Svansjön Nummer Två

14 Nov

Swan Lake Month continues with selection number two, the staging by Sir Peter Wright as performed by the Royal Swedish Ballet.  Like the Bolshoi production, this one also tells the story from Siegfried’s point of view, except as a gothic tragedy rather than the happy ending the Bolshoi goes with (which is characteristic of Soviet-era art).  Siegfried is danced by Anders Nordström, Odette/Odile by Nathalie Nordquist, the Queen by Markette Kaila, Baron von Rothbart by Christian Rambe and Benno by Johannes Öhman.  At this point, it should occur to you as it did to me that I didn’t mention Benno at all in my review of the Bolshoi DVD—he wasn’t in it—so there you go.

This Swan Lake begins with a catalyst; Wright wanted to develop the character of the prince more and so it begins with the funeral of Siegfried’s father…who apparently happened to die right around Siegfried’s twenty-first birthday, which is quite dramatic but I suppose not outside the realm of possibility.  We are meant to see the melancholy that hovers around the prince, to help us understand his reluctance in enjoying his birthday celebration, despite Benno’s efforts to cheer him up.  Here’s where early differences can be seen, such as the pas de trois where either Benno or Siegfried (obviously, depending on the production) dances with two courtesans but Wright has it begin with Benno and then Siegfried joins in with a solo (with a horrifying en dedans pirouette a la seconde, which we all know is women’s work) and various pas de trois/quatre dances.  Queen mama makes an unexpected appearance and is horrified that Siegfried is enjoying himself when they should be in mourning and reminds him that he is to choose a bride, which gives further insight as to why Siegfried is so depressed; the Queen’s insistence on marriage makes it pragmatic and thus an inhibitor to his freedom.  At some point he also gets the crossbow (and a GIANT one at that) and after Benno spots a wedge of swans, is urged to take it for a test drive.

An excerpt of the Pas de Trois, with Siegfried and two courtesans:

I have to say that Philip Prowse, who designed the sets and costumes did amazing work.  Act I was mostly a monochromatic color scheme of dark grayish-blues, a relatively straightforward expression of the somber atmosphere after the death of the King.  Act II is a lakeside act, so mostly dark with white, luminous swans and a gorgeous, Stygian Von Rothbart costume (as an owl) that melded in and out of the set.  Act III returns to the palace, except with new lighting that paints everything in sizzling reds (Act IV, is another lakeside act with white swans).  It’s rather simple, but in many ways the drastic contrast between Acts I and III made it feel like an entirely new ballet.  This is aided by the fact that Wright’s choreography undergoes some changes; I actually felt like Act I was pretty rigid and rather academic while Act III was much more vibrant and imaginative.  By breathing new life into the separate acts, the dreaded divertissements were actually quite enjoyable and cleverly woven into the story.

Now Act III is very interesting…lots of good things and some odd.  Wright reduces the number of national dances to three and structures it differently by having each delegation dance followed by a variation from their respective female suitors.  If I recall the score correctly, Wright uses the Czardas followed by the Intrada from the Pas de Six, the Mazurka paired with Variation IV from the Pas de Six, and the Danse Napolitaine coupled with the female variation from the supplementary Act III Pas de Deux (aka, the female variation from Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux).  Then the three maidens dance a coda, again from the supplementary Pas de DeuxBack when I was researching the Black Swan Grand Pas de Deux, I stated that I hadn’t come across any examples using the female variation and coda from the supplementary Pas de Deux, but lo and behold here’s one!  It was kind of bizarre seeing different choreography to my beloved Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and personally, I think Balanchine’s choreography is much more suited to it…but I digress.  Here’s a fun fact for you though; after the three maidens do their dances and Siegfried refuses to marry any of them, a fourth contingent arrives with their ambassador being Baron Von Rothbart.  What I found deliciously hilarious was that Von Rothbart’s people perform to the Danse Espagnole, so apparently Von Rothbart is a Spaniard.  Unfortunately the amount of dancing is decreased for Spanish Von Rothbart as he doesn’t do a variation in this production (he does in the Bolshoi, where his contingent is actually a flock of black swans!).

One of the central ideas in this staging seems to be making the transformations, like Von Rothbart from owl to human, or Odette from swan to human and to Odile, very clear.  When the diminutive Nordquist enters the stage as Odile, you can sense an enormously villainous and I really enjoyed this interpretation of the character.  While others may opt for the subtler layering of an imposter Odette over Odile herself, Nordquist is downright evil with a dash of crazy.  The softness of her arms remain but there’s an added dimension of malevolence in her hands, like at the end of the pas the deux where many ballerinas will arch their heads back in the iconic attitude position with the prince supporting her; Nordquist hits the final note with a capricious flick of the wrists.

Nordquist as Odette (note the transformation at the end, and Von Rothbart’s Valkyrie helmet):

Compared to Nordquist as Odile (note crazy glances):

Overall, I think Sir Peter Wright’s Swan Lake is a nice one, and makes things very clear for modern audiences.  In that sense, it may not be for the die-hard Laker because they may feel like they’re being beaten over the head with the plot and desire nuance and innuendo.  I would actually recommend showing this to someone who is perhaps interested in ballet, but afraid that they “won’t get it” (since that seems to be a common excuse).  The DVD is also loaded with extra features like interviews with Sir Peter Wright himself, an interview with artistic director Peter Jacobsson, a narrated libretto and interviews with Nordström and Nordquist (the former of which was a little awkward, but I commend him for doing the interview in English, which is probably not his native language).  It’s a well-rounded Swan Lake experience, unfettered by overly sophisticated ideas or a useless jester.

As for my hypothesis…I’m still on the idea of the pursuit and knowing the woman as she wants to be seen.  In this instance, there is an element of remorse on Siegfried’s behalf that is necessary to make him real and forgiveness on Odette’s behalf to ensure that she is the smarter, more compassionate one between the two of them.

3 Responses to “Svansjön Nummer Två”

  1. robin (mahrobi) November 15, 2010 at 4:15 am #

    interesting the dead king bit- i don’t think i’ve seen that before. but i’m glad there is a version where vonR has a good costume as most of them seem horrid (ABT’s vonR in non-human-form particularly vulgar. tho i do like most of their costumes!)
    also i don’t like odlie to be TOO evil because i think- how could siggy possibly be THAT stupid not to notice his beloved has a completely different personality?

    • youdancefunny November 15, 2010 at 10:02 pm #

      I think the trick is to be evil when Siggy’s not looking.

      I’m starting to get nervous for ABT version…haha!

  2. robin (mahrobi) November 17, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    well, i’m looking forward to reading your review of one that i’m actually familiar with 🙂

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