DANCE REVIEW : A Muddled, Miniature 'Swan Lake' via Moscow

TIMES MUSIC/DANCE CRITIC

On the eve of his 30th anniversary as head of the Bolshoi Ballet, Yuri Grigorovich is a man in trouble.

His company, like most artistic institutions in the former Soviet Union, is teetering on the brink of economic disaster and aesthetic stagnation. His once unchallenged position of power could collapse at any moment, and, according to a growing number of progressive antagonists in Moscow, it may not be a moment too soon.

The not-so-great dictator of terpsichorean Russia doesn't want to talk about any possible changing of the administrative guard. He is too busy, he says, with his latest project--the care and feeding of a relatively modest ensemble that bears a relatively immodest name: the Grigorovich Ballet.

For most impractical purposes, this is a junior Bolshoi organization. It uses reasonable facsimiles of old and familiar Bolshoi productions, staged by guess-who, as showcases for a small group of dancers who are apparently too young to appear with the prestigious alma mater yet too old to be in school. The participants reportedly range in age from 19 to 25.

Last week the new Grigorovich gang brought its version of "The Nutcracker" to Cerritos. Wednesday night on the extended stage of Pasadena Civic Auditorium, the vehicle was "Lebedinoe ozero," better known in this part of the world as "Swan Lake."

This, of course, was no ordinary "Swan Lake." This, essentially, was Grigorovich's controversial 1969 production as performed by a farm club on a bus-and-truck tour.

Virtually everyone in the cast had to fulfill multiple assignments. The basic swan corps numbered a pathetic dozen. The crowd scenes have never looked less crowded.

The decors of Simon Virsaladze have seen better days. And, it should be recalled, those better days were ponderously garish.

Tchaikovsky's wonderful score was blasted--and I do mean blasted --at the non-capacity audience in Pasadena via too-loudspeakers. This not only threatened damage to the assembled ear drums but also straitjacketed the well-schooled dancers in matters of phrasing, nuance and tempo. Recorded ballet, after all, is frozen ballet. It makes spontaneity a matter of wishful thinking.

Under the circumstances, there could be little room for assertive characterization, even if the neophytes on the stage had been inclined toward individuality of expression (in this context an unlikely prospect). Unfortunately, Grigorovich's distortion of "Swan Lake," a muddled quasi-abstraction that banishes mime and either ignores or contradicts the plot, needs all the dramatic help it can get. (It also needs more truth in crediting; to pretend that Grigorovich created all the choreography except Petipa's black-swan adagio is a preposterous joke.)

It was difficult to tell the players on Wednesday, even with a program. Most of the parts are triple cast. A voice on the public-address system rattled off the names of the principals on duty just before the curtain rose. The identity of the key performers in other assignments, however, remained a mystery--a mystery that insulted the audience while it injured the artists.

The central role in "Swan Lake" is a dual challenge of immense complexity. Odette can be played either as an otherworldly bird or as a tragic queen, and there are other possibilities as well. Odile, her evil alter-ego, can be a flamboyant seductress or a dazed impostor. Tatiana Ledovskikh--pretty, slender and a bit brittle--settled for being a competent ballerina. No more, no less. Her most distinctive feature, apart from a fleeting and pardonable mishap in the ball scene, turned out to be the droopiest eyelashes this side of a Bette Davis impersonator.

Konstantin Ivanov as Prince Siegfried partnered her with touching consideration, bounded through the air with buoyant ease, and projected bland detachment at all times. The error-riddled program did not deem him worthy of a biographical sketch.

Alexander Mischenko stalked the hero dutifully as a nasty, clean-shaven, dark-haired Rothbart (here called Robart , for reasons unfathomable). Andrei Evdokimov did what he could with the unmusical, anti-theatrical, all-too-athletic tricks of that pesky Jester--an ancient Soviet anachronism.

Everyone worked hard. Too hard.

This hand-me-down "Swan" was no turkey, seasonal greetings notwithstanding. But it didn't hold out the poetic promise of an ugly duckling, either. After many a summer dies the. . . .

Oh, never mind.

* Remaining performances of the Grigorovich company "Swan Lake," sometimes with different casts, at Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 East Green St., Pasadena, today at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 2. Tickets $20, $45 and $50 (bargain matinee today only, top price $39). Ticketmaster: (213) 480-3232.

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