Saturday, 19 January 2019

REVIEW: Swan Lake - Palace Theatre, Manchester.

The overture to Swan Lake soon hushed an expectant crowd at the Palace Theatre, Manchester last night. The romantic tones of Tchaikovsky’s scoring were confident and expressive. With no prologue, as included by some companies, there was a bit of a wait for the curtain to rise but when it did we were greeted by Dmitry Lazovik as Benno in an energetic and bright opening sequence. We were soon presented with most of the main characters. Danil Orlov as Prince Siegfreid looked the part with Disney-prince looks and a command of those around him. Olga Orlova as his Mother was regal and really stood out in her blue and sparkling diamond costume. The character of the Jester, played by Aleksi Tsauko, was perfectly cast and was a welcome relief during some long and seemingly pointless scenes. Even though he is a comedy character, he had quite a bit of solo dancing as well as the comedic acting, both of which he performed expertly.

This travelling company use draped painted panels for their set and we were clearly in a medieval castle environment. The artwork was detailed but somewhat subdued in colours of brown, orange, yellow and autumnal foliage.

The first half told us how Prince Siegfreid had to choose a potential bride on the occasion of his 21st birthday. Siegfreid has no desire to marry and goes with good friend Benno to the lake to see some swans. Here, the Prince spies a beautiful swan that transforms in to a beautiful maiden, the queen of the swans – Odette. She and her friends are cursed to be as a swan during the day, but returns to her human form at night. Siegfreid vows to free Odette from her curse though his pledge of true love to her. This story was not told so clearly, unfortunately. So much was not presented to us – Odette shows no sign of transformation so we don’t know if or when she is human. There was no real characterising of their emotions towards each other and apart from an obvious attraction, a story was simply not told. Liliya Orekhova, who played Odette, was impressive in her technique and was enthralling to watch.

There were some fantastic dances performed by the swans who displayed great synchronicity and connection to the music.

Talgat Kozhabaev as the evil Von Rothbart, who has cursed the swans, was lurking around threateningly at times during the lake scene, but his menace was reduced to one raised eyed facial expression which soon lost its effect. He appeared slight and nimble, dressed all in black with an head piece, but Talgat did not have much presence. I believe that a better costume could have enhanced his villain status – his wings were little more than a cape.

The first half ended, nevertheless, leaving the audience exhilarated and wondering what was going to happen next.

The second half then started and had again some really impressive dances both by soloists and as a group. Although this is ultimately a ballet about the love of two characters, there are a few minor roles that have a considerable amount of dancing. These moments provide dance as entertainment apart from telling a story and are integrated in to the narrative – various suitors from different countries present a dance to the Prince to attract his attention. They were well choreographed and for the most part showed off the skill of the dancers. Nevertheless, after a while some of the moves were a bit repetitive and interest was lost through a lack of narrative expression.

Moscow City Ballet has some truly fantastic dancers, but having seen their version of Romeo and Juliet the night before, and now Swan Lake, I must say that storytelling skills are missing. This is a weakness on the part of the performers, but also a lack of vision from the director.

As the final scenes approached, both orchestra and the performance began to run out of steam. Clear and distracting mistakes were heard from the orchestra pit, some of the pieces were performed under speed and lacked energy and control. At the ball, Von Rothbart tricks Siegfreid into thinking that his daughter is his beloved Odette, and Siegfreid chooses to marry her over the other suitors. At this point, through the deception, Siegfreid has betrayed Odette and she can never be saved.

Liliya Orekhova was clearly transformed here from Odette to the character of Odile – Von Rothbart’s daughter. Her facial expression displayed the evil and cunning of Odile who seduces Siegfreid, convincing him that she is Odette. Once she succeeds and Siegfreid betrays Odette, he returns to the lake to find her.

The fantastic music for the final emotional and dramatic scenes were noticed more for a glaring mistake by the orchestra who were literally a beat out for the entire famous Swan Lake theme played on the Oboe at this point. This must have thrown the performers off. This offbeat music underlined a clear lack of direction and it didn’t quite recover.

The synopsis in the programme tells us that Odette is destined to die, Siegfreid fights and overcomes Rothbart and frees the other swan maidens and that Siegfreid and Odette are united in eternal happiness. The choreography on stage did not tell us that at all. I have no idea how this ballet ended. I cannot tell you who died or did not. There are a variety of possible endings to Swan Lake – some performances have both lovers drown in the lake through their grief, some have them survive upon the Prince killing the evil Rothbart. The curtain came down and my companion whispered over the applause – I wonder what is going to happen next! But nothing did, that was the end of the show. As the curtain went down, Von Rothbart was circling angrily and stared at the audience with menace, lowering his body to see under the lowering curtain. He certainly wasn’t dead.

It was, as it was in Romeo and Juliet the previous night, really frustrating and disappointing that the most basic elements of the story were not told successfully. There may be a presumption that the audience should know the story of any ballet, but there is definitely an onus on the performers to also tell the story to the audience. The performers in Moscow City Ballet are talented dancers without doubt, but this is not a company that has been able to tell a story. The fault with that I lay directly with the directors.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 18/1/19

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