If I watched Natalia Makarova in Swan Lake, it seemed to make sense to then watch her own staging of Swan Lake as I find myself on the penultimate page of the Swan Lake Month chronicles. Makarova’s production was performed by the London Festival Ballet (now called the English National Ballet), with Evelyn Hart as Odette/Odile and Peter Schaufuss as Prince Siegfried.
In many ways, Makarova’s staging is a sort of female equivalent to Nureyev…she added much more depth to Odette’s character though I can’t say she added more choreography for her. This Swan Lake was made for film, as evidenced by an abundance of superimposed images of Von Rothbart as an owl, menacingly flapping his wings. I wasn’t a huge fan of them…but with experimentations in video technology being the innovative thing at the time (it was filmed in 1988) I can see why people thought it would be a good idea. Anyway, I point this out because it’s divided into two acts and each act has an introduction by the woman herself, speaking with her beautiful Russian accent and wearing this fabulous eighties garb with shoulder pads (since Makarova refers to the Prince as “Ziegfried,” I feel inspired to do the same). It’s in these introductions where Makarova gave some insight into how she felt Odette should be portrayed, including some unusual tidbits like how for her, Odette knew Ziegfried would screw things up but decided to allow herself to fall in love with him anyway, and a slight twist to her ending where Odette knows she can save Ziegfried by sacrificing herself, though oddly, they both die anyway. It seems many significant changes Makarova made were in the acting of the role, as opposed to the dancing.
The production was fairly close to what she performed with the Royal Ballet, though a bit woodsier with an Arthurian feel. The choreography was the typical after Petipa and retained a few of the additions Frederick Ashton had made. Makarova did include Benno in the story, though he doesn’t seem to have much significance despite having quite the meaty dancing role. In fact, she kept the Danse Napolitaine from the Royal Ballet production (which I’m sure is Ashton’s) but has Benno dance it instead. He serves no real purpose in the first scene by the lakeside as Ziegfried loses him while loping through the woods. This chase scene was rather long, with various shots of Benno and Ziegfried doing arabesques in the forest and again, I found it an unnecessary exploration of the film medium. Many of the solos are rearranged a bit though, as Ziegfried’s Act I solo (which was glorious on Anthony Dowell) is gone, though he does get a brief solo in the final scene. Other additions include a pas de deux between Ziegfried and Odile after the famous Black Swan pas de deux, something I think I only saw in the Fonteyn/Nureyev version too.
Odette’s choreography is definitely modeled after Makarova, though I don’t know that Eveyln Hart pulled it off. In fact, some of the adagios and the Odette variation I think are even slower than Makarova herself did them, and because Odette’s variation does include a few jumps there’s no way to not look labored at such a slow tempo. Hart is a beautiful dancer with some extraordinary balances in this performance, but because of the stagnancy of the timing her legs almost look rigid. She is also so dainty that I felt like the music is swallowing her at times. However, while I generally appreciated her dancing, I don’t think I’m a fan of an attitude position that’s too long in a demi-arabesque. At one time (or perhaps it’s just depending on the school) an attitude position had a ninety-degree angle at the bent knee and for some, it’s now an elongated curve. Hart’s is even further, a legitimate choice, but I do prefer a rounder attitude. Regardless, I enjoyed her acting of the dual roles and didn’t have a problem with her interpretation of the characters at all.
Schaufuss on the other hand, is a prodigious technician—his pirouetting ability is truly remarkable, which of course put on full display in the Black Swan pas de deux as well as other choreography in the same ballroom scene. He opted for a melancholy portrayal of the Prince, playing up his naivety and gentle character which makes sense because Makarova wants the Prince to be seen as a victim of Von Rothbart’s trickery, thus making her rescue of him at the end more pertinent. I found the pairing of Hart and Schaufuss to be almost ironic because Hart was almost stiff in comparison to the soft plies of the exceptionally clean Schaufuss (in the next life, I seriously need me some Danish ballet training). Even though the Black Swan pas de deux is more or less the stereotypical moment everyone waits for, I have to say that it really was the highlight for me. Interestingly enough, the Black Swan pas de deux is started with a few lifts between Von Rothbart and Odile (not seen below), something unique to this production and almost makes it seem as if Von Rothbart is forcing Odile onto Ziegfried as his way of trying to convince him she is in fact Odette.
The Black Swan Pas de Deux
This is a well-rounded Swan Lake with no major surprises and one that definitely favors Odette’s point of view. The London Festival Ballet corps is exceptionally clean and the soloists provide other moments of brilliance (in particular the pas de quatre at the beginning of the ballet stands out to me as one of the best I’ve seen). The only things I really didn’t like were the video effects…but like shoulder pads, they were the trend at one time. Regardless, with Makarova being one of the model Swan queens of her generation, it is worth seeing what she believes are the critical details in a Swan Lake. Though I can’t seem to procure it at the moment, I can’t help but feel this performance has sewn the seeds of the answers I’ve been looking for on my quest to “solve” the feminine mystery of Swan Lake…