Tag Archives: swan lake

Dawn of a Swan: Oklahoma City Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’

22 Apr

It can’t be emphasized enough that Swan Lake is no small undertaking, and for Oklahoma City Ballet to put it on stage for the first time in the company’s forty-one year history was a tremendous accomplishment. With just over twenty-five dancers, OKCB barely eked it out, with most of the performers in multiple roles (and help from clever adjustments by artistic director Robert Mills, balletmaster Jacob Sparso, and répétiteur Lisa Moon) so that the company didn’t appear dwarfed on the stage of Civic Center Music Hall. The company also enjoyed live accompaniment from the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, a marvelous (and necessary) feat that really brought Swan Lake to life. It doesn’t matter how big or how small—Swan Lake is always going to be a beast for different reasons, and the OKCB in particular did a wonderful job of keeping their dancers healthy and well rehearsed. Just one injury would have been devastating; whereas a larger company could spare an understudy, OKCB wouldn’t have had any options. They rolled the dice and won the hearts of the audience, not just for putting on a great show of the most iconic classical ballet, but also for showing that OKCB is on track to do more.

I wouldn’t dare say I was an expert on Swan Lake, but I felt OKCB’s production was relatively complete. There’s no such thing as a perfect version—it’s like asking a person what makes for a good wedding cake. Sure, everybody knows what a wedding cake is and most people have a similar image of what one looks like, but ultimately they always taste different. And some people will eat anything but others may try but maintain their preferences. Balletomanes discuss such things ad nauseum and over time develop a checklist; mine includes things like aversions to prologues, jesters, and music edits—all of which OKCB had, but some of which made sense for what they wanted to accomplish. For example, the jester (danced by Io Morita) was one of the highlights, aided by Morita’s soaring jumps and frisky petit allegro, his legs flickering with precision as he ricocheted them in the air. Though the character served no indispensable purpose, he was nonetheless fun to watch. It was a great way to show off the bravura talents of dancers not in the lead roles. However, this skirts a precarious line too—the jester and the role of Benno, Prince Siegfried’s friend both performed jétes en manège, or a series of split leaps that circle around the entire stage, which should be Siegfried’s trademark in the Black Swan pas de deux, but the excitement of the effect was diminished by having seen it before. While virtuosity does captivate the audience, sometimes it’s important to make them wait for it.

Overall, I felt the first act was over-choreographed just a hair, and while Act II, the famous lakeside scene with the bevy of swans in white tutus was pretty typical but had eliminated the mime scene where Odette explains to Siegfried her plight, of being transformed into a swan by the sorcerer Von Rothbart. Obviously, OKCB reconciled this issue with the prologue in which we see Von Rothbart transform her, but I believe that the mime scene is important in some form or another because—and I feel like a broken record because I’m always saying this—it gives the audience a reprieve from the dancing. We can’t just stare at a constant stream of steps without breaks where something happens to progress the story. I was missing that in the first act as well, where it seemed too easy to get lost in all of the dancing, despite the beauty of it all. The best way to learn how to discern the different choreographic tools would be to watch a lot of Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky ballets (Serenade, Theme and Variations, Ballet Imperial, Diamonds, etc.) because the mentality in creation has to be different, thus the devices are different.

Still, there was much to enjoy and my perspective was different from the rest of the audience who had never seen Swan Lake before. Eavesdropping on the conversations around me yielded only complimentary reactions and even with my biases I had to agree. Miki Kawamura delivered an outstanding performance as Odette, and Yui Sato a genteel and sincere Siegfried. Kawamura’s Odette had a hardier flavor, regal as a queen of the swans, opting to portray a magnificent creature rather than timid milquetoast. When Siegfried balances her on one leg, and she delicately quivered the other foot like a trembling wing, I couldn’t recall having seen a dancer reverberate with such speed, her foot practically a vibrating blur. As Odile she commanded the stage with a vivacious presence, as her manipulation of Siegfried turned into a source of amusement, and perhaps it was shades of Kawamura’s own personality shining through as well because she clearly had great fun as the black swan. Sato partnered her well, displaying his own skill for acting as a naïve prince and dancing the role in his uniquely quieted way. It was an exciting and pressure packed night for those two OKCB dancers, as the remaining two performances were claimed by guest artists from Houston Ballet that were sponsored by the Inasmuch Foundation. Odette and Siegfried are the premier dream roles for countless ballet dancers and to have just one opportunity to dance it demands a great deal of mental fortitude—Kawamura and Sato delivered, and were rewarded by a standing ovation, their efforts further recognized when the announcement was made that they would be promoted to principal dancers, in a company that had no previous hierarchy.

Oklahoma City Ballet has referred to their 2012-13 season as “Raising the Barre” and it certainly has been an exciting one for them. From my observations, they’re teetering at the brink, capable of making that jump—to the base of the mountain that is the development into a highly esteemed regional company. It’s no simple matter to hire about ten more dancers and find the funding to diversify their repertory, but seeing how they put together such a competent Swan Lake with nearly the bare minimum of resources is a hopeful sign. Even if they hired the necessary dancers tomorrow and procured the licensing rights for some of the current popular ballets, it would still be some years before the company could really gel together and settle into a groove. Until then, it may not be a bad idea to look into collaboration with the nearby Tulsa Ballet, something that has worked very successfully for BalletMet of Columbus and Cincinnati Ballet in Ohio, which has allowed them to put stage the large-scale productions and perform ballets that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

May I take your order?

