David Koch Theater, New York, NY; July 19(m) & 20(m), 2014

Colleen Boresta

Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin in the Black Swan pas de deux from the Bolshoi Ballet's 'Swan Lake'.  Photo © Stephanie Berger

Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin in the Black Swan pas de deux from the Bolshoi Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’.
Photo © Stephanie Berger

After “The Nutcracker”, “Swan Lake” is probably the best known ballet in the World, the Academy Award winning movie, “Black Swan”, probably giving even more people the desire to see it. The Bolshoi’s current production is that by Yuri Grigorovich, made in 2001, and for which he also wrote the libretto. I like it, but there are definite weaknesses. First, there is practically no mime. How is Siegfried supposed to know that if he wants Odette to become human again, he has to swear his eternal love to her? Is the Prince some kind of mind reader that he automatically knows Odette’s life story without her saying a word?

Second, the choreography doesn’t always fit the expected music. The music for Odette’s entrance has been changed around. Also we see her and her Swan Maidens behind a drop curtain in the middle of the stage a few minutes before her usual first appearance in the ballet.

Although several critics have complained that the women wear pointe shoes instead of character shoes or boots during the national dances in Act III, I do not find this to be a problem. I am not a huge fan of these dances no matter how they are danced. I understand their importance to the plot – the Prince does not want to choose any of these Princesses from all over the world because he is so deeply in love with Odette – but I am always waiting for them to be over so the Black Swan pas de deux can begin.

When Odette and the Evil Genius (usually known as Rothbart), finally arrive at the ball, the audience has to wait for the Black Swan pas de deux. First Odette and several other black swans dance to music that is usually found in Act IV. Then, just when I am ready for the pas de deux to begin, the Evil Genius and the swans perform to music that is most often part of the beginning of the ballroom scene.

Once the famous pas de deux is underway, Prince Siegfried dances a solo to music that was cut from the original “Swan Lake” and is now famous for being part of George Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux”. The music is nice, but the fact the choreography was not Balanchine’s left me disappointed.

I am glad to see that Grigorovich has not deleted any of the traditional Act IV. The audience can see fully Odette’s grief and the young Prince’s devastation over his betrayal of her.

Perhaps the most serious flaw in the Bolshoi’s “Swan Lake” is the ending.  In the program notes it says that the Evil Genius creates a storm which separates the two young lovers forever. What it looks like to me is the wizard pulling Odette with him behind the strange drop curtain in the middle of the stage. Then they both disappear. But to where?  It’s not at all clear. And poor Siegfried is left alone on the stage. I am left scratching my head. What has just occurred? There’s no closure. I far prefer ABT’s beautiful ending when both Odette and Siegfried throw themselves into Swan Lake and end up reunited in the afterworld.

“Swan Lake”, like any ballet, is only as good as its dancers. At the July 19th matinee, Anna Nikulina played the dual role of Odette/Odile. As Odette, she had beautifully undulating swan arms. Her torso, however, was a bit stiff. Her beats in her second solo in Act II were swift and well executed.  In the Black Swan pas de deux, her fouettés were clean and she threw in a few doubles. She travelled a bit too much at the end of the sequence, however, and stopped short of the music’s end. Nikulina has a very strong technique but she merely dances the role, both her Odette and Odile being blank slates lacking any kind of emotion.

Nikulina’s Siegfried, Artem Ovcharenko, was very young and clueless. He was a cipher and his dancing merely okay. When the Denis Rodkin as the Evil Genius shadowed Ovcharenko’s steps in Act II, Rodkin’s leaps were noticeably higher. Additionally, there was no chemistry between Nikulina and Ovcharenko. She seemed as young as him. Hopefully, as they mature as performers their portrayals will be more complete.

Olga Smirnova in the Bolshoi Ballet's 'Swan Lake'.  Photo © Stephanie Berger

Olga Smirnova in the Bolshoi Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’.
Photo © Stephanie Berger

Sunday 20th’s matinee was a whole different story. Olga Smirnova was wonderful both as Odette and Odile. Her Swan Queen had gorgeously rippling swan arms and a lushly supple upper body. Even sitting in the fourth ring I really felt her emotions, especially her sorrow in Act IV after Siegfried has betrayed her. As Odile she was wickedly seductive. She whipped off very fast fouettés in the coda of the Black Swan pas de deux; singles, but finished and in time with the music.

Semyon Chudin was an impressive Prince Siegfried. His soaring leaps were very exciting but at times his landings were a bit heavy. His double tours were well done. Chudin is also an accomplished actor who actually becomes the young Prince. As good as Smirnova and Chudin were separately, together they were absolutely enthralling. The Act II lakeside duet was so moving that I was in tears. At the end of the ballet Siegfried’s pain over losing Odette is heart-breaking.

Other performers stood out too. Both Denis Rodkin (19th) and Artemy Belyakov (20th) were fantastic as the Evil Genius. They brought an intensity to the role. Their leaps showed incredible elevation. The Fool (jester) can be an annoying part but not when it is as well danced as it was. Both Denis Medvedev (19th) and Alexander Smoliyaninov (20th) impressed with their turns à la seconde – done at the speed of sound – and revoltades where one leg flips over the other in mid-air.

In the Act I pas de trois, Kristina Kretova and Maria Vinogradova (both afternoons) showed off their sparkling footwork. The female corps in the white acts danced in splendid harmony with the music and each other. The Bolshoi Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Sorokin, performed Tchaikovsky’s iconic score flawlessly.

The Bolshoi Ballet contains many exceptional performers – but they do deserve a stronger production of “Swan Lake”.