writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Ah! The Kirov Is Here

Swan Lake (Konstantin Sergeyev production)
The Kirov Ballet
Opera House
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

December 30, 2003

by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright © 2003 by Alexandra Tomalonis

There’s still a freshness about Konstantin Sergeyev’s production of Swan Lake even though it’s more than 50 years old. The first act is especially lovely, the dances flowing gently from one side of the stage to the other like leaves blown by a spring breeze. Seeing this Swan Lake directly after the company’s new design-heavy Nutcracker brings home how revolutionary it must have been back in 1950 when it swept dramballet aside and turned the focus on the dancing. It’s as much part of the post-World War II swing to neoclassicism as Balanchine’s Palais du crystal and Ashton’s Symphonic Variations. The production is of its time, and perhaps ahead of its time. The Neoclassicism of the 1950s gave way to the psychodrama of the late 1960s, and now designo-drama is rearing its head. But last night in Washington, neoclassicism was queen, and the company, led by Daria Pavlenko and Igor Zelensky, looked gorgeous.

Pavlenko was both a regal and a very human queen.  She was royal in her bearing, in the way she carried her head, the way she greeted the Prince, in every step she took. It’s the first time I’ve never missed the mime scene in which Odette explains her background and her plight; Pavlenko doesn’t need it. Her dancing was as clear as spring water, and as fluid, and in her first solo, the turns were as smooth as if the floor were made of glass. There was an undertone of anticipated tragedy in the white swan pas de deux as well as love; the whole performance was beautifully understated. Zelensky was a fine partner and shared her reserve. It wasn’t a Romantic “Swan Lake,” not a personal love story, but a universal one.

As Odile, Pavlenko did something I’ve always wanted to see and never have: she was completely different from Odette, but not obviously so. She wasn’t trying to make herself as different as possible—so that no Prince could plausibly be fooled—but be like a double, someone with an identical face and physiognomy but a different personality. The regal bearing was gone; Odile was a woman dressed up as a Princess, not the real thing. She looked Siegfried straight in the eye, nothing demure about her. There was no scent of tragedy, no hint of Odile's innate goodness. For Siegfried not to realize this, not to guess, "She looks like the woman I met last night, but there's something wrong," was a betrayal indeed.  Technically, the black swan pas de deux was a bit of a let down. Pavlenko had trouble with the turns in her solo, and completed the fouettés through what looked like grim determination. Zelenksy’s dancing was powerful, if not brilliant, with fabled Kirovian moss-soft landings, and I don't think I've seen anyone with that beautiful a run since Nureyev.

There are several aspects of the production that will always be jarring to anyone brought up on the old Royal Ballet Swan Lake: the jester, the dancing Rothbart, the happy ending. This is ballet’s great tragedy, and they just let it trickle away. The lack of mime is also a problem. The Princess Mother comes in to give her son a crossbow, but doesn’t tell him about the ball, nor insist that he must choose a wife. Siegfried’s oath to Odette is an unmotivated gesture; we know he’s swearing his love, but we don’t know why it matters, and so when the Rothbart makes him swear an oath to Odile, the point is lost. The last act seems long, and having an intermission between the ballroom scene and the final lakeside scene ruins the tension. Pavlenko and Zelensky had the house in the first lakeside scene, but had lost it by the second.

There was good dancing throughout: a fine pas de trios by Irina Golub, Tatiana Tkachenko, and Vassily Scherbakov. The jester (scheduled to dance at every performance) was Andrey Ivanov and he is something to see. He's chunky, but uses every bit of that muscle: uncountable pirouettes, snappy jumps, clean finishes and a beaming smile. The big swans—one cannot trust the program, but I’m sure I spotted Nadezhda Gonchar—danced with a splendid amplitude. Their demeanor, half-wild, half-tame, seemed a metaphor for the production as a whole: a calm surface and courtly manners masking churning emotions

After a Nutcracker that masked the company's strength and the individuality of its dancers, it's nice to welcome the Kirov Ballet to Washington again.

Oiginally published:
Volume 1, Number 14
December 31, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Alexandra Tomalonis




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Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on December 31, 2003