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Subject: "ENB Swan Lake 16 & 17 June" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #73
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Bruce Madmin

20-06-99, 10:19 PM (GMT)
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"ENB Swan Lake 16 & 17 June"
   {The final version of this includes a couple of nice pics..)

Well I liked it before and I liked it again. Two years on and I'm pleased to say that the English National Ballet (ENB) Swan Lake remains a great show. It will probably be most appreciated if you like the theatrical end of dance, which of course means that it may rankle a little with dance purists, but hopefully even they would find it an interesting production. Personally I think if Petipa, the Swan Lake creator, had had the opportunity to put something on before many thousands of people, in the round, and with lots, lots more swans, he would have jumped at it. So no need for us to be precious.

Since its first outing, Swan Lake has been tweaked here and there. Most notably out go the ramps at the sides to get dancers on stage from below. A shame, I thought they worked rather well. I'm not sure if Rothbart's entrance has changed but it all happened centre stage and using a trap-door to great effect. Someday I suppose an EU twit will ban traps (and fireworks also) and our lives will be all the safer if much duller. 19th Century ballets were full of all manner of impressive stage tricks and they still appeal to the most of us. Let others search for the deepest of meanings in everything and shiver at what they see as common. The rest of us can just enjoy the show secure in the knowledge that the original Swan Lake was designed to impress too!

The last opening night we all had our eyes on Altynai Asylmuratova, without a shadow of doubt one of the very best ballerinas in the world, and her young partner Roberto Bolle. This time the opening went to Thomas Edur and Margaret Illmann (replacing an injured Agnes Oaks - Mrs Edur in fact). In the event Illmann, who seems only to guest these days, looked rather ill at ease. Perhaps it was the floor causing problems - at the rehearsal earlier that day Tamara Rojo was said to have had terrible problems with it and for the second night the floor was relaid. Whatever the reason Illmann did not really seem to 'connect' with the audience and what looked like a party piece in the 32 fouettees, of putting her hands on her hips for some turns, did not really come off, and she lost her footing a number of times. Edur, as people never tire of saying, is the Prince personified. He doesn't act it, he is it. And, as people again never tire of saying, what marvellous technique. Once or twice I thought he moderated himself, I suspect because of the floor again - it was very noisy.

Any small problems aside everybody seemed to enjoy the opening night and while Illmann did not perhaps sparkle, Paul Lewis as Rothbart made everybody shiver and the corps of swans looked particularly impressive having honed their patterns and timing on the recent Far East tour. Two years ago there was much talk about whether ballet could really be effective in the round, but it didn't really enter my mind this time. The reality is that good dancers look good from almost any direction and in any case Derek Deane's production often doubles or quadruples up on soloists' roles so you still get to see many things straight on, if that's important to you. The other thing to mention is the lighting (Howard Harrison) which does a very good job of making such a big space magical and intimate.

The second night featured Tamara Rojo and Patrick Armand.

Rojo should need no introduction and was everbody's 'find' last year when she did the opening night Juliet. Since then she seems to have been mysteriously underused.

Armand used to be with London Festival Ballet/ENB in the 1980's but then went walkabout, mainly working in Boston, but also guesting with many companies around the world. The ENB Artistic Director, Derek Deane, always feels free to talk controversially, especially if it helps with publicity for a season, and this years heartfelt 'wind up' was to talk about British ballerinas having the wrong body shape, being too 'bummy' and 'titty' for the needs of modern companies. Fine, I suppose - but why on earth does Deane then go out and hire a dancer with the male equivalents of what he detests?! If you have not seen Armand I think I would describe him as not tall and not lean.

Armand had a pretty terrible time and I think many of us witnessed some of the heaviest landings we have seen and heard for years. He also looked ill at ease with Rojo and is possibly a little short for her. Even the most unseasoned ballet goers - of which there are many in the audience - could see that this was not how things should be. But it was not all grim and in the softer parts of the choreography Armand was very mannered in his technique and one could start to appreciate how he won the Prix de Lausanne back in 1980. Perhaps the floor was causing problems again.

