Tag Archives: sir peter wright

‘Tis the season

25 Dec

Wonderful news leaping ladies and merry gentlemen, by virtue of your most gracious support I’ve made it to the final voting round of the Dance Advantage Top Dance Blogs of 2010 contest, in both my category and in the running for overall top blog!  There is no better gift to me this Christmas than the blessings I have received from you the readers, and hope that the love continues in your reading of this blog and perhaps a vote or two in a couple of days…but before that, what is the meaning of Christmas?  Gifts.  I have no religious affiliations therefore the holiday means spending time with loved ones and exchanging gifts for me, and I feel no shame in that.  Believe me when I say I don’t buy into commercialism, but I enjoy bestowing tokens of gratitude on those I care about and letting them know how valuable they are to me.  The phrase “it’s the thought that counts” is no joke.  Meanwhile, thinking funny thoughts, here’s my gift to you, brought to you by my odd, but distinct brand of humor:

Merry Marcelo Christmas! -Steve

With “gifts” in mind, I decided to treat myself to a gift I had bought for myself a few weeks ago, which is the Royal Ballet production of Giselle, starring Alina Cojocaru in the title role and Johan Kobborg as Albrecht.  Having expanded my ballet DVD collection to a substantial three, Giselle was put in queue because of Swan Lake month and I felt today would be a good day for the initial viewing because I feel “the gift” is sort of a theme in the ballet.  The only other Giselle I’ve seen is the American Ballet Theater made-for-film version with Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn (read my review), much of which I’ve forgotten because I have the memory of a platypus but having never seen a version on stage, in front of an audience, I was excited to watch this new one as if seeing the ballet for the first time.  It’s a good time to re-familiarize myself with Giselle because Pacific Northwest Ballet will be doing a studio presentation on their production in the first week of January, discussing the Stepanov notation score they used to construct their staging.  I’m not going to lie…I’m worried for PNB because historically, they have not had Romantic era ballets in their repertory and its style is so specific (and anti-Balanchine—let us not forget who coined the term “Gisellitis!”), but they seem to be taking a thoughtful, academic approach.  They have their notation guy, a coach and it’s also nice to see that the company is willing to take a huge risk with Seattle audiences by doing something different.  Besides, Carla Körbes (who I predicted early on would be a Giselle to watch) and the fabulous Carrie Imler will be dancing in the studio preview, which I should also note for the New Yorkers, will be presented at the Guggenheim on January 10th, so mark your calendars!

Anyway, back to the Royal Ballet, their production is staged by Sir Peter Wright, with additional choreography by him, supplementing the typical “Petipa after Jean Coralli/Jules Perrot” meat and potatoes.  After enjoying Wright’s production of Swan Lake, I unsurprisingly enjoyed his Giselle too, in which he seemed to make it relatable to a modern audience.  For example, rather than have Giselle die of a broken heart, she actually stabs herself with Albrecht’s sword.  With society being less imaginative than that of two hundred years ago, it’s a decision that makes sense because the last thing a choreographer wants is for some little anachronism to be that one thing the audience refuses to accept, thus putting a damper on the whole experience.  I found the sets delightfully realistic, albeit rather dark…I know it’s supposed to have a luminous, “enchanted forest” feel, but it could have done with just a little more lighting.   However, I loved that the Myrtha and Wilis entered with chiffon veils to simple bourée steps…the effect is mesmerizingly ghostly.

The reason why I feel this ballet is about gifts should be fairly obvious; in Act I Giselle gives the gift of her heart to Albrecht and in Act II her gift is forgiveness by saving his life.  What is less apparent is the gift of remorse—come again?  In this sense, it is perhaps relevant to bring up that in German, “gift” means poison and Giselle arguably poisons Albrecht with remorse, thus destroying him as we see him throughout the ballet (a rather sleazy, borderline salacious cad) and thus liberating him of his insincerity.  Whether Albrecht lives the rest of his days a wiser man is unknown to us, but I can see Wright’s Giselle as sort of empowering for women—while the suicide is unfortunately melodramatic, it’s a step above death by a broken heart because it puts Giselle in control of her own fate, and then it’s Albrecht’s fate in Act II that she calls the shots on.  Also, we see a formidable villain in Myrtha, though in a way, I actually came to understand her more through Marianela Nuñez’s interpretation of the character.  Throughout her opening solo, I couldn’t help but feel that Nuñez’s Myrtha wasn’t merely a man-hater, but also a woman scorned welcoming Giselle to her sisterhood of Wilis and as a result, not entirely evil.  Nuñez brought a wonderful depth to the character, beyond the icy carapace most dancers of the role will opt for.

Alina Cojocaru’s dancing of Giselle is a gift in itself, and what I love about both her and Johan Kobborg is that neither is perhaps the typical (or expected) ballet body.  Coco is quite tiny, far from the amazons seen in the Russian ranks or Balanchine America and Koko doesn’t have the long limbs seen in the male counterparts (and particularly the French—I swear the dancers with the Paris Opera Ballet must be giants).  However, both Coco and Koko have beautifully trained physiques, wonderful proportions and superior technique, conducive to what is exactly needed for Romantic ballet; she with the lithe torso and he with the barrage of batterie, thanks to his training with the Royal Danish Ballet, which can be considered the last bastion of true Romantic ballet, given their Bournonville tradition.  Don’t get me wrong, many companies can dance Bournonville and Giselle in stunning fashion; when it comes to the Danish, it’s ingrained into their method while other dancers must learn or be coached in the style later in their careers.  At any rate, I even think Alina’s face makes for the perfect Giselle because her facial features seem to lend themselves to a near permanent look of timid worry…

Alina is 3rd from the right...smile, girlfriend! (and yes, Johan is giving Marcelo bunny ears) Photo ©Ilya Kuznetsov

That face, combined with her infinite lightness made for a wonderful partnership, which highlighted Koko’s jumps and acting ability in waves of pure chemistry.  When Myrtha beckons Albrecht to do a series of entrechat six, I literally gasped at Koko’s ballon (translation: height) and superb technique.  Spectacular beats of the legs require more than just fluttering feet, but a rebound—meaning, once the legs beat, the more they can separate in the air before beating again, the loftier the effect.  I felt the whole production was spot on, with the only exception being Martin Harvey’s Hilarion, who was a little over the top for my tastes.  At moments he had some bug-eyed looks (and I’ve had this problem before in watching Ethan Stiefel) which might be less distracting in a live performance, but for me, is a one-way ticket to looking like a lunatic.  I guess it’s my pet peeve in watching ballet, but the crazy eyes never work for me and really just make dancers look insane.  Hilarion is temperamental and maybe even a little chivalrous, but not demented.

Overall, this is a fantastic Giselle, a must for the ballet library and in case you didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas, you won’t regret buying this DVD for yourself.  In the meantime, I leave you with Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in the iconic Act II pas de deux, to entertain your thoughts until your purchase arrives:

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.