San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake, February 19 and 23

12 Mar

Swan Lake’s opening lost to Jacques d’Amboise appearance at Nourse
Auditorium so I saw Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova in the principal roles February 20. On February 23 I paid for a ticket to see Carlo de Lanno and Sofiane Sylve in their second essay as Siegfried and Odette/Odile. I am here to tell you I was glad for each dollar spent on a credit card.

Rita Felciano has written a brilliant commentary for Danceviewtimes on the rationale of the Swan Lake setting, much of which is supported in the programnotes. The physical setting is handsome and, architecturally, more than a little overbearing, clearly the intention. Siegfried isn’t supposed to have many options, and in Act III, the staircase is overpowering and intrusive, diminishing the depth of dancing space.

Inspired by Rita’s observations I went back to Wikipedia’s time line for Russian history and, in particular, Nicholas II, Imperial Russia’s last czar. His marriage as well as the death of his father occurred in 1894. Swan Lake got its Petipa-Ivanov premiere in St. Petersburg in 1895, and the time lines suggest unrest, acknowledged or not in the program. Serfdom had been abolished by Nicholas II’s ancestor, Alexander I, in the 1860’s with not much thought to the ramifications.

In Mongolia or the northern reaches of Imperial Russia there was a tradition of imitating swans. At the 1979 International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Alexandra Danilova urged me to see the second performance of some Chinese guests where the man did a swan dance to boggle the mind at the similarity with Odette’s movements in Act II. Though there is no written verification of Siberian travels, Lev Ivanov may well have seen traveling performers in St Petersburg in this evocative solo and incorporated elements of it into Act II’s haunting Odette solo.

The story is much more medieval and Eastern European than the current production would have you believe visually. With the Queen Mother’s silvery white wig out of Gainsborough and the elegant tones of deep greens and rusty scarlets, as well as the graceful swirl of skirts below Empire bodices, it is definitely early 19th century, quite at cross purposes with the bow bestowed upon Siegfried by his mother. Anita Paciotti gave us an imperious, well-meaning mother, well-meaning in the sense that dynasty must go on.

Paired with Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova were Daniel Dievison-Oliviera with predartory glances and smouldering postures as Von Rothbart with Gennadi Nedvigin in the pas de trois with Koto Ishihara and Lauren Strongin. For Sylve and de Lanno, their Von Rothbart was an icy, remote Tiit Helimets. the Act I trio included Taras Domitro, Doris Andre and Sasha de Sola.

While dancers are all different, Karapetyan and Kochetkova share the Russian tradition in training, while the Sylve-de Lanno schooling seems more firmly based in Western European lineage with a certain understated directness that nonetheless manages nuance and musicality where the two K’s possess a grander attack. Karapetyan is more clearly the prince receiving homage, de Lanno deferential and vulnerable, both clearly alone facing the maternal demand. Kochetkova dances Odette as a young girl, her Odile a sly vamp, while Sylve’s Odette is youthful if mature, though still trapped, and her Odile focused and calculated.

While I was somewhat relieved not to see six identically dressed princesses dancing the same waltz at the same time, which would beleaguer any young man’s judgment, the choice of transforming four national dancers, with two Russians to make up the roster, struck me as odd. The setting and story implies purity of the prospective brides, but they are partnered and frequently hoisted by their countrymen, scarcely a virginal display in any one of the four styles.

The swan corps, the cygnets and the lead swans were all admirable as was the
level of the production. Swan Lake is clearly a classic; one likes to see what the principals will make of their assignments, but I now find other full length works more absorbing.

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