Tag Archives: natalia makarova

Corella Ballet in Seattle: Sunshine on a Rainy Day

23 May

I need to move to New York.  Watching Corella Ballet made me come to a sad realization that I may never know the extent of what I can accomplish as a dance writer living in a city that is not New York (or London…but expatriation is a headache for another day, even if I’ve convinced myself that I have a European sense of humor…whatever that means).  If I aspire to be a classicist than I need a more continual source from which to spark discussion, and while I adore Pacific Northwest Ballet, the truth is there isn’t enough ballet in Seattle for me and six repertory programs a year has me emotionally starved.  For example, consider the fact that the number of full length, story ballets I’ve seen is still in the single digits…that means there are far too many I haven’t seen and it’s rather embarrassing that I have to remind myself (and you) that I’ve never seen the likes of Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, and yes, even Swan Lake live.  DVDs are great tools and I’ve certainly watched my fair share but they’re never a replacement for live performance, and I find a live performance easier to sell to other people.  On the occasions that I’ve had a plus one complementary press ticket, my friends have found the live performance very enriching, and these are people who have not once been interested in borrowing from my…er, less than extensive library of DVDs.

I’m quite fond of Seattle and I have a far from romantic idea of New York because an astronomical cost of living in a concrete jungle doesn’t exactly sound like paradise to me, but it’s where the opportunities are…even if those opportunities are incredibly rare and fiercely competitive for sure.  Quite frankly, I am tired of sitting on the sidelines while incredible performances that are also chances for me to learn and find an even greater purpose for my writing, simply go on without me.  I’m no Alastair Macaulay, but maybe what I do is something great and worthwhile too, and the fact that I don’t stand a chance anywhere else is starting to drive me crazy.  I am one of the worst long-term planners in the world (hello, impulsive Aries) and thus have no idea how I’m going to get to New York, what I would do once I got there, or how I can make this work but I just know it’s the right decision, and that’s all I have to work with for the time being.  To be honest it’s frightening to think about as well because we want to believe that determination and desire is a recipe for success, when of all people, those who know a thing or two about ballet know that reality is more challenging than that.

At any rate, back to Corella Ballet…I had a fantastic time!  Unfortunately there wasn’t a live orchestra (though I don’t think the venue was able to house one), but it’s also nice for an audience to be able to sit closer to the stage and maybe have a more profound connection with the ballets that way—a lot changes when you see pointe work up close!  I attended the pre-performance lecture with Matthew Bledsoe, general manager of Corella Ballet (who oddly enough pronounced ‘Corella’ with an ‘l’ sound but later pronounced Victor ‘Ullate’ with a ‘y’) and he gave some delightful anecdotes about Ángel and the company’s history.  For instance, when he went to his first (and I think only) competition in Paris, they actually had a costume made by the same people who made costumes for bullfighters, and they use gold thread and other embellishments which are quite heavy (not that it seemed to hinder his jumping at all). Natalia Makarova was the president of the jury at the competition, and in addition to awarding him the grand prize, she also arranged for him to audition for Kevin McKenzie.  McKenzie gave him a first soloist contract, and Ángel was made principal at just nineteen, the youngest ever in addition to Paloma Herrera.

Fast forward through many dazzling performances in New York and guest appearances worldwide, and Ángel set up a foundation to create a classical company for Spain and establish a school with residence for students.  When it came time to audition dancers for the company, dancers were not asked for names or nationalities because Ángel was looking for ability, but in the end sixty percent were Spaniards.  Spanish pride is a big deal (and Bledsoe made a joke because he’s married to a Spaniard and I know it was funny but I can’t remember it), and the story goes that Spaniards don’t leave Spain to dance for other companies, they leave because they have no opportunities to do the classical repertory in their own country.  So it was a pretty big deal when Corella Ballet did La Bayadère, calling upon Natalia Makarova who was initially reluctant to let them stage her version because they had a time frame of about, oh three months, but she knew if anyone was capable of pulling it together it was Ángel.  I mentioned in my SeatteDances review the talent of the company (read here) and I really can’t express enough how impressed I was by each dancer.  Thirty-five doesn’t make for a particularly big company and puts some limitations on the repertory they can do, and normally a company of thirty-five is going to have clear disparity in ability, but there was very little (if any) of that apparent with Corella Ballet.