Tamara Rojo acted her heart out and, unusually, was equally good as Odette and Odile. And there were no sign of the problems people had mentioned in rehearsal. She is frighteningly naturalistic and touching and like last year the audience really got behind her.

Hindsight being a marvellous thing, it's now obvious that an opening night of Edur and Rojo would have been just amazing. For those planning to see ENB in Manchester or Birmingham, there could be a treat in store because they are currently scheduled to dance some performances together.

I've naturally tended to concentrate on the dancers since they effectively represented the new in Swan Lake for me and if some were some good and some had problems, none of that detracts from what is a fine production that pleases people.

Next year the company are doing Sleeping Beauty and one suspects that more international touring will follow at some point - the recent Far East tour seemed to go very well. Hopefully all of this is generating some money for the company, money which I hope goes into new work and a wider repertoire. I'm very supportive of ballet doing populist things and reaching out to new audiences in new ways. But the populist things of tomorrow are the new things of today and some energy and money needs to go into renewal and pushing the art and audience forward. The concern is that ENB may become too hooked on todays success.

None of this should be seen to detract from ENB's obvious success at a time when other institutions, with far greater subsidy, have done not so much for the wider ballet and dance cause.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  ENB Swan Lake 17 June - Jim's Version Jim 20-06-99 1
     RE: ENB Swan Lake 17 June - Jim's Version Bruce Madmin 21-06-99 2
  RE: ENB Swan Lake 21 June Bruce Madmin 25-06-99 3
     RE: ENB Swan Lake 21 June alison 29-06-99 4

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20-06-99, 10:28 PM (GMT)
Click to EMail Jim Click to send private message to Jim Click to view user profileClick to add this user to your buddy list  
1. "ENB Swan Lake 17 June - Jim's Version"
In response to message #0
   Siegfried arrives at the lakeside to beg for Odette's forgiveness, which she grants".

This touching and tender moment in Act IV was my biggest emotional fix of the ballet. Billed as "extravagantly expansive" this production of Swan Lake was for me a "triple first" - first performance by ENB, first visit to the Royal Albert Hall, and first time to see a ballet "in the round". And the R.A.H., with its amphitheatre-type aspect, was certainly the place to see such a production. It took a little getting used to. No set, or scenery. The backdrop is the tiered audience on the other side of the hall, and so more emphasis is placed on the clouds of dri-ice to create atmosphere and effect. With a floor space that size, it had to be expansive. I wondered what it would be like with the dancers having their backs to you for at least most of the time. The answer is to multiply up. The first act pas de trois was replicated three times (i.e. it became a pas de douze) and even the dance of the ugly ducklings quartet was duplicated and twizzled around so there were dancers facing you most of the time. In fact I spent a good deal of the time studying the choreographical ingenuity of coping with an "in the round" format. I thought the first act was a little pedestrian, the story line becoming obscured with tumblers and jugglers to liven things up.

I started gettiing carried away in Act 2, however, and with a corps of at least 60 swans, the floor space was eventually filled. It was amazing - they kept on coming and coming. When I thought "Surely, that's it now", on came another couple of cohorts of glistening white tutus - brill! Tamara Rojo as Odette/Odile was lovely - I agree with a critic's comment I read somewhere: "See her, and believe". She was among the most convincing Odette's I have seen, and reminded me a lot of Nadia Nerina with her virtuosity and technique. Her partner, Patrick Armand, was supportive, but seemed a little eclipsed by her. But his moment came in the fourth act, when looking for his true love among those legions of swans in order to seek her forgiveness was indeed an additional trial of love.

I felt the Third Act divertissment came off rather well in the round - the national dances in a sort of quadrangle format in large numbers worked very well. My favourite moment of the Act was when the four characters - Siegfried, Odile, von Rothbart and Odette were in perfect geometrical alignment along the entire central axis of the floor space.

It was wonderful to hear a full-sized orchestra in a hall of such acoustics - the ENB Orchestra under John Pryce-Jones would have provided an evening to remember by themselves.


