Ballet Review: Swan Lake Part II

Dear Readers:

Where we left off in our story yesterday:  Prince Siegfried, impelled by some mysterious urge instilled into his subconscious by his darker double, “Evil Genius”, has escaped from his boring birthday party at the palace, and wandered out to the nearby lake.  There he meets his true love, Odette.  Trapped under the curse of Evil Genius, Odette is a shape-shifter:  By day she is an ordinary swan, just swimming around with the rest of the Corps de Ballet.  By night she turns into a beautiful girl.  Siegfried falls in love with her, knowing that only his devotion and true love can break the curse.  His job, if he can handle it, is to somehow get her away from the lake and offer her his hand in marriage.  The moment that they unite in love, her curse will be broken forever.  (And presumably, the other swan-girls will also be freed from their avian forms.)

Choreographer Marius Petipa

The libretto of this classical ballet was based on various German and Russian folk tales.  According to the wiki entry, Tchaikovsky might have even been partially influenced by “Mad King” Ludwig II of Bavaria, who was obsessed with swans.

The version of the ballet which I saw on Sunday had more choreographers than a prima ballerina has callouses on her feet.  As Event Hostess Katerina Novikova explained during the intermission, over time the choreographers included Julius Reisinger (involvement 1879-1894), Marius Petipa (1895 revival); and, in modern times the legendary Yury Grigorovich.  It was the latter who introduced the character of the Court Jester (“The Fool”), and who completely revamped the choreography.  With every year that goes by, and every ballet production, Grigorovich’s genius becomes more and more clear to the world.  His vision was/is (the man is still alive!) to completely meld dance steps with music.  In the Grigorovich productions, the music is not just background noise:  Literally every note is implemented as a step, movement, or trick.

Grigorovich in his heyday: Did he murder this girl?

And speaking of Katerina Novikova, our amiable Event Hostess, once again I just want to offer some constructive criticisms of her role in this series.  I’ll say this one more time, and then I’ll keep my mouth shut:  Chatty Kathy’s multi-lingual interviews with cast and crew are jarring and distracting.  Novikova is a physically attractive and erudite woman who chatters away in three languages (Russian, English, and French).  She conducts very interesting interviews with the dancers, while pausing to translate her own questions and their answers.  Her voice is harsh and unmelodic.  Sometimes her voice makes me want to scream.  It is hard to convey and receive coherent information in this format.  For the love of God, please just have her speak in Russian, and then apply multi-lingual subtitles to the screen.  Even if it’s live transmission.  You can still have somebody do simultaneous translations and post the subtitles in real time.  Seriously, this is possible to do!

Bolshoi Theater hostess Katerina Novikova

Having gotten that cri de coeur off my chest, it is time to move along with our story.  Recall that a major theme of this story is the idea of the “double”.  That every good person (or swan) has an evil twin.  This idea was novel and exciting in the 19th century, but now is so commonplace in Western culture, that it has become hackneyed, and very difficult to present in a fresh and interesting way.

Now, “doubling” can refer to either “mirroring” or “shadowing”.  What is the difference between the two concepts, you might ask?

Evil Genius “shadows” Prince Siegfried

In dance, “mirroring” is when two dancers face each other and do the same thing, but as if on opposite sides of the mirror.  For example, I raise my right hand, and you raise your left hand…

We Be Russian Off To The Lake…

“Shadowing” is when two dancers do the same thing, but one behind the other, like a shadow.  In Act I we saw this when Evil Genius “shadowed” Prince Siegfried.  His was the subconscious voice whispering in the young man’s ear, that he needs to exeunt the palace pronto and head out to the lake.  Because there lies his Destiny.

Left to Right: The Queen, Odile, and Evil Genius

In exactly the same way, Act II of the ballet “shadows” Act I.  Both Acts have exactly the same structure:  They begin in the palace with some type of celebration:  Siegfried’s birthday and coming-of-age in Act I; and Siegfried’s selection of a bride in Act II.

In both cases, the celebration is rudely interrupted when something impels the Prince to leave the party and rush off to the lake.  And again, the cause is the same thing:  the subconscious image of Odette, the fragile swan, frantically beating her little wings like there is no tomorrow.

But I am getting ahead of myself, we need to work through more stuff first before we get to that dramatic point.  Including introduction of the Black Swan Odile and her famous 32 Fouettés!

[to be continued]

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