miércoles, abril 01, 2009

"Swan Lake", blend of French and Russian tradition

The three Tchaikovsky ballets remain the best of the nineteenth century, with only one composer offering real competition: Léo Delibes with "Coppélia" and "Sylvia". "Swan Lake" (1877), "The Sleeping Beauty" (1890) and "The Nutcracker" (1892) certainly have the most elaborate and memorable music of their time and have evoked choreographies of lasting power.

But "Swan Lake" had a difficult choreographic history, for its premiere at Moscow´s Bolshoi Theatre, signed by Julius Reisinger, was a failure. Two further versions, by Joseph Hansen (1880) and Lydia Geiten (1882) had no better luck. Paradoxically it was the success of Marius Petipa as choreographer of the two later ballets mentioned above that saved "Swan Lake"; the great French master of the Maryinsky Theatre at Saint Petersburg did his own choreography though with the assistance of Lev Ivanov, who did a short version with only the Second Act. Both worked on the dances of the other acts, and their joint efforts gave us the ballet that became a standard over the years, blending the pure academicism of Petipa with the poetic vision of Ivanov. Alfio Agostini mentions complementary characteristics: "formal clarity and disquieting psychological symbolism, fascinating virtuosity and expressive intensity". And particularly the complex double role of Odette-Odile combining the ecstatic abandon of the woman-swan and the magnetic provocation of Odile.

Other choreographers made their contributions later, especially Aleksandr Gorki in 1901 and Nicolas Sergeiev in 1934, both respecting the general scheme of Petipa and Ivanov. An observation about the music: Petipa asked Riccardo Drigo to add a few orchestrations of Tchaikovsky piano pieces and also some music of his own. And frankly some of those added pieces are distinctly below the much better quality of poetic and inspired fragments that were already there in 1877.

With its mix of "ballet blanc" in the second and fourth acts and divertimento-oriented dances in the first and third, "Swan Lake" provides an important challenge for a big company. The steady progress in recent years of the Teatro Argentino Ballet of La Plata allows them to meet the difficulties with professionalism and discipline. Their version, by Mario Galizzi, dates from 2004 and I feel it solves most problems of the Petipa/Ivanov tradition. In at least one case there´s an improvement: the first act is very weak dramatically in the original and needs some pep; Galizzi provides it creating a meaty role, the Buffoon, with his agile evolutions and innocent humor. I´m sorry that the choreographer cuts a big Waltz in the third act, however.

The hand programme gives information on the overwhelming presence in the Argentino´s seasons since 1948 of the second act , but the whole ballet was only offered in 2002 and 2003, where the original had contributions from Galizzi and Jack Carter, and in 2005, when the Petipa/Ivanov was revised by Gustavo Mollajoli. As "The Sleeping Beauty" was staged recently and "The Nutcracker" is programmed for December, the Argentino now has all three in the repertoire, quite a feat.

A blot in the general picture, however: there were to be two initial performances with the debut of stars from the Ucranian Kiev Ballet, Natalia Lazebnikova and the Czech "danseur" Jan Vana; apparently problems in rehearsals converted the first night into the dress rehearsal; the money had to be returned to the audience, though the resident "platense" public could see the rehearsal. Just bad planning or labor troubles? Anyway, a real pity for it was an unpleasant sign at the very beginning of the season. So I´m commenting on the only evening where the visiting dancers could be seen. There were later performances with regular members of the company.

The purity of the Russian school is always a pleasure to see, and the mentioned artists are good specimens. Lazebnikova is beautiful, has the technique for those terrible 32 "fouettés" she does as Odile and at least attempts to show the dramatic distinction between her two roles. Vana as Prince Siegfried is handsome, very young and lithe, but his face is immutable through all vicissitudes; maybe the years will bring what he now lacks in expression, for he is certainly talented.

I enjoyed the vivacity of Martín Quintana as the Buffoon and the good teamwork in the Pas de Trois of the First Act from Paula Elizondo, Stefanía Vallone and Esteban Schenone. In the second act Victor Filimonov appeared as Von Rothbart, the evil magician that has transformed the girls into swans; he, in former years a Siegfried, also comes from the Russian school, though a member of the company for the last decade. He knows the ropes and was good, but the part increasingly looks dated with its melodramatic gestures; some reforming touches would be welcome. Other parts, such as the Princesses in the third act "divertissement", were well taken.

In the second act I enjoyed the work of the girls of the "corps de ballet", who danced with stately and noble discipline and with adequate physiques . The solos of the "Three adult swans" were elegant, but the famous grotesquerie of the Pas de quatre of the little swans did show some unevenness.

The pleasant stage designs of Augusto González Ara and the splendid costumes designed by Eduardo Caldirola certainly added visual charm. And the musical side was well realised by an attentive orchestra led by the sure hand of Javier Logioia Orbe.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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