The "Swan Lake" danced at Weber State College last weekend found a packed and appreciative audience, eager to sample the Russian style of ballet. It deserved its standing ovation, for it is a fine work of art, both in dancing and staging.
First of all, the visual production is gorgeous. Tim Goodchild's atmospherically painted backdrops and hangings sacrifice nothing to the concept of sufficient mobility to tour efficiently, and the front curtain of net, feathers and sequined fiery eyes gets each scene off to an impressive start.
In the first joint Anglo-Russian staging, no expense has been spared to produce traditionally beautiful costumes, especially in the spectacular ballroom scene, with czardas, mazurka, Spanish and Venetian sequences each dressed more lavishly and authentically than the last. One does feel the lack of a few stairs, however; stairs seem to confer a certain variety and drama to the scene.
This "Swan Lake" is a new production for the tour, premiered in Manchester in July. The choreography is very traditional, cleaving very close to the Petipa and Ivanov original. Fortunately the swan corps looked like different dancers on Friday, compared to Thursday night's shaky excerpt. They had trimmed up their technique and unified their movements commendably, and they fulfilled their alloted assignments charmingly, though they sometimes got bunched too much along the sides.
Especially exciting were the character dances, taken at a dizzy clip, with intricate footwork almost faster than the eye, and a sure knowledge of what must be, which comes from the dancers' being born and raised to these rhythms. Tempos in this "Swan Lake" were unexpected, sometimes faster, sometimes slower than those to which we are accustomed.
The opening was especially beautiful, a reconstruction of Petipa's original intentions. With staging in French provincial style reminiscent of Fragonard, gentlemen of the court reveled with country lasses, in a pretty choreography. And where would you ever find a more virile and gallant brace of 12 danseurs?
Principal dancers were uniformly good, if not overwhelming. Galina Shlyapina took on the role of Swan Queen with relish and authority, dancing a touching, youthful Odette, and a sparkling Odile, if a little short on evil intrigue and wicked asides. Her second-act solo was an object lesson in total control, taken much slower than usual; though she settled for 16 fouettes in the black swan pas de deux - somewhat surprisingly, since she seemed to be just getting warmed up.
Stanislav Isayev made a rather standard Siegfried, certainly competent in every technical aspect and well schooled in the part, but not especially communicating the lovesick melancholy of the obsessed prince. Valery Trofimchuk as Rothbart was menacing enough, but full of stock gestures and actions; this was a character that skirted dangerously near the edges of campy melodrama.
The impressive Ilgiz Galimullin again excelled on Friday, in the spectacular risk-taking of the jester's part. There was an abundance of fine dancing in the incidental solos and solo ensembles. Notable were the youthful Vera Timashova, Natalya Stavro and Vladimir Malakhov in the first scene pas de trois, Tatiana Paly in a waltz solo, and the dance of the brides in the ballroom. Pantomime from the queen and others was on the stiff side, and none too clear.
The MCB chose the tragic ending, staged by Asaf Messerer; certainly a valid and usual choice. But the lovers' demise seemed a sort of love death, just lying down and going to sleep, unmotivated and unjustified by previous actions.
The cumulative impression is of a young and exhilarating company, communicative, competent and even excellent, with many exciting soloists of dashing bravura and virtuosity. Maturity will confer greater depth to characterizations, but they certainly bring a welcome message of glasnost to the world. A better orchestra would help. One often had complaints with the thin sound and none too accurate solo passages in the music.