Archive for the ‘Swan Lake’ Category

Swan Lake with Osipova and Acosta, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2012

11 October, 2012

For those lucky enough to have tickets for last night’s Swan Lake, Odette/Odile was danced by Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova partnered by the Royal Ballet’s Carlos Acosta as Prince Siegfried. They were terrific together.

Natalia Osipova and Carlos Acosta, all images ROH/ Alice Pennefather

Osipova was in the news recently when she and Ivan Vasiliev quit the Moscow’s Bolshoi and joined the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, one reason being frustration with the Bolshoi’s casting policy. This enabled her to replace Tamara Rojo in this performance, Rojo having recently left to become artistic director of the ENB. Despite having barely danced the role before, Osipova gave a wonderful characterisation of Odette/Odile: a suitably frail Swan Queen with beautifully fluid movements in Act II, a seductive Odile in Act III, and finally showing great emotional and spiritual strength as she faces Von Rothbart’s entrapment in Act III. There was excellent chemistry between her and Acosta, and his dancing showed huge strength, precision and emotional commitment to the role. He performed magnificently in his solos, and his deft partnering allowed her full rein.

Among the rest of the cast, Gary Avis was a dramatically perfect Von Rothbart, and though the swans danced well, the female corps in Act I seemed a bit ragged. In the pas-de-trois from that act, Itziar Mendizabal and Hikaru Kobayahshi were excellent as the two girls, and Act III showed some fine character dances. The Spanish dance and the Mazurka were excitingly performed, Ricardo Cervera was outstanding in the Czárdás, performing with enormous attack, and Yuhui Choe and Paul Kay were sheer delight in the Neapolitan dance.

This production has seen several small improvements over recent years but I still find the supers a clumsy irritation at the start of Act III, and the dappled lighting in Act IV can look a bit odd when there are only four swans on stage with one in darkness. Overall however the Company did a great job under fine musical direction from Boris Gruzin in the pit, who started slowly and built up well to the dramatic highlights.

Future performances of Osipova with Acosta on October 13 and 25 are a sell-out, but the present run of Swan Lake continues until November 24 — for details click here.

Swan Lake, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, August 2012

4 August, 2012

The English National Ballet’s production of Swan Lake is hard to beat, and it was beautifully danced, so don’t miss it. Wonderful designs by Peter Farmer with clever lighting by Howard Harrison, give a misty otherworldiness to the background in Acts I and III. That other world is where Act II and IV take place, and the stage and lighting effects give all four acts a magical quality.

Von Rothbart, ENB image/ Annabel Moeller

On the first night of the present run, Vadim Muntagirov was unavailable as Prince Siegfried, and was replaced by Zdenek Konvalina, making a fine debut in the role. He danced with great clarity, and was brilliantly partnered by Erina Takahashi as Odette/Odile. She danced a graceful Odette with beautiful arm movements, and her more assertive Odile had enormous poise and almost unearthly control. It was a lovingly lucid performance. James Streeter was a mendaciously powerful Von Rothbart with terrific stage presence, and I loved the short prologue where we see him capturing the princess and turning her into a swan. The transformation was deftly accomplished — she disappears behind his wings and as he rushes across stage the swan queen appears.

Siegfried and Odette, image Arnaud Stephenson

The corps danced beautifully throughout, and in Act I the pas-de-douze was a delight and in the pas-de-quatre I particularly liked Adela Ramirez and Junor Souza. Lovely cygnets in Act II, the Spanish dance and Czardas in Act III were enormous fun, and in the Neapolitan dance Barry Drummond was a revelation, showing superb musicality. Jane Howarth made a charming queen, and Michael Coleman a wonderfully bumbling tutor.

Siegfried and Odile, image Arnaud Stephenson

Conducting by Gavin Sutherland breathed life and liveliness into Tchaikovsky’s wonderful music, though some tempi seemed unduly slow. Altogether this is a super production and was given a terrific performance by the company, so come to London and get a ticket. Don’t be put off by the Olympic Games; the West End is nowhere near as crowded as was predicted, and this is a lovely treat for early August.

Performances continue until August 11 — for details click here.

Swan Lake, in concert, Prom 42, Royal Albert Hall, August 2011

16 August, 2011

With Valery Gergiev conducting, this was a sell-out. I remember his magnificent Sleeping Beauty at the Proms three years ago, and was looking forward immensely to Swan Lake, but in the end I was disappointed.