The ballets selected for their quadruple bill were very good, having two “big” ballets sandwiching two small-scale ones, well paced with two intermissions and building chronologically from the most classical to the most modern.  I loved Bruch Violin Concerto, which truly is like a bouquet of mountain wildflowers…simple, colorful, lush, and easily appreciated by all—even the clueless people who are the worst romantics ever know that pretty flowers are pleasing to the eye.  I must admit, however that I made an egregious error in my review (which I will only reveal here) in that I said there were “subtle neoclassical influences” and I don’t know what I was thinking because the neoclassical elements are not subtle at all.  Oops.  Anyway, my first experience with this ballet was watching it on tape (I believe from one of my first ballet class a few years ago), as a part of ABT’s Variety and Virtuosity.  I remember it being musical and beautiful, though part of me thinks it might not be the most powerful work, and because I am so starved for classical ballet, I was just voraciously soaking it in.  However, Variety and Virtuosity features only the third movement, so it was gratifying to finally see the work in its entirety.  Corella Ballet has posted a video with lot of nice excerpts, though I noticed the ballerina in pink did slightly different choreography, because the manége starting at 6:22 is missing the Italian pas de chat (or depending on where you are in the world, saut de chat, grand pas de chat russe, or Violette jump) that Momoko Hirata did so well, with razor precision and great amplitude.

Compare to the filmed performance by ABT, where you can see Ashley Tuttle include the Italian pas de chat at 2:30.  Understandably, they are a fiendish nightmare to do at that speed!

As for the two middle pieces, Christopher Wheeldon’s For 4 was pleasant, virtuosic, but not necessarily sensational. I relished the opportunity to see a ballet to music by Schubert, and Wheeldon has some nice choreography in it, shading each of the four dancers with emphasis on a different style of movement, but there were also many, many, turns a la seconde (seriously, a lot).  Anybody who has seen it with either Corella Ballet or Kings of the Dance know that this is no exaggeration!  The ballet is all about a clean, academic approach, and with the muted colors it kind of reminded me of hieroglyphics—very upright posture (for the most part) and a lot of squareness, which I guess you could say is something of a masculine aesthetic.  It’s important to note that not all art is going to reduce us to tears or induce some kind of an emotional episode, so having a merely amiable reaction isn’t a bad thing.  Of course, then you have Soleá, which I won’t rehash the finer details of, and will only say that Ángel has to be the fastest dancer alive, and just fearless.  Which is of course, why I think he excels at the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and it hurt my feelings that they didn’t do it but Soleá had some similar bravura steps.  It was fun to see Ángel dance with his sister Carmen as well, who is taller than him (apparently he says she got the beauty genes) and despite being such seasoned performers, during curtain call they were just brother and sister, as Carmen messed up his hair in a way only a big sister can get away with.

Then there was Wheeldon’s DGV…oh, DGV.  I’m just going to say it—the music drove me nuts.  I understood its purpose, sounding mechanical like a train, but the reviewer Gram Milano, who in reviewing the Royal Ballet (who happened to be performing it at around the same time!) called the score “brain-deadening” and he was right. However, it is in line with the intent of the piece and despite liking For 4 better, I thought DGV was the stronger of the two Wheeldon ballets on the program.  Yes friends, it is possible to hold something in higher esteem than something else that you actually enjoy more.  It’s murky territory but when it comes to DGV, I understand its popularity even if I’m not dying to see it again (but you know I would).  What was kind of interesting about that night though was that every time I think I have the Seattle audience pegged, they surprise me. Based on the health of the modern dance community and audience reaction that I’ve seen with mixed bills at PNB, I would have bet money that DGV would be the most popular, but it was in fact Soleá that got the most applause and the standing ovation for DGV was a little forced, perhaps a gesture of appreciation for the evening as a whole rather than DGV.

And this is why I should never gamble (said the man who wants to move to New York…).

Oh. My. Rojo.

24 Feb

And now, the long awaited highlight of the week (for me anyway), a review of the brand new DVD of La Bayadère, with Tamara Rojo as Nikiya, Carlos Acosta as Solor, Marianela Nuñez as Gamzatti and artists of the Royal Ballet.  I’m going to just get this out of the way and say that this performance is virtually flawless.  I would even go as far as saying that the love triangle of Rojo, Acosta and Nuñez is a pièce de résistance that may never be matched in chemistry and other qualities.  Rojo’s Nikiya approaches divinity as a human in Act I and exceeds it when she returns as a shade in Act II; Acosta’s Solor is the most sincere expression of valor and regret brought to life in bravura technique and nowhere else will you find a more sultry, seductive and positively forbidding Gamzatti in Nuñez.  The stars certainly aligned for this one and met all of my expectations…I still can’t get over how amazing the principal casting was for this.

