Of swans, sylphs, and Shake­speare

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

Now that high-def­i­ni­tion broad­casts of per­for­mances by some of the world’s lead­ing bal­let, opera, and the­ater com­pa­nies are be­ing shown at venues like the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter and The Screen, it may only be a mat­ter of time be­fore groups such as the Rus­sian Na­tional Bal­let Theatre will no longer come around. Un­til then, we still get these bus-andtruck com­pa­nies, which may not rep­re­sent the crème de la crème of their art form but do man­age to put on a rel­a­tively good show. Real Rus­sian bal­let danced by real Rus­sians still car­ries with it a cer­tain nov­elty value.

Even if some el­e­ments of the Rus­sian Na­tional Bal­let Theatre bor­der on the dread­ful, there is some­thing to be said for so many white tu­tus on a blue-lit stage. The fa­mil­iar Tchaikovsky Swan Lake score may be com­ing at you from a not-so-hi-fidelity record­ing, but how can you not be pleased with an old-fasahioned back­drop — a lake­side cas­tle atop craggy cliffs — and fas­ci­nated by the live dancers with their arms in clas­si­cal align­ment? If it’s artistry you’re look­ing for, on the other hand, this was a Swan Lake to cringe over, a Chopini­ana that was mer­ci­fully sim­ple, and a Romeo and Juliet that made you want to get up and scream, “Why?”

The best news of the two nights was Chopini­ana, a 1907 piece by Bal­lets Russes chore­og­ra­pher Mikhail Fokine (known for his Fire­bird), and later re­vised into a longer work called Les Syl­phides. This is a dreamy, ro­man­tic-style “white” bal­let, and there were rows of bal­leri­nas in three­quar­ter-length tulle dresses, lots of tableaux, and a use of styl­ized arm ges­tures and a man­nequin-like ar­ti­fi­cial­ity of move­ment. Amer­i­can dancers have been trained, since the time of Balan­chine, to em­pha­size quick­ness, ul­tra-high ex­ten­sion, and jazz-edged move­ment. The per­for­mance of Chopini­ana was a re­fresh­ingly old-fash­ioned ex­er­cise in pure clas­si­cal tech­nique. The dancing matched the leisurely pace of the Chopin mu­sic — a polon­aise, noc­turne, mazurka, waltz, and even the taran­tella — and was lovely in its sylph-world of color and mood.

Natalie Port­man (star of the movie The Black Swan) should have coached the Odette/Odile in Mon­day night’s Swan Lake. Eka­te­rina Egorova, while tech­ni­cally pro­fi­cient, was so bland as the white swan and washed-out as the black swan (she seemed to have for­got­ten to put on any make-up for the evil role) that watch­ing Port­man vamp on film from the head up would have been prefer­able to the full-body, real-dance ver­sion on dis­play here. It was in Swan Lake that the men of the com­pany looked most em­bar­rass­ingly un­equal to the women. Rus­lan Mukham­betkaliev, the evening’s Prince Siegfried, was too young for the role — a pre-prince, with­out an inkling about ro­mance. While the women were well-trained but had no spark, the men were tech­ni­cally un­even and of­ten hammy.

Romeo and Juliet fea­tured the Tchaikovsky Over­ture-Fan­tasy in­stead of the haunt­ing, fa­mil­iar, full-length score by Prokofiev. Tchaikovsky’s piece is a con­densed ver­sion of the story, which works fine for an or­ches­tral over­ture but not so well in a sit-com-length the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion. Within five min­utes, Ty­balt and Mer­cu­tio were dead, af­ter 10 min­utes, Romeo and Juliet had done the deed, and within half an hour, they were an­gels be­ing car­ried off stage in arabesque. There was no bal­cony scene, no se­cret wed­ding, and no crypt scene to speak of. There was no time to even drink poi­son. Romeo was dancing over Juliet’s prone fig­ure one mo­ment, and the next mo­ment, he was dead.

— Michael Wade Simp­son

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