Seven Swans a Swimming

30 Nov

And here we are, at the end of an incredibly arduous journey that shall go down in history as Swan Lake Month, ending with ABT’s production starring Gillian Murphy and Angel Corella.  I don’t know why this one ended up being last, and I wouldn’t say it was my favorite one, though it is certainly popular.  Still, after viewing six Swan Lake productions from European companies I definitely felt that a great many characteristics made this Swan Lake distinctly American (and not because it’s American Ballet Theater, with an American ballerina in the lead role).

Have you seen that Eddie Izzard special where he talks about how nobody knows the lyrics to the Twelve Days of Christmas? Ten pygmies...farming...

The choreography was done by artistic director of ABT, Kevin McKenzie and as usual with the “after Petipa and Ivanov” tag.  Unfortunately, I had some issues with what seemed to be an incessant need to pummel the audience with perspicuous dance, meaning the art of subtlety was completely lost throughout the entire ballet.  He resorted to having the corps de ballet do the undulating swan arms at every available moment, as if to remind us that they were in fact swans (something we might never have guessed when attending Swan Lake) and the expressivity of the characters seemed to be on par with that philosophy.  I found Corella to be almost luminously bright with that megawatt smile of his (I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so happy to receive a crossbow) and I didn’t feel that Murphy was the subtlest of dancers either.  Perhaps it’s the sort of “reach for the balcony” mentality that McKenzie prefers to see in dancers that encourages a Corella con brio or a Murphy a la mode and I suppose this means I prefer more tempered portrayals.  Even the miming McKenzie includes I felt was far too obvious and even excessive, like when Odette initially met Siegfried and told him of her plight with Von Rothbart, the gestures were straightforward and literal, rather than blending with any kind of dance language.  The nature of ballet reveals problems when the story isn’t told through the steps.

One addition I found interesting was the prologue (clearly filmed ahead of time so I’d be curious if ABT includes a similar prologue in live performances), where we see Von Rothbart transform into a man and lure Odette into a hollow tree and transform her into a swan.  While it is yet another statement of the obvious, I enjoyed it because no other production gives any thought to Odette’s origins and for this particular one, we are made to understand that she was a woman before she was a swan, which can change how we view her understanding and desire for love, and in this case her willingness to die for it (which is perhaps more human than animal).  The other bonus with this prologue is that because we see Von Rothbart seduce Odette as a man, he becomes a sexualized character…and with Marcelo Gomes as Von Rothbart in his human form, he becomes a sexy sexualized character indeed.  It was actually weird, after the onslaught of odd but villainous Von Rothbarts I’ve been watching to find one attractive and I kept wondering to myself if that was inappropriate.  However, great art makes us ask ourselves questions and considering how his solo during the ball seduces many of the attendees and that he even flirts with the Queen a bit, we are most definitely allowed to ogle.  It’s quite the virtuosic solo and my favorite moment is when he stands on relevé in fifth, slowly lifting one leg halfway to arabesque, then extending it fully which has a sort of mysterious quality that then bewitches the audience too.  Observe, Sexy Von Rothbart:

Given the scope of Gomes’s acting abilities, I almost feel like there needs to be a Swan Lake where he can perform both Von Rothbart and Siegfried…after all, duality is one of the central themes of every Swan Lake, so why not explore more types, in new imaginations?  Why should Odette/Odile or in ABT’s production, the weird, algae-ridden, fake abs demon-satyr Von Rothbart (a horrific costume) and Sexy Von Rothbart be the only dual roles?  I suppose there could be some logistical issues with trying to stage a Swan Lake where the same dancer has to be both Siegfried and Von Rothbart because they both appear at the same time in the ball and there’s the question of how a Siegfried/Von Rothbart role could be rationalized…but it’s ballet; ideas first, logic later.

Von Rothbart stole the show for me, despite Murphy’s athletic prowess.  Sure, she threw in triple pirouettes into her fouetté series (and in fact, of all seven Swan Lake DVDs I watched, she was the only dancer to do anything more than single fouettés, which is another detail I felt made this performance so American) but given how sinisterly seductive Sexy Von Rothbart was, the perfect prelude to an even more sinisterly seductive Odile may have hindered her because that Odile just never came to fruition.  Still, I would hate for anyone to get the sense that Gillian Murphy is just fouttés because she does have other wonderful qualities and I think she’s very expressive with her feet and has beautiful arms, among other things.  Her partnership with Corella is a bit of an odd one because she is quite tall and he looked as though he were hiding behind her in some of the partnering.  I wasn’t so devastated at the end of the ballet so I can’t say that I felt the chemistry between them, though it’s possible I was distracted by the dramatic leaps of death at the end (which looked fun too), which were of course followed by the image of Siegfried and Odette in the afterlife…and in case you didn’t get that Swan Lake is about duality; black and white, night and day…McKenzie has that image of the happy couple in the middle of a giant rising sun.

