BWW Reviews: The Corps de Ballet Is the Star of the MARIINSKY BALLET's 'Swan Lake' at BAM
On January 16th 2015 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the unparalleled precision of the Mariinsky Ballet's corps in "Swan Lake" was rightfully rewarded with the evening's most thunderous applause. Every tilt of the head, every flick of the wrist, every pose, every hop in arabesque was performed in unison and with perfect musicality. The bevy of Russian ballerinas as Swans put the New York City Ballet's often ragged corps to shame, although the American Ballet Theatre's corps is a close second to that of the St. Petersburg troupe.
The character dances, in particular the Mazurka, were also superb. They are a testament to the Russian emphasis on character dance training for ballet dancers. Also, the four little Cygnets were exemplary and the 1895 choreography for this beloved dance by Petipa and Ivanov has not been tampered with at all.
The principals, however, didn't measure up to the standard set by the corps. Ulyana Lopatkina, the company's leading ballerina since the early 1990s, is a marvel when it comes to purity of line but a disappointment as an actress. In an interview with Gia Kourlas of The New York Times about the demands of undertaking the dual role of Odette/Odile, Lopatkina was quoted as saying, "How do you depict the difference between the natures of the two heroines and the difference in their souls?" Unfortunately, although she has danced the dual role since 1994, she has yet to come up with an answer to her own rhetorical question. She does a fair enough job of portraying the timorous Odette but she doesn't come close to capturing the malevolent character of Odile, the seductive daughter of the sorcerer Rothbart. I have never before seen a dancer perform the Black Swan pas de deux with a grin on her face!
In the technique department, Lopatkina is confident and correct but she's no rival for the current crop of ballerinas who came of age as "comp kids". I have gone on record more than once bemoaning the fact that competitions such as Youth America Grand Prix overemphasize tricks and athleticism at the expense of artistry, but the fact remains that audiences now take such feats as multiple turns for granted. Lopatkina pulled off her 32 fouettés on a dime, but Fonteyn and her ilk did that 50 years ago. These days we're used to seeing the sequence embellished with double, triple, and attitude turns so Lopatkina's accomplishment seemed less than dazzling.
In the same vein, Yevgeny Ivanchenko as Prince Siegfried wasn't up to the level of excellence we've come to expect from male dancers, especially the high-flying dervishes at ABT. Beyond that, Ivanchenko was lukewarm as a lover and almost comically lacking in ferocity during a struggle with Rothbart.
Yet Yaroslav Baybordin as the Joker was not only effortlessly airborne and a master of tours à la seconde but also a fine actor - so much so that he upstaged the main events when he mimed on the sidelines. Another cast member who deserves a mention for creating and faithfully maintaining his character is Yuri Smekalov as Rothbart. In this version of "Swan Lake" dating from 1950, the story line by Vladimir Begichev and Vasily Geltzer ends with love conquering all as Siegfried strips Rothbart of his evil powers and causes him to die by ripping off one of his wings. When the sun rises, Odette and the Prince are united and the maidens are released from the spell that had turned them into Swans. Smekalov played the scene magnificently and retained his imperious demeanor even during the curtain calls, although simply tucking his wingless arm behind his back wasn't a particularly effective solution to showing that the appendage was gone.
On a somber note, during the first act pas de trois danced by Yekaterina Ivannikova, Anastasia Nikitina and Xander Parish, one of the ballerinas -- I don't know which one -- fell and then limped off stage. The other ballerina and Parish carried on gamely without her. The dancer who had slipped did not even return for the curtain call. My hope is that she was only temporarily sidelined and is not seriously injured.
Overall, this "Swan Lake" was worth seeing but not world class except for the corps. If you're in town, you can still catch it up until January 23rd. On the 24th and 25th, the Mariinsky program will be "Chopin: Dances for Piano" with Fokine's "Chopiniana" dating from 1908, Jerome Robbins' 1970 "In the Night", and Benjamin Millepied's 2011 "Without". That's a temptingly varied bill that holds the promise of showing whether or not the Russians do a good job of ballets with a range of challenges beyond the warhorse Mariinsky repertoire.
Photo by V. Baronofsky