Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet, "Swan Lake"


At the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, The Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet's "Swan Lake" is the most unusual and refreshing production of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece in quite some time. It's the Vladimir Bourmeister staging from 1953 which uses Tchaikovsky's original score from the 1877 premiere at The Bolshoi, rather than the better known, reworked version used by Petipa and Ivanov at the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg. Among the major differences, he adds a prologue that shows the bewitching of Odette by von Rothbart, and an epilogue which includes a climatic flood, and transfiguration of love and redemption, of Siegfried and Odette. It also returns the music of the Black Swan Pas de Deux of the third act back to the first act for a sweet little duet between Siegfried and a country girl.

The Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet was started in 1929 by former Bolshoi star Victorina Krieger. She encouraged the dancing actors to identify with a role by becoming totally immersed in the inner life of the character, to bring depth to the drama without compromising the choreography. The company continues that tradition today with one of the most dramatic renditions of "Swan Lake" I've seen, while exhibiting some of the most spectacular dancing anywhere.

In the prologue Princess Odette frolics in a forest glade, picking a bouquet of flowers. Von Rothbart, called The Evil Genius here, appears on a rocky promontory as a big, predatory bird, and just seems to gather her in. Act One opens in a beautiful garden with intricately detailed leafy trees, fading to a background of a hillside with castles and turrets. Siegfried finds Odette's bouquet, picks it up, and muses over it. There's general rejoicing and the Jester pirouettes and leaps across the stage. This role is a tour de force for V. Breusenko. It's probably the most demanding and athletic male role in the entire ballet, and he plays it with flair. He looks like he's having great fun and the apparent ease and nonchalance belie the strength and grace needed to make it work.

This a more contemplative Siegfried than most, and there seems to be more tension between him and his Mother than usual. The courtiers flood the stage in beautiful multi-layered, sparkly costumes of delicate blues, greens, and lavenders. The ensemble becomes a leaping, turning tapestry. They lift the women, the Jester pirouettes, and Siegfried makes a grand entrance. He spins and splits across the stage. Here is the Black Swan music as Siegfried does a Pas de Deux with a girl. He holds her as she spins. She leans over with a leg straight up in arabesque, he holds her over his head, and she lays out flat on her back over his head.

Act 2 is in the forest glade. Swans float across the backdrop with a shimmering light. As far as I can tell, this is essentially the Petipa, Ivanov Act 2. Von Rothbart flaps his wings from his rocky point on the side of the stage. Siegfried is off to the side. Odette makes her leaping entrance. For Siegfried it's love at first sight. He floats dreamily to her, but she's taken aback, and flutters away on point. He goes to her again and they spin around each other like the wheels of a clock. Tatiana Chernobrovkina is a spectacular Odette. She's so smooth. Her legs flutter and churn, but her torso is practically still as she simply glides from here to there. She turns, he lifts her with one arm and turns her around him. She has a strange detachment but seems to be drawn irresistibly towards him. It 's a similar energy that von Rothbart has with her, but here it's being exercised and returned in love instead of power. The corps de ballet stand in opposition to Siegfried. They divide into two rows and he walks between them, almost in puzzlement. Odette flutters, curtsey's and he holds her over on one leg while her other tow beats time against her heel.

The Cygnets are always a source of lively precision, and this group is delightful. They're followed by three swans with kicks and extensions. Odette does a delicious solo as the corps turns toward her. It's lyrical and sensuous but still detached. She does a fast, high-stepping number before Siegfried lifts her high and she leans out forward over his head. There's only love here, as she seems to have broken free of the spell. Von Rothbart appears and draws her to him. She drops a feather and Siegfried picks it up and holds it aloft as she flutters off.

Act Three is as different as any I've ever seen, and it absolutely sizzles. The grand ballroom captures all of the elegance and splendor of Imperial Russia with chandeliers, wrought iron, and exquisite costumes. The Jester does showy turns and acrobatic leaps. Siegfried sits on the throne with his Mother and pays absolutely no attention to the Princesses, who try to impress him. He doesn't even look. He sits in a miserable heap, contemplating the feather. A trumpet fanfare announces von Rothbart as the stage is bathed in red light. He enters with an entourage of four character dancers dressed in red capes. Odile smiles wickedly at Siegfried and he starts at her. The four men block him and spirit her away behind their capes. A gypsy dancer does as fine and fiery of a Spanish dance as I've ever seen. The whole place is on fire now. Von Rothbart is in control, like the conductor of an opera, and everything flows from him. Usually this character is large in stature, but A. Domachev is quite small. He scowls and sneers and generally makes up for his lack of size with pure, unadulterated malice. It begs the question, how can anybody trust this guy, but this is ballet, and he probably controls them with the same power he has over the swans.

Siegfried is captivated by the coyly teasing Odile, and the troupe hides and reveals her in this elaborate game of hide-and-seek. She's a total seductress. Siegfried's nuts for her, she knows it and plays him like the solo violin in the orchestra. They turn, he lifts her. She never doubts for a minute that she will triumph. She gets the white feather and hands it to von Rothbart who holds it up. Siegfried grabs her, throws her over his head, and wraps her around him. In triumph, von Rothbart steps between and hides Odile. He moves aside for her seemingly endless fouettes, as Siegfried lifts her to his shoulder. Siegfried is on his knee to Odile. His Mother and von Rothbart bless it as they rise up in a single group. The back of the stage becomes light, Odette appears, and Siegfried realizes what has happened. Von Rothbart spreads his wings, everyone leaves, and Siegfried is left alone with the Jester.

I've never seen an Act Three to compare with this. It usually drags for me here, but this one sizzles. Von Rothbart is the human incarnation of evil in every look and gesture. Odile is an enticing seductress, teasing, supremely confident, and everything feminine. The character dancers add a vitality that carries this beyond any expectation as they seem simply to be tools in his arsenal. Then, with the tantalizing game of hide-and-seek for Odile, poor Siegfried never has a chance.

Act Four is short. At the lake the ensemble dominates. They split into groups. The Cygnets seem to reprise their Act 2 dance. In fact, this whole act seems a melancholy reprise of Act 2, with the corps by turns, rising up or spreading across the floor so the small groups of three or four, Siegfried and Odette can rise up from them in their beautiful setting. Odette is called to von Rothbart. Red lights flash. Siegfried is swallowed up in the rising flood of waving sheets on the floor. He plucks Odette off the rock, the water washes over them, and the stage goes dark. She's revealed in a long, flowing white skirt, no tutu, in a triumphant lift above his head in the transfigured climax of this tremendous production of "Swan Lake" by The Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. It continues through Wednesday, May 28, then the Stanislavsky will perform "Giselle" May 30 and 31.

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