<i> Glasnost</i> ‘Swan Lake’ Brings Its Own East-West Tensions

It was immediately dubbed the glasnost “Swan Lake,” a first-ever collaboration among the Bolshoi, Kirov and Boston ballets. Officially opening tonight at Wang Center, the production’s rehearsal period was more like a tension-filled summit confrontation.

The principal figure in this “Swan Lake” is the 81-year-old Konstantin Sergeyev, for 20 years the director of the Kirov Ballet and whose 1949 choreography is drawn upon the classic works of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.

A day before the first press performance over the weekend, Bruce Marks, artistic director of the Boston Ballet, candidly said: “Sergeyev and I are having tremendous differences of opinion about when things should happen on the stage, lighting design and all sorts of things. It’s a terrible shock to him.”

There were also some bad feelings among the American dancers about Sergeyev, who had attained the highest rank for a male Soviet dancer, premier danseur noble, starting in 1930. “It was a tremendous shock to the dancers because of the way he works,” said Marks. “We’re a lot gentler with our artists. (Sergeyev) is kind of rough with them.


“There’s no undue politeness. No tears, I don’t think, in public, but a lot of bruised feelings among the dancers. Sergeyev is clearly from the Khrushchev and Brezhnev era rather than the Gorbachev era.

“He goes back to a period when he who shouts loudest, wins. He goes back to the shoe-banging at the U.N. He bangs his shoes a lot. ‘No, no, I won’t have it.’ ”

Sergeyev did compromise with his American collaborators. At their request, he has changed the state-sanctioned ending of the ballet, which happily reunites the protagonists. Instead, the tragic ending envisioned by Petipa and Ivanov is restored. In this version, Siegfried and Odette take their lives to requite their love.

“I’m very impressed with the professionalism of Boston Ballet,” Sergeyev said.

“It’s an international company with different schools and we’re fitting these different styles into a big classical work. . . . All the roles are being done very well.”

But Marks said he and Sergeyev still disagreed on the stage design: “He doesn’t understand the scenery; it’s not what they did in 1923 in Leningrad, which he still wants to reproduce.

“And I keep saying ‘No, no, no. Trust me.’ American audiences like to see magic. We have very advanced stage-designing techniques here and we can’t do scenery here where the hanging legs come to the ground and you see a little line. We have rocks and gnarled trees. And it doesn’t look like the sweet friendly lake. It’s a place of fantasy. This isn’t the Soviet look at all, so it shocked Sergeyev as well.”

The scenery too is a joint venture with the Soviets. Costume and scenic design are by John Conklin, but many of the scenic flats were painted in the U.S.S.R. by Soyusteatr, the Union of Theater Workers. Soyusteatr is now a private company under Gorbachev’s 1988 economic decrees, which allows it to negotiate international deals and retain profits.

Among the dancers appearing between now and May 20 are Nina Ananiashvili and Alexei Fadeyechev of the Bolshoi Ballet and Yulia Makhalina, Tatiana Terekhova, Konstantin Zaklinsky and Aleksandr Lunev of the Kirov Ballet.

For the six Soviet soloists, things have been a lot more upbeat, though Marks said that there is a double- glasnost situation here: “We have Bolshoi dancers, working with Kirov directors. It’s never worked that way before. Everyone’s sort of biting his lip saying: ‘My version. My version.’ ”

The glasnost project began 2 1/2 years ago when Marks’ assistant artistic director, Anne-Marie Holmes, suggested that the Boston Ballet invite Sergeyev to stage a “Swan Lake.” Holmes herself was a prima ballerina and spent several years dancing with the Kirov in the ‘60s under the tutelage of Natalia Dudinskya, the wife of Sergeyev and former prima ballerina with the Kirov. Currently, Dudinskya is principal teacher at the Leningrad Ballet School where Sergeyev is director.

“Boston Ballet had a production and it wasn’t to my liking at all,” Holmes said.

“It wasn’t to the tradition. I had danced ‘Swan Lake’ many times and I knew Sergeyev’s production of ‘Swan Lake’ was the best I’d ever seen. And so I thought we must have this production because classics are the basics of your company.”

As it was, in 1987 Dudinskya staged “Giselle” for Boston Ballet and was eager for another collaboration when her husband’s version of “Swan Lake” was suggested by Marks and Holmes. Equally important, Holmes serves as interpreter for the visiting artists, and peacekeeper of sorts. With such a large number of collaborators, rehearsals have been rife with tension.

But Saturday night’s gala press opening was well received. Having also hosted the 1988 “Making Music Together Festival” organized by Sarah Caldwell and the Opera Company of Boston, the city is forging ahead with artistic glasnost . And with 24,000 tickets sold for the run of “Swan Lake,” sponsors are hoping that despite the rocky rehearsal there’ll be more collaboration with Soviet artists on future productions.