Corps values shine in this ‘Swan Lake’
Thirty-two swans moving as one, a Swan Queen of thrilling classical purity, an overfamiliar Tchaikovsky score made fresh and glowing: The Kirov Ballet certainly knows how to keep an audience happy and it did just that Friday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
In the company’s first performance this season of the complete “Swan Lake,” corps values remained stratospheric, Pavel Bubelnikov led the Kirov Orchestra to glory and Uliana Lopatkina made Odette not only a stellar projection of the corps’ pristine style but also a living embodiment of the music. The way she magically softened during the White Swan duet proved highly imaginative, tracing Odette’s growing trust, hope and love without any obvious acting ploys.
You might argue that her Odile looked too transparently cunning -- so the Prince seemed a fool for believing in her. (Within living memory, Kirov expat Natalia Makarova showed that there’s a far more artful approach to the Black Swan -- she should be peerless at deception.) But Lopatkina’s powerful technique never faltered in this iconic dual role.
Danila Korsuntsev partnered her unerringly, although this tall, handsome Siegfried couldn’t muster reliable technique or even placement. So, the most stylish male dancing of the evening came from Anton Korsakov -- a master of floating limbs and immaculate entrechats -- in the Act 1 pas de trois.
The 1950 choreography by the late Konstantin Sergeyev greatly undercuts Siegfried’s effectiveness by assigning all the flashy 20th century bravura to either the omnipresent Jester (the skillful Andrei Ivanov) or the hyperactive Rothbart (the overwrought Ilya Kuznetsov). So the ballet’s protagonist stays choreographically outclassed and underwhelming no matter who dances him.
You can’t blame Sergeyev for the happy ending -- the Soviet government ordered all Russian stagings to observe that innovation, But Sergeyev’s edition and Kirov tradition do sanction some unfortunate impositions on Tchaikovsky: an extreme slowdown in the ensemble just before the interpolated harp solo that introduces the White Swan duet, for example, or the full stop for applause after the 32 fouettes in Act 3.
In St. Petersburg (the Kirov’s home city), Sergeyev is revered as someone who updated and refined the classical repertory for a new generation of dancers and audiences. Many others, however, consider him a spoiler, defying Tchaikovsky’s intentions and those of choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in order to purge the classics of traditional pantomime and make them conform to his notions of symphonic abstraction.
His “Swan Lake” isn’t nearly as ruinous in this regard as his “Sleeping Beauty” (which Music Center audiences endured last season). But if you want more musical or dramatically astute mid-century Russian versions, turn to George Balanchine’s Act 2 (1951) for New York City Ballet or Vladimir Bourmeister’s complete reworking (1953) for Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet.
Beyond Lopatkina and the swan corps, the Kirov’s roster of exemplary classical women included soloists Irina Golub, Ekaterina Osmolkina and Xenia Ostreikovskaya on Friday. The sets by Igor Ivanov and costumes by Galina Solovieva placed them and their colleagues in an opulent, backdated realm of misty mountain vistas and rich party wear -- the same fantasy realm where nearly all the great Franco-Russian ballets take place.
But there was trouble in paradise Friday, for the Kirov seemed close to clueless in the national dances of Act 3: the suite of divertissements intended to bring a whole new world of steps and stances to “Swan Lake.” The half-hearted display of curling wrists, rotating heads and anemic footwork simply wasn’t enough. Where was the weight, the pride, the vigor?
It used to be said that only the Russians could give these folk-flavored specialties full excitement. Now, alas, it’s only the Cubans.