BWW Review: BWW REVIEW: GRAND SWAN LAKE IS PRESENTED BY SHANGHAI BALLET & CHINA ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT GROUP LTD at David H. Koch Theater
Shanghai Ballet was founded in 1966. Spanning over thirty years, this company embraces a blend of traditional and Western dance styles. Xin Lili, Artistic Director since 2011, has brought to the company English versions of Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, a French version of Coppelia and La Sylphide, as well as George Balanchine's Serenade and La Valse. Lili has also invited creations to be made for the Shanghai Ballet. Currently, the Artistic Director of the Shanghai Ballet and it's eighty dancers is Derek Deane with his team. My first impression was that this is a fresh, young company, full of enthusiasm and with room to grow.
This Swan Lake was choreographed by Deane (after Marius Petipa), to the enduring Swan Lake score of Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky. This glorious music was beautifully played by the New York City Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Charles Barker of American Ballet Theatre, for these performances January 17-19, 2020 at the David H. Koch Theater, NYC. Deane, who enjoyed a stellar career with London's Royal Ballet from 1972 to 1989, has created numerous ballets for the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. He has been Deputy Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer at Teatro dell' Opera in Rome and has staged and choreographed productions throughout Italy and has created ballets in the U.S.A., France, Japan, and South Africa. Deane was appointed Artistic Director of School English National Ballet and English National Ballet in the spring of 1993.
The strength of this ballet's opening is the appearance of Zhou Haibo dancing the role of (Von) Rothbart. His powerful spirit and convincing wielding of the costume, a green cape of what looked like leaves, appearing to be wings bodes well for the rest of the ballet. Peter Farmer designed lush sets and costumes. Haibo danced his role with passion throughout the performance.
Particularly impressive is the corps de ballet, exhibiting forty-eight swans, an unusually large number, as traditionally there are twenty-four swans. The patterns created capture the attention of the audience as the dancers perform with military precision. It is the impeccable unity of the corps de ballet that is the mark of a good ballet company.
On opening night (January 17th) Odette/Odile was performed by Qu Bingxue. Her Odette (White Swan) was extraordinary in that she displayed an introverted inner turmoil, and her aura seemed to be bird-like. Never looking directly at her partner, Wu Husheng, playing (Prince) Siegfried, she allowed herself to be partnered by him. It was a most interesting interpretation. Worth commenting on is the lovely line of her arabesque and her line in general. She was so convincing as Odette, I was excited to see her transformation into Odile. Unfortunately, she seemed not to grasp the persona of the fierce, cunning Black Swan. Her smile was sweet rather than seductive and she barely related to her partner, which, I'm sorry to say, detracted from her overall impact.
The fact that the stage at the Koch Theater does not have a sprung floor (a good dance floor) was visible to me. At first, I thought that the company, in general, were not good jumpers until I realized that the stage has a hard floor. Since Koch refurbished the theater (and put his name on it), I have wondered why he did not consider the bodies and performances of the dancers by giving them a proper floor. That this was the case was proven to me when Odette lightly comes down the ramp at the back of the stage, where the movement's flow is arrested by the stage floor at the bottom of the ramp. Husheng proved to have a good ballon (jump) despite the hinderance, but not everyone fared so well.
I do think that the principals may need more experience in the roles, as it does take experience to create their characters; although "the Swan Lake on tour in April/May 2017 and November/December 2018 with 30 triumphant performances".
All in all, it was an exciting evening, for which I was glad to be in attendance.
Photo courtesy of the Shanghai Ballet.