It was a promising idea. The orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre have been in London to play for the Mariinsky Ballet at the Royal Opera House, so why not get a Proms concert out of them, with Gergiev, the music director of the Mariinsky, conducting. And yes, there were good moments. A powerful start to the prologue, continuing into Act I, and a lovely harp solo in Act II, joined by a solo violin that reappeared later in Act III and was superbly played by the leader of the orchestra. The basses rocked to the beat at slower moments during the cygnets dance in Act II, swaying the stems of their instruments from side to side — they were obviously having fun — and the percussionist with the castanets in Act III was right on the beat. It must be super for these soloists to play in the great open space of the Albert Hall, rather than hidden away in the orchestra pit, and they rose to the occasion. As for the full orchestra, Act III started with a woompf, and Act IV began with symphonic passion, lovely strings and woodwind. Gergiev has a dramatic technique for starts and conclusions, but the brass hit plenty of wrong notes in the middle, and overall this failed to ignite.

The Mariinsky orchestra played four Bayaderes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and this concert was on Monday. Gergiev had little time to get them in shape. It was only one week ago that they performed Swan Lake at Covent Garden, and although this may well have been a cut above, it wasn’t a patch on Gergiev’s Sleeping Beauty with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2008. Please can we have Gergiev and the LSO next year? A theatre orchestra cannot rise above their usual level without adequate rehearsal time, and we should not expect it.

Swan Lake, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, March 2011

23 March, 2011

With the recent success of the movie Black Swan, Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake is filling auditoriums, so tickets are getting scarce. In London at the moment both the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet have productions on stage, so there’s a choice. If you want to hear Tchaikovsky, then I’d go to the London Coliseum where Gavin Sutherland’s conducting drives the music forward in a dramatic way, and if you like designs and choreography, then I’d also go to the Coliseum to see the ENB’s production. Its choreography by Derek Deane, based on Ivanov and Petipa, works very well, as do the wonderful designs by Peter Farmer, most beautifully lit by Howard Harrison.

It’s remarkable how the sets and lighting create the sense of a mysterious outer world beyond the peasant domain in Act I, and the courtly world of Act III. In Acts II and IV we are of course in that outer world, lit by a full moon, and this production even gives us a glimpse of it during the overture by showing the evil Von Rothbart capturing a princess and turning her into a swan trapped by his spell.

all photos by Daria Klimentova

As for the dancing and movement on stage, the peasant pas-de-douze in Act I was charmingly performed, creating a sense of space and movement, and the pas-de-quatre, with Begoña Cao, James Forbat, Laurretta Summerscales and Max Westwell was terrific. The conducting gave a tremendous sense of rhythm and forward movement when Jane Haworth entered as Prince Siegfried’s mother, elegant and with a hugely engaging stage presence. The music fits Derek Deane’s choreography perfectly, and the lighting is magical for Arionel Vargas’s solo ‘soliloquy’ as the Prince, with a spot on him as the rest of the stage shades into irreality.

The four cygnets

In Act II, Fabian Reimair’s Von Rothbart moved dramatically, with great presence, and Elena Glurdjidze was a marvellous Swan Queen. Her pas-de-deux with Arionel Vargas, just before the cygnets enter, was beautifully done and she ended it with a palpable sense of regret that she is still trapped by Von Rothbart. His dramatic reappearance in Act III with his two scabrous, bald-headed followers, provided a much needed antidote to the tension between the Prince and his mother, which was very well portrayed.

Elena Glurdjidze as the black swan

When Elena Glurdjidze reappears as the black swan, Von Rothbart exudes elegance and seriousness, before taking a more active — perhaps too active — part in the amorous attraction of the prince towards his scheming daughter. The pas-de-deux between Prince and Black Swan had tremendous rhythmic energy, brilliantly supported by the orchestra under Gavin Sutherland. There was only a slight disconnect between dancer and conductor here, but the forceful playing of the orchestra is the way it should be done, and in Act IV as the Prince enters, the drums beat for all they are worth.

This was a hugely enjoyable performance, and finding tickets is well worth whatever effort it takes. Performances at the Coliseum continue only until March 26 — for more details click here.

