Opera House, Oslo, Norway; June 9, 2014
Norwegian National Ballet must be the only company that is able to offer a choice of “Swan Lakes”. Imagine going to the box office and being faced with the question, ‘”Swan Lake”? And would you be wanting the one danced in the lake or the one on land?’
In April, Alexander Ekman presented his extraordinary, “A Swan Lake” where the second act is set in a 16m x 16m pool of water (see the photographs below). Then in May the company proved their versatility by performing Anna-Marie Holmes 1997 production based on the Petipa/Ivanov/Sergeyev choreography.
Ekman’s revisioning offers breathtaking theatrical moments, assisted by a top design team: Tom Visser responsible for lights and Henrik Vibskov for the costumes. The visuals are thrilling as shards of light pierce the darkness illuminating the black water churned up by the dancers. Mikael Karlsson’s orchestral score takes inspiration from Tchaikovsky in Act I but in Act II he creates his own mythical yet modern soundscape. However the abundance of ideas that flow from Ekman’s fertile brain need ruthless pruning to shape this baggy bundle of creativity into a satisfying ballet.
The company’s other version is by contrast very traditional both in production and in choreography. Yolanda Correa as Odette/Odile gave a beautifully defined performance, the aesthetic perfection of her legs and feet never failing to catch the precise moment. I preferred her fiery Odile who relentlessly wove the hapless Siegfried into her magic web culminating in a full complement of whizzing fouettés. Joel Carreño as the Prince was swept off his feet, soaring into the air in powerful jumps and giving his all to this enchanting swan creature. I have seldom seen a Siegfried so utterly destroyed as when Rothbart, the dominating figure of Ole Willy Falkhaugen, reveals the deception.
The jester, who is nowadays an endangered species (and not deeply mourned), was performed with panache by Douwe Dekkers. His solo included the sort of intricate beats and jumps that are no longer in fashion but exciting to see again, and so well executed. His four female attendants at the ball added sparkle to some rather formal national dance divertissments although the brightly dressed Mazurka crew performed with enthusiasm and the Spaniards, obviously partisan and supporting the opposition, raised the temperature. In Act I, the long dresses lent elegance to the pas de trois impeccably danced by Miharu Maki and Chihiro Nomura partnered by Gakuro Matsui.
Paul Andrews’ medieval setting offered a ruined Gothic pile and misty ambiance in Act I and a somewhat less atmospheric set in Act II where Rothbart’s rocky lair was uncomfortably dominant. However the swan corps, beautifully rehearsed and melding artistry with strong technique, made this irrelevant as they flooded the stage with the swan magic that makes this ballet so iconic.
This performance also marked the occasion of the departure of Paul Podolski after 48 years of service to the Norwegian National Ballet. He joined as a young dancer moving to the role of producer on retirement from the stage. He has been a stalwart champion for ballet: fighting to gain equal status with the opera and using his undeniable charm to acquire works like Nureyev’s “Don Quixote”, Glen Tetley’s “Tempest” and the best repertoire of Jiří Kylián and Lightfoot/Leon of any company outside of NDT. He oversaw the move to the company’s magnificent new house designed by Snøhetta on a former derelict harbour area. This opera house is one of the World’s finest with enviable space and state of the art facilities. When Kylián visited the house he walked into the studios and announced, to everyone’s consternation: ‘It’s a catastrophe!’ What he meant was that in the light and airy spaces with stunning sea views the dancers would never be able to concentrate. But this is certainly not evident in performance; rather the company has risen to expectations to take their place on the world stage. Paul Podolski will be sorely missed but his legacy will surely live on.
Alexander Eckman’s ‘other’ Swan Lake – “the one danced in the lake”…