Just look at the acting of Nuñez and Rojo!

 

The production itself is quite good, choreographed by Natalia Makarova to an orchestration by John Lanchberry, which is probably my only major complaint about it.  I don’t know the score well enough to point out specifics but I know that there are a number of truncated sections…including stuff I’ve listened to on a CD that is supposedly orchestrated by Lanchberry as well!  The only other Bayadère I’ve watched is the DVD of the Paris Opera Ballet, staged by Nureyev and while the memories of that are foggy the score seemed entirely different this time around.  At the very least, the score did seem appropriate to the scenes with the main variations and pas de deux being familiar enough but I definitely missed some melodies (which is saying a lot for a Minkus score, which have the tendency to be largely forgettable).  Makarova’s choreography is wonderful, and I love that she elaborated on the role of Gamzatti, having her reappear in Act III and attempt to wed Solor.  Many productions of Bayadère (including the one I just mentioned by Nureyev) stop after the Kingdom of the Shades, where Solor is mourning over a vision of Nikiya and it’s abrupt because we never see what becomes of the characters themselves.

Makarova wanted to restore elements of Petipa’s original, and have Solor and Gamzatti in a wedding scene at a temple, where Gamzatti sort of rushes the ceremony as she is consumed by guilt over Nikiya’s murder and Solor eventually refuses to marry Gamzatti out of remorse because he is haunted by the image of Nikiya.  This culminates in infuriating the gods, who destroy the temple (which is so fantastically over-the-top and Russian of Makarova to do) and we see Solor and Nikiya reunited in the afterlife.  The importance of this Act III is that it really fleshes out the characters and gives consequence to their actions, thus allowing the audience to see more clearly a reflection of human behavior they may be more familiar with, or rather, choose to believe in.  As Tamara will tell you in an interview in the special features, Classical era ballet is not about telling a story but is instead a commentary on human emotion and morals.  Makarova’s choreography in Act III is just sublime; there is a beautiful pas de trois where Solor has to dance with Gamzatti who is quite real and also the ghostly apparition of Nikiya and I’d imagine that this is exceptionally challenging for the male dancer because not only does he have to partner two different women, which is a physically and mentally exhausting merry-go-round.

Excerpt of Act III:

One after another the principal variations will stun you…Rojo is vulnerable and pure in the sacred flame solo, tragic and sorrowful in her solo at Solor’s betrothal where her arabesques just go into infinity and she has the most luxurious arches of her back paired with exotic port de bras.  Nuñez is equally brilliant with her betrothal variation, and sensuously hot in Act III, dressed in a slinky red number for her wedding solo (the contrast in her character in these two solos is amazing).  Acosta has one tiny hiccup in his betrothal variation (an iconic one in the male repertory) where he was off balance in a pirouette, but the funny thing is he still manages to get something like four around and if you’ve ever tried pirouetting when your alignment is completely off, you know that’s a superhuman save.  Furthermore, Acosta and Rojo deliver the consummate Act II that will have you wishing you had some of what he was smoking, with Rojo as a hallucination adding just the subtlest aura of distance between Nikiya and Solor.

Betrothal Pas de Deux:

Ah, Act II…the Kingdom of the Shades and one of the most important scenes in all of classical ballet, like a marching band coming out for the halftime show.  I was a bit surprised because while the corps de ballet did an acceptable job, it made me realize how much the Paris Opera Ballet has this scene down, and they have the added challenge of thirty-two shades compared to the Royal Ballet’s twenty-four!  I do have to point out though that POB has more uniformity in body types while the Royal employs a more diverse selection of dancers so automatically it’s going to have more variance, but POB just seemed to have better timing.  It’s possible that a slight difference in choreography may have something to do with it as well because the standard choreography alternates a regular arabesque with a little port de bras and the POB has the dancers doing much more voluminous arm movements by releasing the head and upper back forward in the port de bras, whereas the Royal does not.  So in effect, the Royal corps has less movement in the same amount of music, which means they have to sustain things longer and that inevitably leads to more individualized interpretations.  The bigger movement also helps the corps with receiving visual cues from each other, thus making synchronization a little easier.

