BALLET REVIEW : 'Swan Lake': From Russia With Glitz


After many a summer drowns the swan. In glitz.

The sad event occurred Tuesday night before a sparse but appreciative audience in the wide, open, shabby spaces of Shrine Auditorium. Most alarming, and most surprising, the old bird met its cruel fate at the hands of the Kirov Ballet.

According to hoary fable, the Kirov--pride of St. Petersburg and/or Leningrad--is supposed to be the bastion of good taste, the home of refinement, the school for subtlety. If a balletomane wants razzle-dazzle, he turns to the vulgar Bolshoi of Moscow.

Forget the fable.

In the wake of perestroika and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Oleg Vinogradov has produced a "Swan Lake" that lends new meaning to the concept of revisionist kitsch. His new staging, which reportedly received its world premiere on this dismal occasion, owes as much to Vegas as to Vaganova.

The royal first act--as designed by Semion Pastukh--takes place on an ornate, realistic, glowing-pink terrace flanked by canvas foliage and decorated with anachronistic quasi-modern statuary. The backdrop depicts a cloudy moonscape borrowed either from a Valentine candy box or a Hallmark birthday card.

The "white" scenes feature a glassy pond, the usual toy swans tugging along on strings and variations on the stylized facade of a sunken cathedral.

Most memorable, for all the wrong reasons, is the palatial ballroom: a florid nightmare that would arouse gilt feelings even in the lord of Neuschwanstein.

The denizens of this garish always-always-land model suitably garish costumes attributed to Galina Solovieva. Not incidentally, she also designed the clothes for the previous, more subdued Kirov version.

Vinogradov has devised some dubious action within this banal frame. Respecting a time-dishonored late-Soviet tradition, he has banished most of the mime and destroyed narrative logic in the process. What does the princess-mother tell her son on his 21st birthday? Why does the prince go hunting? Who is this creature in the white tutu, and why is she spooked by that nasty-looking fellow with a cape who always basks in a red spotlight? Don't ask the producer-director.

He does provide acrobatic relief from the courtly pomp, however, by retaining that pesty jester, a misguided relic of the U.S.S.R. in the 1930s. At one awful point, he even casts the little show-off as dance partner for the matronly princess. Noblesse oblige , I know, and love levels all ranks. But this is ridiculous.

None of the pervasive silliness prepares the viewer for the new denouement. Vinogradov discards the forced happy-end finale, long demanded by Soviet morality, and that is fine. Unfortunately, he also ignores the conventional climax in which Odette and Siegfried find transfigured salvation in death. Instead, he allows the evil Rothbart to kill the prince, leaving the poor heroine to return once more to her hopeless aviary.

So much for the triumph of love and the breaking of spells. Tchaikovsky be damned.

Vinogradov's choreographic contributions include a first act predicated on muddled neo-classical clutter and a last act in which a dozen perfectly matched white swans and a dozen perfectly matched black swans execute symmetrical Rockette routines. Otherwise he settles, more or less, for Ivanov and Petipa business as usual.

What's that? You really want to know about the dancing?

Oh, dear. The noble Kirov obviously isn't what it used to be.

According to announced plans, Odette-Odile should have been the heroic Olga Chenchikova (much admired when she danced here in 1986), partnered by a newcomer, Makhar Vaziev. In yet another unexplained last-minute change, Vinogradov sent in Yulia Makhalina--probably his most favored ballerina--partnered by another newcomer, Alexander Kurkov.

Makhalina looked sleek and glamorous, executed most of the prescribed maneuvers with arching yet flashy savoir-faire, mustered some really fiery if untidy fouettes where needed, and conveyed all too little emotion. Her Odetta (the inadequate program slip apparently mistook her for an Italian) was just as tough and cool as her Odile. Still, a discerning observer could tell the characters apart: one smiled and the other didn't.

Kurkov looked chunky and muscular, danced effortfully even in simplified challenges and partnered the ballerina diligently. Where, one wonders, are the promised Farukh Ruzimatov, Andris Liepa and Maximiliano Guerra when we need them? And whatever happened to Alexander Lunev?

Yuri Fateyev courted the audience con brio as the high-flying ubiquitous jester. Evgeny Neff, a Siegfried on the 1986 Kirov tour, leapt busily as the dark-haired, clean-shaven Rothbart. The ornamental pas de trois in Act I was dispatched with some elegance by Veronika Ivanova, Larissa Lezhnina and Andrei Yakovlev, jester-interference notwithstanding. Pyotr Stasyunas was listed as the prince's tutor, but for some reason remained invisible. One hopes he collected his salary.

The assorted national dances were performed with more speed than bravura. In context, that meant no great loss.

The saving grace on this occasion emanated from the 32 supporting swans--some recruited from the solo ranks, most from the corps de ballet. They alone demonstrated the suavity, the precision, the delicacy, the poise and the perfect unanimity of line, phrase and gesture that used to be synonymous with the Kirov. At least one great tradition survives.

Victor Fedotov, a veteran of many Tchaikovsky wars, sustained solid routine in the pit with a rough orchestra imported all the way from St. Petersburg. It may be worth remembering that Evgeny Kolobov achieved far more exciting results in 1986 with a local pickup band.

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