Monica Perego in the Neapolitan Dance deserves an honourable mention,
but there is no doubt the Tamara Rojo stole the show. Her bourrée between the two vast flocks of swans to the centre of the floor at the end of Act 2, to exectute brilliantly my first fave bit of Petipa choreography obliged me to stay and compose myself when the lights went up.

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Bruce Madmin

21-06-99, 00:18 AM (GMT)
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2. "RE: ENB Swan Lake 17 June - Jim's Version"
In response to message #1
   Jim - glad you mentioned Monica - I should have. really gets 'stuck-in'! And so glad you like Tamara too.

I've just finished the reviews update. Will include your review in the next sweep. We must share an ice cream again sometime!

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Bruce Madmin

25-06-99, 11:22 PM (GMT)
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3. "RE: ENB Swan Lake 21 June"
In response to message #0
   On Monday we got to see Daria Klimentova and Dmitri Gruzdyev in ENB's Swan Lake. I have not seen Daria dance in any Swan Lake let alone the ENB 'big one' and was looking forward to it, having enjoyed her Cinderella recently. The other new experience was sitting up in the Royal Albert Hall circle for one of these spectaculars. To be honest this was a concern but in the event it was all rather good.

Daria and Dmitri turned out to be the best *couple* of the three seen to date. They complemented each other very well and neither appeared to have problems or indeed look tired at doing their third Swan Lake in only 4 days. It was a Swan Lake where you didn't have to fret or wonder if it might unravel, just enjoy the story and revel in quality, unshowy dance. For those who know RB but not ENB, it would be right to say that Daria has a similar feel to Miyako Yoshida while Tamara (Rojo - the other ENB principal who danced recently) has the same Mediterranean feel of Viviana Durante. Having said this I now expect to be contradicted every which way! Anyway I truly love both styles and if I see too much of one I start to long for the other.

So Daria's Odette/Odile is rooted very much in the most lovely technique - crystal clear and devoid of extraneous show. One Act II pdd, where Odette gently beats her leg as she is turned by Siegfried I found amazingly moving - the beating of the leg being so delicate and soft and yet inch perfect. It might seem an odd cameo to keep, but it's something that I'll remember for a long time. Gruzdyev is so powerful he can place a ballerina anywhere it seems - he almost makes it look too easy I think. As princes go he looks more the rabble-rousing and womanising sort, who would probably look to fully test-drive each of the princesses rather than making a hasty decision to spurn them all at a single party! A confident prince who delivered the jumps and turns.

The different perspective from the Circle was really welcome and the critics really ought to get up there and see the view too - it might change some minds even. The precision and patterns of the corps really do impress when viewed from up high - so perfect it was almost like looking down a kaleidoscope at times. The other thing that impressed again was the lighting - state of the art technology but used with subtlety I think. The most luscious golds and reds in the third act materialised.

The only down side with the circle is if somebody in front decides to kidnap some extra view and lean forward - it really condemns everybody else into doing the same for no net benefit. The other thing is that some of the poses of the principals and soloists can look a bit odd at such an angle. Ideally it would be nice to be a bit lower if one could. But nobody should really feel hard done by in the circle.

As postings show, the casting for the rest of the Swan Lake UK tour seem to be all over the place. If you are after a specific cast best to ring the venue and ask direct. Of course things can still change... But I certainly hope more people get to see Daria and Dmitri.

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29-06-99, 12:10 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: ENB Swan Lake 21 June"
In response to message #3
   The Klimentova/Gruzdyev partnership has always struck me as exceptionally underrated at ENB - yet again, they were only *scheduled* for two performances at the RAH where some others got 4 or more. I can't understand it (and it means I scarcely ever get to see them dance).

Know what you mean about people leaning forward upstairs, but that's the fault of the Hall. Even from the Grand Tier you can't see the entire stage, and the view from further up is worse still. I've found it very frustrating in the past when major action has been taking place right at the edge of the arena.

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