Entrance of the Shades:

Overall, the dancing is fantastic and the soloists were on fire for the betrothal, and Yuhui Choe in particular really stood out to me in her shade variation in Act II…she seemed to have just a little more spark and her variation in particular is a wicked one.  After seeing clips of her in Swan Lake from a fairly recent guest performance in Korea, I hope she is made a principal sooner than later!  Although speaking of the Shade variations, I noticed something a little strange in that the three soloists who did them were different from some of the trio work elsewhere in the same scene, though both included Choe.  Odd.  At any rate, the DVD also has amazing features including an audio clip of Makarova discussing her staging, a chat with Leanne Cope and Francesca Filipi about the iconic corps scene, the interview with Tamara Rojo I mentioned earlier (one of my favorite parts of course!) and really cool studio rehearsal footage of Rojo and Acosta receiving coaching from Alexander Agadzhanov (Acosta does some huge barrel turns in this footage but changes the jumps for the performance itself…a pity because I love barrel turns.  Well, not doing them).  There are so many overwhelmingly good things to say that the only flaw for sure is that in the program notes that appear during the overtures, the snake that kills Nikiya (which by the way, Tamara said sometimes she has a hard time doing that scene without laughing at the rubber snake) is described as “poisonous” when in fact an animal that injects a toxin is “venomous.”  An animal is poisonous if a toxin is absorbed.  Fun fact!

Now that you know, here’s Choe’s Shade Variation, to leave a lovely aftertaste:

The Modern Myth

20 Dec

As you know, the majority of my blog’s content is related to ballet, with the occasional post about modern.  However, all of the reviews I’ve done for Seattle Dances have been about contemporary artists, with the most recent being on choreographer/dancer Molissa Fenley’s work, in an evening featuring performances of three pieces, which were then followed by a conversation between her and Pacific Northwest Ballet director, Peter Boal.  Despite my feeble attempt to be somewhat incognito by wearing my Clark Kent glasses, Peter (we shook hands, we’re on a first name basis now) said he recognized me from class—I think the people at PNB are on to me…I knew I should have upped the ante with a fake mustache but alas, at this point my regrets are my own.

Peter told a funny anecdote about how when he had nights off from New York City Ballet, he went to see Molissa Fenley perform, while other NYCB dancers (including his wife) went to see the likes of Natalia Makarova and Baryshnikov at American Ballet Theater.  Fenley was also quick to note that she would see Peter perform with his respective company, so there was a mutual appreciation of the other’s art.  I don’t know that it’s very common for ballet dancers to find modern dance interesting, and it certainly wasn’t natural for me either.  We all know that I’m an Ashton junkie (well, Peter doesn’t know…YET) because the technical steps, characterization and musicality (among many, many other things) speak to my soul.  I took to ballet like a faerie to a forest but modern was and continues to be more difficult for me to process.  I can churn out a review of a ballet performance with relative ease but my Fenley review I had to drag out of my brain, kicking and screaming.

In some ways I was rather surprised to discover that Peter is such a modernist and it got me thinking about the gap between ballet and modern and popular misconceptions, like “modern is for dancers who didn’t make it in ballet” or even that it’s for dancers who retired from ballet.  Modern dance is for people who like modern dance—that’s all there is to it.  Yes, it can be less demanding on the body (and seems to demand less on the physical traits of a person), although I have to say that I’ve had a few minor injuries in dancing ballet, like pulled muscles and such but when I’ve had some of the more devastating variety, like the kind that last for weeks or more and they all came from modern classes.  I don’t know if it was a strange belief that I could do what teachers asked for, a willingness to try anything, throwing my weight around, or the Aries in me pushing one hundred percent, but modern hurt.  I think it would be more apt to say that modern doesn’t demand a physical capacity to perform precise, virtuosic feats in the way ballet does, but modern can be a mental obstacle course that in my opinion, can be worse.