Swan Lake, with Rojo and Acosta, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2011

19 March, 2011

Tamara Rojo is the quintessential Odette/Odile, showing a wonderful purity of movement as Odette, the Swan Queen in Acts II and IV, and a sinister, calculating quality as Odile, the daughter of the evil Von Rothbart in Act III. She dons the magical aura that allows her to take on the form of Odette, causing the prince to lose his heart to her, and then suddenly laughs in his face as soon as they have plighted their troth together. As he sees a vision of the real Odette in a mirror at the rear of the stage, her nasty laugh has a wonderfully sinister quality.

Acosta and Rojo in Act IV, photo by Johan Persson

Carlos Acosta as the prince was wonderful. He showed suitable ennui in Act I, and again in Act III with the six princesses, yet a readiness to hunt at night under a full moon in Act II. His anguish was palpable in Act IV, as he searches for his swan queen, and his emotion and his dive into the lake after her at the end was very well represented. And with Tamara Rojo his deft partnering allowed her to shine, which she most certainly did, holding an arabesque en pointe in Act III without the slightest fear on either part that she might not hold the balance.

The corps de ballet, photo by Dee Conway

I’ve commented earlier this month on the production, so I’ll leave that aside, except to say that I loved the set and the lighting in Act II. As to performance, the corps danced beautifully in the big ensemble pieces, and the pas-de-trois in Act I was very well performed by Akane Takada, Deirdre Chapman and Valentino Zucchetti. He was particularly good in his jumps and the conductor, Boris Gruzin took the music at just the right pace for his solos. What a shame he couldn’t do the same for the girls. The first two female solos in the pas-de-trois were markedly too slow, as was Rojo’s big Act II solo in Act II. These are ballerinas, not men, and they need the music at a pace that allows them to shine.

The character dances in Act III were all beautifully performed, and Yuhui Choe and Liam Scarlett were a delight in the Neapolitan dance. It was a treat to have Gary Avis as Von Rothbart, both in the white acts and particularly in Act III where he exuded a charmingly dark menace, well-supported by his dwarves. The interaction with his sinister daughter Odile showed skilful sorcery, and this was altogether a Swan Lake to treasure.

Before the performance started, Monica Mason, the Company’s artistic director, came on stage. It’s always an ominous moment when one wonders whether such an appearance is to announce injuries and replacements, but this was simply to tell us that the Royal Ballet had made their first visit to Japan in 1975, and they were dedicating this performance to the victims of the appalling recent earthquake in Japan. In fact they are putting on a special performance this Sunday, March 20 at 4 p.m. in the Linbury Theatre — details below.

As for the present run of Swan Lake, performances continue until April 8 — for more details, click here.

Concert performance in aid of the Japan Tsunami Appeal, with former Principal Guest Artist of The Royal Ballet Miyako Yoshida and friends, including: Yuhui Choe, Valeri Hristov, Hikaru Kobayashi, Ryoichi Hirano, Kenta Kura*, Akane Takada*, and students from the Royal Academy of Music (*tbc).

Tickets: 20 pounds. Running time: about one hour.

HOW TO BOOK: Advance tickets available from the Royal Opera House Box Office in person and by telephone until 4pm tomorrow (Saturday 19 March). Day tickets available at the door (cash only, donations welcomed!). Box Office telephone number: 020 7304 4000

Swan Lake, with Nuñez and Soares, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2011

11 March, 2011

Swan Lake shows Tchaikovsky at his very best, and although this is a perennial favourite, I find the production slightly unsatisfactory. More on that later, but the dancing was wonderful. Marianela Nuñez was lovely as the white swan, and seductively assured as the black swan in Act III. Thiago Soares was excellent as Prince Siegfried, showing suitable aloofness from Elizabeth McGorian as his mother, and fine technique in both his solos and in his pas-de-deux work with Nunez.

Marianela Nuñez as Odette

Most of the solo roles were also brilliantly performed. Akane Takada, Hikaru Kobayashi and Ludovic Ondiviela danced with great verve in the pas-de-trois of Act I — both girls danced beautifully, and Ondiviela was outstanding — and Iohna Loots, Emma Maguire, Romany Pajdak and Sabina Westcombe as the cygnets in Act II were right on the music and wonderfully in sync with one another. Emma Maguire and James Hay were terrific in the Neapolitan Dance of Act III, and all the character dances were extremely well performed. The only solo role I found disappointing was Christopher Saunders as Von Rothbart. He failed to exhibit a spirit of evil possessiveness in the white acts, and lacked the necessary menace in Act III, seeming more like an avuncular figure — albeit with a spooky hairstyle — taking his niece to a party.