So what about all that feminine mystique business I had postulated about initially, wondering why women in particular love this ballet so much?  After much thoughtful deliberation…I have no idea.  All the various productions of Swan Lake are so different, trying to figure this all out would be like trying to survey every person on Earth and figuring out why they liked their favorite flavors (I’m a mint chocolate chip myself).  I would be buried in work for eternity and watching seven Swan Lakes was enough for me as it is.  Or maybe I found this whole experience so exhausting it doesn’t matter to me which Swan Lake anyone likes anymore, as long as they like one (or more) of them.  If you’re interested in discussing that further, you may as well head on over to The Ballet Bag, and enter their contest to win exclusive Black Swan movie posters while you’re at it!  Only a few days remain to enter, so check it out here!

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10 Responses to “Seven Swans a Swimming”

  1. robin (mahrobi) December 1, 2010 at 4:52 am #

    yay! so now you no longer have to own up to never seeing swan lake 🙂
    by the way, i’ve been bugging you to see this one simply because it is the one i am most familiar with, not because i necessarily think it’s the ultimate. things i like about it tho– marcelo, the maypole scene, marcelo, the fact that von rothbart is sexy, marcelo, the costumes and sets for the most part (major exception-ugly vonR), marcelo, the dance with vonR and the princesses, marcelo, the cliff dive & happy ending, the pas de 3 especially both cornejos, marcelo, herman as benno and….. marcelo.
    eek, i’ve seen this live more than once and can’t think how they do the prologue quick change in the cave…… i feel like it’s maybe just an impossibly quick change in the cave. hmm. i need to see it again now so i can check. the stuffed swan in the prologue makes me laugh.
    wish you could see marcelos cliff dive as siggy –O.M.G.
    so— what’s your fave? makarova/dowell?
    thanks steve, this was fun (for us anyway!)

    • youdancefunny December 1, 2010 at 6:14 am #

      Have you seen La Fille yet? The maypole scene in there is gorgeous…I think the one in this Swan Lake pales in comparison (this one looked like it was going to fall over! Plus, I think Ashton was more clever with the choreography).

      I think the Patrice Bart one all about the Queen, as un-Swan Lake like as it is might be my favorite. In some ways, it reminded me of a MacMillan ballet. As far as strictly classical is concerned, however, it might be a toss up between Makarova/Dowell and the Royal Swedish Ballet.

  2. iholxs December 1, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    There’s one more version to check out. It’s on YouTube, but as far as I know was only released commercially on VHS back in the day. Makarova stars with Ivan Nagy in the David Blair production, which was the first full length Swan Lake that ABT staged. You get to see Lucia Chase, the company artistic director, as the Queen Mother. It’s my favorite Act I to this day.

    • youdancefunny December 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

      Someone else also recommended this one to me, and I couldn’t find it…thank you so much!

  3. Fleegull December 3, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    ABT does indeed do the prologue scene when it performs “Swan Lake” live. I only go to this one, as I’m not a fan of ABT’s Swan Lake, to see Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle be the most beautiful on earth on stage for a few hours.

    • youdancefunny December 6, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

      How lovely that sounds!

      How do they manage the quick change in the prologue though? Gillian was both the maiden and swan in the DVD, but it was clearly edited.

      • Fleegull December 7, 2010 at 2:12 am #

        When it happens on stage, she does not turn into the swan, instead she disappears under his cloak and he pulls out a large swan puppet (I think it’s a puppet). Understandably they wanted to use the magic of film to their advantage and they ditched the stuffed swan for something much prettier. Personally, I like the swan puppet because it nails home the fact that she really becomes a bird, with all the tutus a lot of casual viewers think that she’s not really a swan but a prisoner who has to dress in a feathered outfit.

  4. rogueballerina December 29, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    I have to say the Markarova/Dowell version is my favorite. I saw ABT do Swan Lake early this year when they were on tour in Chicago. I like the changes (and the sexy VRB – although Marcelo didn’t dance the night I went).
    I can’t wait to check out the other versions! Thanks – love your blog 🙂

  5. rogueballerina December 29, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    oh, and yes, I have seen the Eddie Izzard special!

    Cake or death?

    • youdancefunny December 29, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

      Haha, cake please…

      Thanks for commenting! I enjoy reading your blog too!

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