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1, 6-20: Transcendence Through Spectacle
Sure Bolshoi Corps Saves Meandering Grigorovich 'Swan'
By Julia Ward
Copyright 2002 Julia Ward
WASHINGTON -- If the choreographic
muddle of Yuri Grigorovich's retooling of a retooling of a retooling of "Swan
Lake" could have been saved by a single gesture, it might have been Prince Siegfried's
point skyward from bended knee at the close of Act I. An economic movement, it
was free of adornment or specific, mimetic meaning. His arm's upward extension
was an abstract expression of longing -- thoroughly modern in its execution and
A modernist's desire runs through
the choreography, on view last week when the Bolshoi returned to the Kennedy Center.
Less the narrative ballet of Petipa and Ivanov's era, Yuri Grigorovich's "Swan
Lake" is a psychological play on Siegfried's reality and imagined desires. Little
of Petipa and Ivanov's 1895 choreography remains in Grigorovich's interpretation,
but the Russian government's desire to stabilize the Bolshoi by perpetuating a
Communist Era, Cold War fantasy for audiences does.
Last week's performances at the
Kennedy Center marked the first Washington appearance for the Bolshoi since Russian
president Vladimir Putin reasserted the government's authority over the company
by ousting Bolshoi director Vladimir Vasiliev (whose own "Swan Lake" was derided
for its elimination of Odile and the creation of a father-son rivalry for Odette's
affections) and placing the company under the Ministry of Culture's direct control.
While the Bolshoi had never been independent of the government, it had been granted
a substantial degree of autonomy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Through
Vasiliev's departure and the appointment of Anatoly Iksanov as the Bolshoi's executive
director in August 2000, Putin had hoped to instill an administrative accountability
into the fiscally mismanaged company and reestablish the Bolshoi's mainstream
appeal and reputation for being the greatest purveyor of grand scale, narrative
ballet in the world -- the competing Kirov not withstanding. More than one commentator
noted the deep irony of this return to the essentially Soviet system of strict
governmental control over culture.
Grigorovich is forced to play between
a marketable, government-driven narrative version of "Swan Lake" and his own contemporary
impulse towards an abstraction that manifests itself by basing the story's action
entirely in the psyche of Prince Siegfried. Grigorovich ultimately fails to come
down on either side with a convincing interpretation of his own. Despite the muddy
artistic (and political) agendas pulling at the ballet, the production is well
served by a handful of wonderful performances, well-executed sets, and a breathtaking
corps. The company's stylistic coherence in the face of such organization turmoil,
alone, made the evening worthwhile.
Burnished gold drops, that appear
appropriately sepia-toned, set the stage for Siegfried's real world of the court.
Black and blue drops represent the realm of Siegfried's imagined ideal. They are
spare but rich in their suggestive power; designer Simon Virsalasdze deserves
recognition for making the shifts between Siegfried's interior and exterior worlds
possible. Unfortunately, the Kennedy Center stage pales in comparison to the size
of the Bolshoi Theatre's. The color saturation provided by the backdrops, while
creating a compelling jewel box tableau out of the proscenium theater, visually
hemmed in the dancers, who already seemed to be holding back because of the performing
Fortunately, Siegfried's dilemma
is this "Swan Lake"'s focal point, for the ballerina Anna Antonicheva was something
of a disappointment in the lead roles. Gorgeous, high extensions and expressive,
featherweight arms could not compensate for a lack of emotion. No risk was taken
and little poetry conveyed. Dancers Maria Allash, Olga Suvorova, Maria Aleksandrova,
Nina Kaptosa, and Mariana Ryzhkina proved to be superior performers as the Second
Andrei Uvarov portrayed Siegfried
with gravity and nobility. A powerful dancer with an emotive countenance, Uvarov
took particular advantage of each act's closing, striking simple and pained poses
that gave the evening whatever pathos can still generated by this familiar ballet.
His massive jumps and physical heft lent him a figurative weight that has the
potential to be read as an unattractive excess of reserve in another role, but
it served him well as Siegfried.
Morihiro Ivata as The Fool and the
indomitable Corps provided the evening's remaining poetic moments. Ivata brought
the evening's menace and flash through his whirlwind turns and energetic, sharp
jetes. Ivata was the only performer not held back by the stage's dimensions. The
final proof that great dance can overcome the rise and falls of governments, management
problems, and a succession of personalities in leadership as different from one
another as a socialist revolutionary and a capitalist entrepreneur is the unchanging
Ivanov choreography for "Swan Lake"'s corps de ballet. Danced exquisitely by the
Bolshoi, it personified everything President Putin is hoping his strategic management
maneuvers keep alive -- transcendence through spectacle, all wrapped up in one
Julia Ward is a writer and arts administrator based in Washington, DC. She is
the editor of Washington Performing Arts Society's Insights, a annual publication
dedicated to contemporary dance.
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