First of all, there’s the “I-word”…which normally I do not speak aloud but I shall for the sake of clarity, remind you that this is my euphemism for “improvisation.”  It’s virtually impossible for me to create dance instantaneously and more importantly, continuously, and exercises in “I-word” make me an anxious squirrel.  I tried, but practice of it made me ridiculously uncomfortable, which of course happens to be the greatest inhibitor of “I-word.”  Or how about “retrograde,” meaning dance a phrase and then basically rewind it.  Maybe due to the advent of television’s rewind button we’re not so impressed with such a mind-boggling skill, but to see human bodies do it without the use of technology is really something else.  As someone who relies on music that recognizes a time and space continuum, to inform the tone or character of a movement, it’s just inconceivable…and many times modern dances won’t even have music at all, which is like a hellish nightmare for me.  The intellectual challenges modern dance provides are different, but by no means easier than physical challenges seen in ballet.  I would even argue that those mental challenges are in fact greater because the mind is limitless, whereas there are limits to what the body can do, and that vastness is why modern never fails to be “new.”

It may sound like I don’t like modern because of my natural tendencies and escapist point of view that favors the romantic, fantastical world of ballet but the world is more than romance and to me, that’s what modern explores.  It’s an art form that is indeed beautiful in its own way, but when I remember not to expect to feel the same after seeing it as I would a ballet, then the doors are open to experience whatever it is.  Of course there are things I like or don’t like, and in many ways learning to understand the subjective nature of the arts is a metaphor for human interaction.  I think of artists as having great responsibility in bearing their souls for an audience, because if we can judge them as we inevitably do but in a respectful way then we can claim that we are capable of doing the same for any person we encounter in life.  Perhaps it’s cliché, but this is why I truly believe that art appreciation is one of the keys to a world peace.  There’s a reason why patrons of the arts don’t go into museums, rip paintings off the walls and burn them if they don’t like them, which makes the fact that people are so willing to harm or even kill one another over differences all the more tragic.

So…I aim to never write a negative review for Seattle Dances, because people work too hard to have someone just blah on their creations.  I’m more open with criticism in this blog (though I try my best to keep it constructive and relatively inoffensive) but people read this specifically for my thoughts…a formally published review is not the appropriate forum for overindulgences into my ego.  I encourage any dance audience member to respect the validity of their opinions regardless of your understanding of dance…be judgmental, but don’t be a jerk.  There are even times when a harsh critique is perfectly appropriate; a good review does not imply seeing things through rose-colored glasses and some of my favorite reviews I’ve read aren’t sunshine and bunnies.  The secret is knowing when, where and how to express oneself and to be open to learning something before disliking it.  It wasn’t a simple process for me, but I had help along the way, in the form of education and encouragement I received from various teachers (for whom without, I would not be writing about dance as I do today!).  I came across a video a few days ago of sardonic New York humorist and author Fran Lebowitz, who in talking about her relationship with Jerome Robbins, sums it up better than I can:

HER way

30 Nov

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

 

Resistance is futile

28 Nov

You know I love the Royal Ballet, so of course I have to include at least one of their productions for Swan Lake Month, in this case the one featuring Natalia Makarova as Odette/Odile and Anthony Dowell as Siegfried.  Right off the top I think it’s important to note that a Makarova performance as Odette is quintessential; it’s her thing and she does not disappoint in this DVD.  It’s one of those performances where you don’t know why or how, but you can feel how much she loves that role.  Of course, Anthony Dowell is no slouch and they had a wonderful, memorable partnership—I would even go as far to say that this was the most memorable Odette/Siegfried I’ve seen thus far.  I would also say that this production is probably my favorite of the classically oriented versions of Swan Lake I’ve seen as well.

The structure is pretty standard fare for a Swan Lake, beginning with Siegfried’s birthday (though this one is outdoors…an unusual, but refreshing choice) with plenty of hearty, festive dancing.  When Anthony Dowell enters, he flashes a devilish grin to his subjects and it’s one of those utterly charming, handsome heartbreaker smiles and all you can think is “oh, Anthony…” and heave a heavy sigh.  We all know Siegfried screws up, but as soon as Dowell smiled the way he did, I just knew this going to be a Soviet-era happy ending.  Sometimes I worry I think I see that smile in real life and think I might be going insane, but that’s another story…anyway, the choreography is nice (definitely some Ashton in there) and I’d like to point out that in the coda for the pas de trois, one of the women ends a diagonal series of jumps with FOUR, yes FOUR entrechat six in a row, which is something quite common in choreography for men, so not only does that deserve a high-five but it also means the ladies out there can’t rest on their laurels when it comes to those nasty little entrechat six!  Meanwhile, that wasn’t the only challenging of the status quo in male/female specific choreography as later on in Act III, in a male pas de deux one of the men does a saut de chat with his arms in third, which in some schools of thought could be considered a vile emasculation of the male danseur.  Well, maybe vile emasculation is exaggerating a bit, but it sounds funny…anyway, Act I ends with Siegfried’s solo, and I kid you not when I say Dowell’s performance in it was quite possibly the most perfect bit of dancing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

