The Swan Lake Report

Okay, so we’re a month out from this. I gave a barrage of lead-up to it, just to leave you hanging, dear reader. Sorry! At least I’m not the only person who is tardy about reviewing a Swan Lake performance!

But I DID see Boston Ballet perform their new Swan Lake production.

This whole “world premiere” thing confounds me at times… how can something be new when, not only is it over a century old, but the company has performed it a zillion times before? I guess since Petipa did not have the foresight Balanchine had to preemptively smack down any “improvements,” his work is up for endless tweaks and modifications and with each one they can slap on the label “new & improved!” and create tons of hype to drum up business in the process.

I’m sorry, it appears my cynicism is shining through already. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit of Day After Christmas syndrome. After all, I totally bought into the hype, just as I did with the “new” Nutcracker a few years ago and somehow after all of that I ended up feeling as I did then: not disappointed, exactly, but a bit… hollow.

Okay, I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Let’s rewind back to the pre-Swan days when I was all giddy at the prospect of seeing my beloved Boston Ballet back on stage after, what, like, 6 months away from them? I missed them. Any excuse to see them dance is pretty awesome, and while I got to “meet” some dancers during the ASDP and got to see even more of them close-up during one of their Swan Lake rehearsals, it felt like an eternity since I was able to see them on stage at the Opera House.

So I had to do a full prep.

First off, there are outfits to be considered. It’s very silly, I suppose, but I plan each show outfit based on what’s going to be presented. And for Swan Lake one must consider… well, SWANS! White swan, black swan… or a little bit of both? I put together a black and white outfit with a little bit of romanticism and a little bit of edge. That’s what I’m claiming anyway.

But one cannot stop at the outfit, dear reader. No! There is also hair and makeup to take into consideration. One of the magazines I read regularly had an article in their November issue with all sorts of cute holiday hair-do ideas so I took my inspiration from there for a relaxed, but sparkly up-do. I’m not much of a hair stylist, but I must’ve managed a home run on this one, because I got a few compliments, even from strangers! Not bad for my hurried attempt! For makeup I took instruction from the lovely Kathryn Morgan’s tutorial on an Odile-inspired everyday look.

Yes, I even did the red lip liner bit on the eyes. It’s just a tiny detail, but I think it made the look. I may need my own personal Kathryn Morgan to tell me how to fix my face on a more frequent basis, because not only did I have nearly everything I needed for this look in my arsenal, but I loved how it all turned out.

Now that I was prepped and ready to go, I picked up my ballet companion and we headed into the city in a flurry of excitement in spite of the cold, dreary rain of a nor’easter. We ran from parking garage to Sip for a pre-show dinner where, whom should we see immediately upon entering, but a certain Mr. Nissinen holding court at the bar? Internally awkward moment ensues where ballet companion and I each pondered the situation. One the one hand we felt as though we should say hello because, well, if you’ve been to a couple BB shows you feel like you know the guy even though you don’t really, but at the same time he actually HAD talked to us just a couple weeks before when we went to see rehearsal, so we didn’t want to appear rude on the off chance he recognized us, but… if he didn’t recognize us then we’d just look like yet another pair of Crazy Ballet Ladies. I smiled, my friend waved, and thankfully we were immediately ushered to a table to avoid any further consideration on the subject!

Ah. After some delicious noms we scooted a few doors down to the iron gates of the Boston Opera House where we had to open up our impossibly tiny clutches to ensure we weren’t up to any nefarious schemes. Coats and umbrellas were checked. (NB: Do not bother with the coat check unless you have no desire to ever leave the opera house… the line after the show stretched nearly out the door. We inadvertently cut it, to our benefit, but don’t think we’ll be doing that again!) We were there early enough to catch the end of the pre-curtain talk which was more packed than I’ve ever seen it! Wish we’d caught the beginning because the talkers were ONLY M. Nissinen himself, alongside Miss Larissa Ponomarenko (former BB star and now a ballet mistress with BB), Misa Kuranaga, and Jeffrey Cirio. Only four of my favorite BB people ever! Swoon! Behind them the regular red velvet curtain had been replaced by a gorgeous dark blue velvet curtain with an elegant white border and what almost appeared to be a coat of arms at the center with a giant “S” and a swan on it. Pretty pretty!

The talk concluded shortly after we got there and we were shooed back to the lobby which was swarming with patrons to a degree I haven’t seen since Nutcracker! We stopped downstairs and they had a cute photo backdrop inspired by the lake scene. We asked a nice woman if she would take a picture of us in front of it. I mean, it was THERE!!! Why not?!

Then we headed back up towards our seats with a quick stop-over at the gift shop so I could buy myself a present I had picked out back when they first posted their Swan Lake merchandise: a gorgeous oatmeal heather drapey tee with 3/4 sleeves. Unfortunately it seemed I was not the only lady with her eye on that garment. They were sold out of all but a few in size large (which in a drape-y style would only serve to drive me mad as it would flop off my shoulders at every turn and perhaps give onlookers an unintended show. Sadness prevailed!

But there is no time for sadness when a ballet is about to begin, so we went in and took our seats, scanned our programs and listened to the orchestra tune up (I heard someone behind me say, “Do they have a pit?” Um… it’s a major ballet company performing in a major theatre, do you think they dance to old, scratchy records? Of course there’s a pit!!! Sheesh. The person then said that she could not see the pit… um, isn’t that the point?)