15 Dec

In honor of MusicMonday (which is technically when I started this entry), I thought I’d do a little detective work with the infamous Black Swan coda.  It has a really messy history, with three different versions at your disposal.  First, you’ve got the original coda from 1877 which was the finale to the Pas de Six.  The original coda is the one Anna Sobeshchanskaya didn’t like and had Léon Minkus write her one, which irked Tchaikovsky, who then wrote one for her, which has now become the coda in the Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  Tchaikovsky’s second coda may or may not have been influenced/adapted from that of Minkus, and as far as I know, this coda is actually never used for Swan Lake anymore.  To make matters more fun, the coda that is most used today is from Swan Lake, but was originally from Act I, intended as a Pas de Deux for Two Merry Makers, and then adapted/re-worked/(butchered?) by Ricardo Drigo into the Grand Pas de Deux familiar to most.  It’s a hot mess, and if I ever meet Tchaikovsky in the after life a question relating to the Black Swan pas de deux madness would probably be the first thing I asked him.  Which do you like, Pete?

A lot of ballet companies will mix and match as well, which can probably confuse a lot of people.  A Grand Pas de Deux is generally comprised of four parts, the grand adage, the male variation, the female variation and the coda.  Or if you prefer, the entrée, soup, salad, and dessert.  So I’ve devised a Swan Lake menu for your perusal:

This took way too long to make.

The Pas de Six – Andante con moto, Pas de Six – Moderato are never used (although Kenneth MacMillan reworked the Pas de Six music into a production of Swan Lake for the Royal Ballet, but probably not as a pas de deux ETA: This info came from Wikipedia…credibility?  Mmm…could be questionable.), while the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux: Allegro and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux: Coda are never used for Black Swan (to the best of my knowledge), despite being highly recommended by the chef.  Most choreographers go with the starred, “most popular dishes” as used originally by Petipa/Ivanov, while others have been a little more adventurous:

Bourmeister (La Scala)

  1. Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux: Moderato – Andante
  2. Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux – Allegro moderato
  3. Pas de Six – Variation: Moderato
  4. Pas de Six: Coda

Grigorovich (Bolshoi)

  1. Tempo di Valse and Andante
  2. Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux – Allegro moderato
  3. Pas de Six – Variation: Moderato
  4. Coda: Molto Allegro Vivace

Nureyev (Vienna State Opera)

  1. Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux: Moderato – Andante
  2. Allegro
  3. Pas de Six – Variation: Moderato
  4. Pas de Six: Coda

As you can see, anyone who doesn’t go with the standard picks whatever the heck they want apparently.  I’m sure they all had their legitimate reasons for their selections (and I don’t question them, mostly because I don’t really care), but unless you know ahead of time, it can be a kind of confusing to go see Swan Lake and expect one thing but then scratch your head when you realize the music is unfamiliar.

I only got interested in this whole mess because I myself got confused when I realized that there were two different codas that are commonly used, neither of them being the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux coda, and was thinking which coda appealed to me the most.  Predictably, the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux is still my favorite of the three, even if I ignore Balanchine’s choreography.  Musically, I think it’s the most exciting, although I was curious as to what a Swan Lake Pas de Deux would look like to it.  As I mentioned earlier I don’t think it has ever been used in a Black Swan pas de deux, and it made me wonder if the 32 fouettés was a part of the choreography as well.  It’s possible that the same place Balanchine put the fouettés in the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (although he didn’t choreograph 32) is the same place where 32 fouettés could have gone because it’s long enough, but what makes that seem unlikely to me is the fact that in the other codas, the fouettés come pretty early on, while the possible break in the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux which is thirty seconds longer than the other two, is towards the end.  Regardless, my questions ended up being irrelevant because 32 fouettés didn’t enter Swan Lake until the 1895 revival by Petipa/Ivanov, which is post-Sobeshchanskaya, who used the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux version in 1877 (the original Swan Lake, by Julius Reisinger was not a success).  Well, at least I learned something.

Turns out the most popularly known Black Swan coda is my least favorite, as I like the Pas de Six coda much better.  But, to each his/her own, so here are the three codas, so you can decide for yourself.  Although I did say the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux Coda was never used as a Black Swan coda, Nureyev did use it in Act I of his production of Swan Lake, so it has found a way back in (even though the Royal Ballet doesn’t perform this staging anymore.  I believe they’ve since gone to the Petipa/Ivanov).

Marianea Nuñez/Thiago Soares, standard Black Swan coda (beginning at 2:35)

Fonteyn/Nureyev, Pas de Six coda

Nureyev (Act I), Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux coda

To make matters better, I’ve also uploaded all three codas onto SendSpace, in mp3 format for your listening pleasure.

Standard Black Swan Coda

Pas de Six Coda

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux  Coda

And because good things always come in threes, there is also free sheet music in PDF format available in a solo piano arrangement (full score is available as well, but that helps very few in the population) so now you can make a request to your accompanist to play your favorite coda for class.  The “popular” coda is on pp.61-64, Pas de Six coda on pp.178-180, and the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux coda on pp.248-252.

Swan Lake for Solo Piano (PDF file)

Bon appétit!

PS.  This entry was a pain in the ass to write.