Mariinsky Ballet Not Always Perfect in “Swan Lake” at Segerstrom

In New York this Tuesday, one reviewer said that the Moiseyev Dance Company was in the midst of performances that “poured energy from the stage”.  Maryiinsky Ballet made no such impression on Wednesday in what was something of a sleeper version of its famed “Swan Lake” at Segerstom Center for the Arts.  But the Mariinsky corps de ballet made up for deletions and less than perfect soloists with spectacular ensemble dancing in Acts II and IV, where the swans and soloists share the stage in diversions of heavenly length. Here the Mariinsky version is filled with refined detail and style that overwhelms, and at the same time elevates, the thin story. In one moment the swans turn away from the soloists as they begin their grand pas de deux. On Wednesday, that moment traversed a deep, psychological divide that carried you from the world of a haunted flock into a very private, personal domain. The beauty of it might shatter you if you were really paying attention. It was the best moment of the night. It’s not often that five seconds of movement, in silence, communicates so much.

While the corps shone, much of the rest of this production seemed vested with little real verve. Both soloists Ekaterina Kondaurova (Odette and her double, Odile) and Evgeny Ivanchenko  (Prince Siegfried) struggled at times to make the big stuff look perfect. While Kondaurova was more effective, the distance traveled between her Swan Queen of Act II and Odile of Act III felt slight.  Ivanchenko’s Siegfried begins to run out of steam early. The standard music for his solo in Act I has been deleted in the interest of editing together Acts I and II. But this is music essential for developing his character as a man in a serious funk. Here, Siegfried seems little more than a spoiled scion with time on his hands. As a partner he was sure but wan when going it alone.  You could have wished for larger doses of emotion and purpose from both.

Other small details proved problematic. The sorcerer Rothbart, powerfully danced by Alexander Romanchikov, suffered a cartoonish makeover for the ball scene in Act III. It was a distraction that should have been played with reliable acting and mime rather than heavy handed costuming. Missing was the camaraderie of Siegfried and his hunting companions. In this version there were none. The men, in general, were weakly portrayed. The endless preening and parading around on half toe in the opening court scene made it clear that this was not a bunch you were likely to be able to count on in the woods. The cross bow with the sparkling glitter didn’t help matters. In Act III the men were easily out danced by the women, who looked more real and danced with more inflection and generosity in all the folk dances. They came across with an abundance of that Moiseyev flare for these ersatz, traditional dances while the men did not. The role of the Tutor (Soslan Kulaev), potentially a part which can help the troubled Prince seem more like a real person, was played for easy laughs and with throw away acting. He never really escaped the confines of a self-enforced triviality.

Faring better was the visual appeal of the production which had handsomely dressed sets by Igor Ivanov and subdued, rich costuming by Galiva Solovieva. Especially brilliant was the stagecraft for the gliding faux swans that effectively created doubled images floating on the surface of the lake.  Making what was perhaps the strongest consistent characterization of the evening was Vasily Tkachenko in the role of the Jester. His was a delightfully understated version with sparingly applied mime and buoyant dancing.

I was happy to hear the the Mariinsky Ballet Orchestra playing for these performances.  The orchestra was conducted by Mikail Agrest. Usually, touring companies roll with the local pickup orchestra as a pit band. Often they are good. This orchestra was superb. The solo violin was especially revealing in the Act II pas de deux where violinist, Lyudmila Chaikovskaya’s modulated tempos forged a real dialogue with the onstage soloist.  When Kondaurova reached for the sky with her last gestures she did so with a sense of the moment as a musical partnership. Also excellent in the solo sections were cellist, Alexander Ponomarev and Harpist, Bozhena Chornak. This was perfect music with secure tempos. More of it would have been better.

Only three of the soloists on this tour are principal dancers. First and Second soloists along with Corphyees are covering the major roles while the company performs at Segerstrom Hall. This is still a great company. The perfection of the Ivanov choreography in Acts II and IV shows you just how valuable the memories for classical dance at Mariinsky are.  But you could feel a little cheated that that the “A” team didn’t show and disappointed that the “A” game was sometimes in short supply too.

(Performances of “Swan Lake” by The Mariinsky Ballet and The Mariinsky Orchestra run through this weekend at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The reviewed performance was on October the 3rd, 2012)

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