Sunday, 31 July 2016

Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden

Swan Lake, Bolshoi Ballet 2016 by Victor Hochauser, Standard YouTube Licence

Bolshoi Ballet, Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, 30 July 2016, 14:00

After seeing the live streaming of the Bolshoi's Swan Lake in January 2015 I wrote the following in Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Bradford 26 Jan 2016:
"Grigorovich's version of Swan Lake is different. As I have noted von Rothbart becomes "the evil genius". The show is compressed into two acts instead of three or four. There is no prologue explaining how Odette became a swan, no gift of a bow, no trip by the lads to the lake to try it out, the lovely divertissements in the royal palace in what is normally Act III are turned into a pitch by the various princesses and the whole episode takes place in Siegfried's imagination so that nobody has to jump into the lake in the last scene. Looking on the positive side there are expanded roles for the jester (danced by Igor Tsvirko) and also for von Rothbart danced by Belyakov.
Now I was brought on Ashton's version for the Royal Ballet which has been lovingly preserved by English National Ballet (see What Manchester does today 10 Oct 2014) and I have to say that I do prefer that version. I don't take kindly to change for change's sake when it comes to my favourite ballets such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake but that's not to say that I am against innovation. Grigorovich's versions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker do work though not perhaps as fairy tales as much of the magic of those stories is removed from them.
Overall I enjoyed the performance very much indeed. Tchaikovsky's magnificent score remains which was conducted well by Pavel Sorokin. Above all there was some glorious dancing. Particularly the pas de deux in the seduction scene in the palace. Rodkin and Zakharova are fine artists. His jumps and her fouettés were thrilling. They were both supported well by Tvirko and Belyakov and a splendid corps. Simon Virsaladze's designs did not show up well in the cinema but they may well have been more impressive on the Bolshoi's historic stage."
Yesterday I saw that production live on stage in Covent Garden. It was perhaps not quite the same as seeing it in the company's home in Moscow where I believe the stage is enormous but it was certainly the next best thing. My first impressions which I jotted down in BalletcoForum as soon as I returned from London were, however, very similar:
"I enjoyed it very much with two tiny reservations. I wasn't entirely happy with Grigorovich's libretto and I found the sets and costumes a little dowdy. However the important things were the choreography and dancing and I couldn't fault them at all. I was very impressed with all the cast - Nikulina and Skvortsov, of course, but also Georgy Gusev who danced the jester. His energy and virtuosity reminded me of Wayne Sleep in the 1970s."
The cast that I saw yesterday was different from the one I saw in the live streaming.  Anna Nikulina danced Odette-Odile, Ruslan Skvortsov Siegfried, Mikhail Kryuchkov the "evil genius" (or von Rothbart as I still prefer to think of him) and Georgy Gusev the fool (in the sense of court jester). Each and every member of the cast danced well.  I should say a special word about Gusev who impressed me particularly. with his energy and virtuosity. He reminded me of Wayne Sleep when I first took an interest in ballet in the early 1970s.

There was one anxious millisecond when Nikulina appeared to lose her footing that caused the person next to me to draw in breath sharply but it was barely perceptible from where I was sitting and she recovered immediately.

Notwithstanding the same niggles about the synopsis and the sets which I had mentioned in 2015, I enjoyed the show very much and I congratulate and thank everybody involved for a very good performance. It was well worth the 500 mile (800 km) trek to and from London.

I have to say that I found the audience a little grudging. The Bolshoi seem to come to London every three years or so (see the Bolshoi's Tours page on the company's website) and perhaps the Southerners are used to them but the applause was pretty sparing. At one point I think I was the only one clapping while the house lights were still dimmed and the spotlight was on the break in the curtains for the first curtain call by the principals. When Kryuchkov appeared at half time there was actually a bit of booing not because he wasn't good (he was fine) but because he was dancing the villain. I don't think they have many pantos in Russia so the poor bloke must have wondered what on earth he had done wrong. Nothing at all, mate! You were great. Finally, only Nikulina got flowers even though several other women artists deserved them too and even her bouquet looked like it had come from Tesco even though she had done her company and audience proud. Relations between our governments are a bit strained at the moment with lurid reports in The Times about propaganda units in Edinburgh, but that's no excuse for lukewarm treatment of the dancers. These fine artists are guests in our country and I for one am very glad that they are here.

The Bolshoi have brought a varied and interesting programme to London (see Bolshoi Ballet on the Royal Opera House's website). I have a ticket for The Taming of The Shrew which I liked a lot when I saw the live streaming (see Competition for Cranko: The Bolshoi's Taming of the Shrew streamed from Moscow 25 Jan 2016) and if it wasn't for the small matter of having to advise clients and prepare cases for court I would have seen The Flames of Paris and Le Corsaire too. 

Finally a word on the programmes. They cost a whopping £12. "You can see a whole ballet for that where I come from" I protested to the usher together with a whole lot of other North Country expletives. She replied with a sweet smile: "Well, ours cost £7 and the Bolshoi's covers the whole season so it's not bad value really." Put like that, perhaps she's right.

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