The corps de ballet was superb, but the music was not quite as exciting as it ought to be. The first few bars were dull and it never really came alive. Boris Gruzin does a reliable job with the orchestra, but he took the solos for Nuñez rather too slowly, and some of the music for the corps sounded a bit rumpty-tum. Certainly there were stronger moments too, but on balance there was a lack of tension.

Nuñez and Soares in Act III

As for the production itself, improvements could very easily be made by getting rid of the supers in Act III. Their movements are entirely at odds with those for the rest of the company, and when the man in pink holds his white-gloved palms out, as if he might start directing traffic, he looks like something from another planet. They are at best an irrelevance, and I find them an annoying distraction. In Act III I’d be relieved to see some of the side sets eliminated because they take away from the space for dancing, and in Act IV I’d be glad to see some of Ashton’s choreography put back in again.

But, as I say, the dancing was superb, and the auditorium was full to the gills — performances of this run continue until April 8 — for more details click here, and for my review of another performance, with Rojo and Acosta, click here.

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

9 August, 2009

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This was a welcome relief from the Mariinsky’s dreadful production of Romeo and Juliet, and the evening belonged to the corps de ballet, which danced magnificently in this 1950 version by Konstantin Sergeyev. Boris Gruzin conducted, giving the dancers the tempos they wanted even though in some cases they were on the slow side. The pas-de-trois in Act I was very well performed by Filipp Stepin, Yana Selina and Valeria Martinyuk, and I thought Stepin was the best male dancer of the evening, musical and with a commanding presence, far better than the prince. Yana Selina was also extremely good, and reappeared in the Neapolitan dance later. Ivan Sitnikov was a commanding presence as von Rothbart, and Viktoria Tereshkina was a fine Odette/Odile, but Evgeny Ivanchenko as her prince was a serious disappointment, insipid, unmusical, and lacking in emotional conviction.

The costumes by Galina Solovyova are magnificent, and the designs by Igor Ivanov work well, except that from the amphitheatre the wheels of the mechanical swans were clearly visible and brightly lit. My only serious complaint about this production is the ubiquitous jester in the court scenes. He was danced by the ungainly Andrei Ivanov, whom I saw doing the same part in Chicago in autumn 2006. Once again he looked terribly pleased with himself, but why does the Mariinsky feel a need to include such a circus act — this is a ballet not a pantomime.

Swan Lake, American Ballet Theater, March 2009

30 March, 2009

There were lots of things to praise in this performance of Swan lake, but others to criticise. First the good things: Irina Dvorovenko was a lovely Odette-Odile, alternating well between a sublime white swan, and her seductive black counterpart in Act III. The corps de ballet were superb, particularly in the white acts, forming a very powerful presence at the end when they defeat von Rothbart. Indeed this performance warmed up as the evening progressed, and really took off with the black swan’s first solo. Her partner, Maxim Beloserkovsky as Prince Siegfried, danced with technical mastery and good control, but little musicality, which made him far less interesting than her.

As to the rest of the cast, the pas-de-trois in Act I was very well danced by Sarah Lane, Isabella Boyston and Daniil Simkin, while von Rothbart was strongly portrayed at the party scene by Gennadi Saveliev, and by Isaac Stappas in the white acts. The dual portrayal of von Rothbart was an interesting aspect of this production, and in a prologue during the overture they both appeared, along with Siegfried and Odette-Odile, dimly lit behind a front-drop. The lighting design by Duane Schuler was very effective here, but in the white scenes the company didn’t manage to install the lights correctly, for several swans, including one solo, were left in the dark. The sets and costumes by Zack Brown work extremely well, giving plenty of colour to Act III and plenty of space for dancing. I only object to the change of costume for Siegfried in Act III where he suddenly reappears in a black doublet, with the black swan, from off-stage. We have not seen her before, though she should be introduced by von Rothbart when he enters the party, rather than appearing as if she has known Siegfried all along and been having an illicit affair off-stage.

But the most disappointing thing about this production is Kevin McKenzie’s choreography in Act I, which sometimes bears little relationship to the music. Insipid and unimaginative steps to quiet passages are simply continued without change as the music roars into top gear. The music itself was very well performed by the orchestra of the English National Opera under the baton of Charles Barker, who showed a fine sensitivity to the dancers.