is not too at variance with the rest of the text being danced and that if it is too awful it is replaced in double quick time by either the original choreography or Ashton's.

Edited by Ashton Fan
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