Wednesday
April 23, 2014
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Swan Lake: worthwhile, sombre, dramatic

Nao Sakuma and Juan Pablo Ledo in a scene from Swan Lake.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald
Japanese dancer Nao Sakuma failed to give malignity to Odile, although she is an accomplished artist

In the final days of the year it is customary in many cities of the Northern Hemisphere to offer either concerts connected with Christmas and New Year’s Eve or a ballet suitable for kids, particularly Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. In recent decades this has also become the case for our city, and that famous ballet has often been performed.
Not this year, however: dancer Iñaki Urlezaga presented it in 2011 and 2012 at the Ópera, but there wasn’t a third series this season; the Colón opted in 2013 to end its season with another famous Tchaikovsky score, Swan Lake, but it will give at the end of 2014 a newly choreographed version of The Nutcracker. The Argentino had announced a Nutcracker but for some reason they switched to La Sylphide.
This year marks the centenary of the first Swan Lake seen here: Karsavina and Nijinsky with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. It took a whole half-century to get that famous ballet in the Colón repertoire: Jack Carter’s proved positive and stayed for several seasons. And among others there were the visits of two icons of Russian ballet: Moscow’s Bolshoi (1986) and Leningrad’s Kirov (1996), now known as St Petersburg’s Mariinski. I welcome now the import of Peter Wright’s choreography, originally premièred in 1981 for the Birmingham Royal Ballet; some fragments are by Galina Samsova. This Colón revival was prepared by Desmond Kelly and Dennis Bonner and I found it quite satisfactory.
A bit of history. Originally the music was created between 1875 and 1876, and premièred the following year at the Bolshoi with mediocre choreography by Julius Reisinger; it was a fiasco! Many years later, in 1889, the composer met in St Petersburg the famous Marius Petipa; their meeting would lead to the premières of Sleeping Beauty (1890) and eventually also The Nutcracker. On November 6, 1893, the composer died. On March 11 the following year, the Mariinski gave a night of fragments of Tchaikovsky’s operas and the première of choreographer Lev Ivanov’s Second Act of Swan Lake; it was a success and Petipa decided to present the whole ballet; and so he did on January 27, inaugurating the great history of this seminal ballet.
Acts One and Three are at the Court of Prince Siegfried and were mostly choreographed by Petipa; acts Two and Four were in the skilled and poetic hands of Ivanov. So the divertissements were mostly Petipa’s, but the image that stays with us was Ivanov’s: a group of women dancers in beautiful geometrical movement, plus the ethereal Odette with Siegfried. The villain of the piece is the magician Von Rothbart, who holds the group under his malefice; they are women in the night hours but swans from dawn to dusk. And a further villain for Act 3: Von Rothbart’s daughter appears as Odile the black swan with the appearance of Odile, and she seduces the prince. Wright, as the revisor of both Petipa and Ivanov, mostly sticks to tradition and to Tchaikovsky’s preference for the tragic ending instead of the triumphant one preferred by the Mariinski authorities at that time.    
The Colón has bought the whole Birmingham production, so we have the stage and costume designs by Philip Prowse and lighting by Peter Teigen. The total effect is sombre and dramatic, only lightened in the divertissements. Tasteful in the costumes and in the lighting, this Swan was worthwhile, and it respects the idea of one ballerina dancing both facets, Odette and Odile.
I chose the performance of December 20, for in it there was the sole début of the nine presentations: Japanese dancer Nao Sakuma from the Birmingham Ballet (she also did the performance of December 22); Carla Vincelli danced in several nights. Although Sakuma failed to give malignity to Odile, she is an accomplished artist and has the Ivanov style instilled by Wright. She was well partnered by Juan Pablo Ledo, who has a sense of the dramatic. The famous quartet of swans went very well, and I especially liked the tall, lithe Larisa Hominal and Manuela Rodríguez Echenique as two leading swans. The regional dances (Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Neapolitan) were no more than correct. Wright’s conception of Von Rothbart is rather dull and conventional, giving little of interest to the interpreter, in this case Sebastián Scolari. Maximiliano Iglesias was an agile Benno, friend of the Prince. But perhaps the best thing was the discipline and beauty of the assembled swans, in very pure tradition.
The Buenos Aires Philharmonic played rather well under Hadrián Ávila Arzuza, a solid but unimaginative interpreter. By the way, Sleeping Beauty will have further performances in March.

La Sylphide. La Plata saw in 2003 choreography by Mario Galizzi based on Bournonville of La Sylphide and this has been revived now by Sabrina Streiff. The Colón decades ago presented Pierre Lacotte’s reconstruction of the original Paris première with choreography by Filippo Taglioni and music by Jean-Marie Schneitzhoeffer; at the time it was quite a success. But I personally prefer the Bournonville Danish tradition, for that choreography has remained in the Copenhagen repertoire since its 1836 première and I find it a splendid example of Bournonville’s talent for fast small graceful steps. It also has better music, by Hermann Lovenskjold.
This story of ill-fated love between the “sylphide,” spirit of air, and James, a Scot, is typically Romantic, and the villain is Magda, a dark witch. There are charming Scottish dances along with narrative fragments in the two acts. It was unfair to see a sparse audience for a fine show. The 2003 production featuring Juan Carlos Greco (stage designs) and Eduardo Caldirola (costumes) works very well. The 70 minutes flowed agreeably with Federico Víctor Sardella at the helm of the Argentino’s Orchestra.
Fine principals (Elizabeth Antúnez and Esteban Schenone), a properly disagreeable travestied witch (Christian Pérez), nice dancing from Stefania Vallone and Miguel Ángel Klug and a corps de ballet that gave us a nice contrast between the assembled sylphs and the folk-coloured dances of the village people.
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