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Moscow City Ballet - Swan Lake


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The last time I saw Moscow City Ballet --- YEARS AGO --- was in a once-upon-a-time pavilion situated where the Islington Business Centre now stands.  I remember it because it was the first time that I saw Malakov.  He was VERY noticeable.  He literally stood out for his lyrical line ... even though he was dancing the dreaded jester.  

 

Last night I was invited to attend a production by the same company - which has been touring to many different locations - at the enchanting Richmond Theatre.  Truth told I went expecting very little.  I came away amazed.  This is one of the most intelligent settings of Swan Lake I have EVER seen.  (The worst must DEFINITELY go to Peter Schaufuss ... who as a dancer I had so many occasions to admire with LFB/ENB, NYCB and NBoC).  There were just so many wonderful touches in the Moscow City outing much, say, as in Muckhamedov's wonderful production which I was fortunate enough to catch by the fine company in Warsaw.  Given Moscow City's limited resources - which didn't retard their efforts to be tasteful - this was a well schooled company.  The Odette/Odile of Lilia Oryekhova went beyond that being luxuriant with a stunningly deep plie.  There were things in the construction of this production that really stood out:  Certainly there was nothing cut-down about the ambition of this enterprise to 'tell the story' through dance. Bravi.

 

To wit:

 

1) The first act was very much a celebration of the Prince's birthday inclusive of a telling pas de trois.  You saw the prince happily engaged with his friends and in a stable relationship with his mother which meant that

2) By the time he was pressed into choosing one of the princesses for marriage it had some significance for the audience as we had some sense of his character.  

 

3) There were segments of music from the fourth act that were cleverly (and from my perspective rightfully) transposed into the third. With the entrance of Odile and a von Rothbart (which was very much danced in the Russian tradition) they had a brief pas de deux (usually in the fourth act) in a segment attended by four white swans.  Odile here was in a tutu which was a combination of white and black - a half and half affair.  There could be no confusion here over Seigfried's own potential confusion ... as is so often wondered at.  When Odile returned for the Black Swan pas she was entirely garbed in a black tutu.  These alterations made ultimate and much musical sense.  (Moreover, it was so delightful to see a third act without the opening vulgarities inserted in Dowell's RB production and happily gone was all the nonsense with the drunken tutor.  Who cares about him?  I ask you.) Here the tutor was very much a stable court employee who was also responsible for the prince's birthday celebrations as you would expect a royal aide to be.

 

4)  Each princess represented one of the national dances; and the corps was cleverly divided in support of each.  (The four lads who danced well in support of the Spanish princess ... came back - dancing equally as well - in different tops - in the Neopolitan.)  The dance of princesses - for the Prince's choice - came AFTER the black swan pas de deux (where at one point a white swan was seen in shadow of the black rather than at the end of the act).  BRILLIANT.  By this point we knew who each was ... and the audience had a legitimate sense of her personality THROUGH THE MUSIC.  This dance of the princesses brilliantly INCLUDED THE BLACK SWAN ODILE with von Rothbart in careful observation ... as it SHOULD ... which made the prince's choice ALL the more telling.  Brilliant. 

 

5) The second act opened with the musical prologue as standard - but this was danced - making it clear that von Rothbart was a dictator who had taken these poor captured girls and transformed them into swans for his own pleasure.  The challenge of his relationship with Seigfried was also made clear.  Thus by the time the act began - as we traditionally expect - ALL was ready to 'dramatically' roll.  This was done it should be noted with NO change of scenery; it was all accomplished through the choreography to the music.

 

6) There was ONLY one interval at the conclusion of the second act!!!!!!  (ROH please take note)  The sets were simple drops.  The story was told entirely through the dancing through the music.  The costumes were wonderfully tasteful and they looked in glorious animation against the simple but tasteful painted backdrops.  You got the sense that the Richmond stage was smaller than many the company was used to dancing on, but they handled it well and made it look fine indeed.  No settling for second best here.  This company was firmly rooted in 'strive' mode.

 

7) Because of the transpositions the final act's pace really moved ahead with the music.  Yes, there was the Russian happy ending ... (oh, and an absurd jester who could well be missed in the first and third acts) ... but - because of the effective dramatic build - the demise of von Rothbart in face of the happiness of Seigfried and Odette did truly feel catalytic.  The narrative was clearly straight; not forced as so often can be the case in productions where decoration can oft take potency away from the narrative.  

 

Moscow City Ballet did their job and they did it well IMHO.  If this had been the first production I ever saw ... I think I would definitely want to see another.  We should be happy that this production is going to so many places throughout the UK that seemingly now ENB cannot afford to.  (I assume this has something to do to the rates of pay that are given to the Russians.  The British guarantees paid by the theatres to do cover the costs.  That obviously is not the case here.  A profit is obviously being made - on several scores - as well it should.) 

 

There are only two more performances of the piece today before they move on to The Sleeping Beauty on Friday and Saturday.  If you are in the proximity you could I think well do worse methinks.  

 

I was, I must say, happily surprised.  

Edited by Meunier
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Thanks for the report Meunier.  Friends had highly recommended this company and production to me a couple of months ago but I couldn't get to Manchester to see them because they were on when we had (by Liverpool's standards) bad snow.  How I regret not being able to see them.  Maybe next time.

 

Actually I think they may have been one of the first companies I saw if they did a piece called The Mischiefs of Terpsichore in the mid-1980s (or would it have been Moscow Classical Ballet?).

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  • 10 months later...

Meunier - you may be interested to hear that your quote "I came away amazed" has been used in the newspaper ad for the current Moscow City Ballet tour. The good news is that its source is correctly identified as the Balletco forum. Less impressively, they have used it to promote their run of Don Q :)

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  • 1 month later...

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