The program was arranged so that there was only one intermission between the second and third acts (there are four acts total). Nissinen also added a prologue before the first act set to the opening movement. The curtain opened to reveal a picnic scene. Lia Cirio was in the center, reading, while her friends supped and flirted around her. I immediately recalled my dance studio’s production of Alice in Wonderland a few years ago as we had opened that with a very similar picnic scene. I doubt Nissinen has ever been found slumming in the ‘burbs at local studio recitals for inspiration, but it was funny how familiar the scene was! The friends packed up their picnic and went off, leaving Cirio alone when along comes Von Rothbart (played by “Guest Principal” — I guess that’s what they call a Principal when he semi-retires — Yury Yanowsky), up to no good. He tries charm and, failing that, goes for straight-up abduction, pulling Cirio into a cloud of fog.

Curtain down and then back up revealing a village scene. Prince Siegfried (played by Lasha Khozashvili) is hosting a wild kegger for his 21st… okay, so it wasn’t that crazy of a party. But there was some revelry with goblets including… the Polonaise we learned during ASDP! The pas de trois we learned in variations was also in this act. I was so excited to see choreography I had learned (I was worried that Mikko might have changed it all with the new production). I saw the most amazing thing during the pas de trois. There was a section with one of the females dancing solo — I think it might have been Seo Hye Han, but don’t quote me on that — and she did a pirouette, stopped the turn STILL EN POINTE, développéd devant, did a full grand rond de jambe STILL EN POINTE, and did one more revolution in arabesque. You could tell there were a few dancers in the audience as there were audible gasps from various corners. It was the most beautiful, controlled thing. I didn’t even know such a move was possible. OMG!!! After she finished her solo and the audience burst into wild applause the man sitting next to me leaned over and said, “That was beautiful, but what was it that you found so amazing?” so I tried to hurriedly explain what she had done and why it was so challenging. I don’t think my explanation cut it, but I appreciated him asking!

After the revelry, Princey gets all woeful about his mother’s demands to Get Married Already! So what better way to deal with his sorrows than to head out to the lake to shoot some birds. Except, you know, he goes and falls in love with one of the birds. Because… right, of course, interspecies romances, nothing weird here, folks!

So, curtain down, lights up, stretch legs, lights down, curtain up and… we’re back at the palace where the formal birthday party is going on including the parade of various “international” dances along with the seemingly endless pas de cinq. A few princesses are presented to tempt Prince Siegfried, but no, this man knows what he wants and it’s not any of the faces from this string of identical ladies. Enter Rothbart with a black bird. According to the program notes, Siegfried thinks that it’s Odette in masquerade. Because… birds dress up. Okay, sure. So he’s all a-swoon over Odile and I’m… all a-BLINDED by her sparkling costume! Yes, I’m a girl and I do love me some sparkle, but this looked like she was covered in LEDs. There was one part where she stopped dancing and was just standing in B-plus and yet still the audience could only see *flash-flash-flash* in time with Lia Cirio’s post-variation rapid breathing. So much for making it all look effortless. It was a bit unnecessarily blinding, I thought. And then they threw in some multi-media effects by projecting a video image of Odette to show Siegfried how sadly mistaken he was in thinking Odile was Odette and… it was a nice idea, but somehow came off kinda cheesy. Anyway, clearly Odette is now stuck in her avian ways. Whoops! Not cool, Mr. Princey-Prince. I hope you learned your lesson! All that glitters is not… your swan girlfriend.

Well, now that Von Rothbart managed to ruin a perfectly good party, there is nothing left for us to do but return to the lake and drown our sorrows. Except Siegfried mistakes this plan for just up and up drowning, I guess. There is much swanning by the swans and some struggles between Von Rothbart and Prince Siegfried and… the end.

I hate to say it, but by this point in the show, much as I love ballet I was kind of… well, truth be told, a little bored. Which I guess is my issue with a lot of story ballets. The climax ends up being a bit vague and cloaked in a whole bunch of bourrées and you kind of think… “That’s it?” Hm.

Maybe I’m just a victim of my own 21st century attention span. Not sure.

All cynicism aside, though, there was much to admire about this show. The sets looked as though you could step right into them and be transported to another century and the costumes (non-sparkly ones, anyway) were gorgeously vibrant. It was obvious how much work went into this and I think it paid off royally. The house was packed with an enthusiastic crowd. Ballet companion and I were chatting with a couple next to us during intermission and learned that they have a teen daughter who dances, though ballet “isn’t really her thing,” and they had first come to a Boston Ballet performance to see the new Nutcracker a season or two ago. They know nothing about ballet, but were so impressed that they’ve returned for shows since then. And… well, that’s really what it’s all about, right? Sometimes these ballets that can feel a bit old-fashioned, trite, and hackneyed to some of us serve as the “gateway drug” to get people in the doors and turn them into devoted fans. Which isn’t to say that these shows don’t have their own magic. While I love a good contemporary piece where the sets and costumes are minimalist and the focus is on the dancing, I also appreciate the artistry of an intricate costume and elaborate sets.

So… long-winded account, but there you go. If you’re craving some visuals, check out this video for a glimpse of the action! (At 0:30 there’s a 2 second clip from the polonaise we learned during ASDP!)

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One thought on “The Swan Lake Report

  1. Oh snap, calling out the late swan lake reviews!
    Hee.
    I like that the person beside you asked why that insane sounding interrupted-pirouette business was so impressive, rather than just sit there and think “der?” Good inquisitive audience behavior. I’m glad you tried to help him understand.

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