Act II is again a “no touchie” zone, with the only major difference I could see being a moment where Siegfried’s hunting party actually appears on stage and they’re about to shoot at the flock of swans and Siegfried comes in to stop them.  This of course comes after Siegfried and Odette’s flawless, first pas de deux.  When Makarova enters, she does the most beautiful arm movements, the most luxurious backwards arches of her back and she even makes a simple lunge sing.  Together, I love the way Makarova and Dowell shade the characters because it isn’t entirely love at first sight; Dowell’s Siegfried is bewildered for most of the pas de deux, recognizing the fact that oh, he just saw a swan turn into a woman and doesn’t really give into love until later.  Similarly, Makarova holds back a little as a frightened and timid Odette, running from Siegfried until the end of the first pas de deux where she lets her curiosity take over.  This is of course, when Von Rothbart enters in his strigine glory…well, at least it should have gone something like that but I wasn’t a huge fan of the Von Rothbart owl costume.  In fact, it’s probably my only major criticism because I felt the design made him look more like a pterodactylic peacock (for the record, the word used to describe a peacock-like animal is “pavonine”).  It’s also unfortunate that Von Rothbart isn’t much of a dancing role (his massive wings being so unwieldy and all) but the focus of Act II, Odette and Siegfried’s romantic first meeting is tender, which is aided by the fact that Makarova works to a snail pace tempo.  I actually think rubato is often abused today, with many dancers using slower tempos but without purpose.  I’m not a fan of slowing the tempo just for the sake of slowing the tempo—it has to be done if the dancer feels it will allow them to add something to the character, and not just be seen as additional time to show off an extension.  I had no problems with Makarova’s tempo, because she works it brilliantly.

What also makes Makarova’s slower adagio more successful is the contrast it provides when she appears as Odile in Act III.  She actually uses faster tempi like in the Black Swan variation, which makes quite a difference.  Makarova’s Odile is very business-like; she enters, she seduces, she laughs maniacally when Siegfried realizes what’s going on and she leaves.  It’s the complete opposite of say, Patrice Bart’s Swan Lake, where Odile is able to seduce Siegfried in a much different manner.  I forgot to write this in my review, but in that staging Odile lures Siegfried by coming close enough for him to get a glance, but then one of Von Rotbart’s other maidens will get in his way.  This happens I think four times and by the fourth time Siegfried is blinded with frustration and the thought that Odile could be an imposter doesn’t even cross his mind.  The Royal Ballet, on the other hand takes the direct approach and no qualms are made as to Odile’s true identity.  Makarova is marvelous as Odile, spicing things up a little bit with a little more élan and a little determination to get through those fouettés.  Every Odile I’ve seen thus far has done thirty-two single fouettés, which doesn’t bother me at all.  In fact, thirty-two singles may very well be harder than throwing in some doubles because if you do a double pirouette you get to pull in and just worry about holding yourself up, but doing two singles in the same span of time means having to work through the foot, plié, rond de jambe and spring back up to relevé again.  That’s a lot of work. (Side note: the national dances are pretty typical but the Italian dance is awesome and gets tremendous, well deserved applause)

Finally, it’s time for Act IV; reconciliation, suicide pact, and happily ever after (life).  What I loved about this act was that again, we’re made to wait for it.  Odette doesn’t forgive Siegfried immediately and the act of forgiveness and the apology, are danced out.  Sometimes these redemptive moments in ballet can be reduced to a hurried set of mimed gestures immediately followed by the pretty pas de deux, rather than sustaining the emotions throughout.  With Makarova/Dowell, you get to see the whole process unfold.  Well, I suppose you would REALLY see it if I posted the clip:

All in all, I’m sold on this Swan Lake.  Makarova is the epitome of the cygnine (I’m totally about these animal adjectives today!) and if anybody asks why I would add this to my collection I’d say “Anthony Dowell made me do it.”  Nobody could resist that Act I smile.