BWW Review: BOLSHOI BALLET'S SWAN LAKE at Movie Theatre
Although ballet is an absolute theatre art, a cinema experiment won't be harmful to anyone. On July 9, 2018, Bolshoi Ballet 2018 Summer Encores In Cinemas started its 2018-2019 season in nationwide selected cinemas. The third show was Swan Lake, on July 23. The first two were Giselle, as reviewed here on BWW Dance World, and Romeo and Juliet.
This production was captured live in Moscow in 2015, as a preparation for Swan Lake's 130th anniversary. On March 4, 1877, Swan Lake premiered in the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow, Russia. The score was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875, commissioned by Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, the director of Moscow's Russian Imperial Theatres. It was the first major ballet score composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Unlike nowadays, with Swan Lake considered the most prestigious icon of classic masterpieces, both in dance and music, the first year performance in Bolshoi Theatre was not favored by critics or audiences. Even the conductors and dancers thought the music was too complicated and difficult. The original master choreographer Julius Reisinger was harshly criticized.
The one who saved Swan Lake was Marius Petipa. (Of course!) Along with Lev Ivanov, he reconstructed the repertoire and revived Swan Lake in 1895, as director at the Russian Imperial Theatre.
Lev Ivanov was Petipa's dependable assistant and he choreographed Act II and IV, the lakeside acts, while Petipa worked on Act I and III, the party acts. Throughout the 20th century, Petipa and Ivanov's Swan Lake has been staged in countless revivals all over the world.
The most distinguishable feature about various modern productions is the ending, with some productions using tragic endings where Prince Siegfried and Odette either die together or Odette dies, and others using happy endings, in which the Evil Socoerer Rothbart is vanquished and Siegfried and Odette are reunited to live happily ever after.
In another prestigious Russian ballet company Kirov Ballet's production, Prince Siegried kills Rothbart and reunites with Odette. (DVD release on July 23, 2006, ) La Scala Theatre Ballet, Milan, Italy, one of the oldest and most renowned ballet companies in the world, offered a production where Prince Siegried killed Rothbart and Odette becomes a human again.(Youtube available)
However, the one that American people watched in selected cinemas is the version touched by another great master dancer and choreographer, Yuri Grigorovich, who served as Principal Choreographer of Bolshoi Theatre from 1964 to 1995, and beginning in 1988 was Artistic Director of the ballet company. He staged Swan Lake twice, in 1969 and in 2001.
This version doesn't have a happy ending! The Prince received a nice sword as a birthday gift but didn't use it to fight against the evil sorcerer. You won't understand how upsetting the unhappy ending can be before you watch the whole show. It was a true tragedy. After seeing how delicate the white swan was, and how dreamy the Pas de deux was.
When the story began, it was all poetic and perfect. At moonlight on the banks of a mysterious lake, Prince Siegfried meets the bewitched swan-woman Odette. Completely spellbound by her beauty, he swears his faithfulness to her. However, at the birthday party held later in the palace, he is seduced by Odile and decides to marry her. The Black Swan's dance was amazingly convincing.
Then comes the forever theme, the consistent classic moral philosophy. When a vow is the bond, a vow is also responsibility. If one can't keep the promise, then one is condemned, and consequences will follow.
In the end of Bolshoi Ballet's Encore version, the white swan Odette was captured by the evil sorcerer and dying, they disappeared in the beautifully embroidered veil in the center of the stage, showing the white and black swans confronting each other. Meanwhile Prince Siegfried was wandering in the wild field with sadness. In this version, the dark power won. The cause was the Prince's disloyalty to his vow.
The legend of the swan dates back to ancient Greece mythology. When Apollo was born, flying swans circled above to celebrate his birth. The white swan is a symbol of purity and innocence.
A ballerina's name should also be mentioned to remember why Swan Lake is such a classic and difficult piece to dance: Pierina Legnani (1868-1930), whose extremely gifted skills set the bar so high that 32 fouettes in Act II forever became a challenge for ballerinas after her.
"Dancing the roles of both Odette and Odile in Swan Lake was one of the most technically challenging experiences of my life.," Svetlana Zakharova, the Bolshoi Ballet Summer Encore version's prima ballerina told Huffpost in 2017. "Every ballerina who has danced this ballet, and has danced it well, can say she's made it."
Audiences already knew this actually, and that's why we keep going into the theater to enjoy ballerinas' grace and strength, again and again, year after year.
I have to say, when I was sitting in the cinema, what amazed me first was the Bolshoi Ballet principle dancers' bodies. All ballet dancers' bodies are of course perfectly scaled and trained, but those of the Bolshoi Ballet are certainly something else.
They are all so tall! The lines of those with long legs create more beautiful circles on the stage. The way they stand and move is breathtaking. This is the moment you can be shallow, and simply appreciate the cover of the book. Svetlana Zakharova (Odette), 5'9", Denis Rodkin (Prince Siegfried), 6'1" and Artemy Belyakov (Rothbart, the Evil Sorcerer), 6'4", all have Disney movie level good-looking faces matching their characters.
The dancers' natural gifts show how selective this ballet company is, but it is through the choreography and acting, that we get to know how a fine classical ballet was created.
Beyond the excellent dancing and acting, I was wowed by the stage design, wowed by the costume design, and wowed by the most poetic corps de ballet, but ultimately, I thank Yuri Grigorovich for creating two supporting characters so sophisticatedly. It actually brought me indescribable happiness about the repertoire.
The Fool and the Evil Sorcerer both have considerable parts as soloists. The Fool is witty and fun, instead of silly and clownish, and the Evil Sorcerer is strong-minded and powerful, instead of only being a typical story place-holder. They both have impressive dance performances, making them overall quite outstanding.
Another nice touch was having the Evil Sorcerer dance along with the Prince, lurking behind him as if controlling his every move. The Prince is dressed in white, dancing with poise and grace. The Evil Sorcerer is draped in black and dark blue, dancing with power and skillfully controlled rage. The dichotomy of these well-performed, simultaneous acts, was a sight to behold.