Monday, November 2, 2015

SWAN LAKE - Russian National Ballet Theatre

The Q, The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.
29th October, 2015
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Russian National Ballet Theatre is a large company of Russian classical ballet dancers, under the Artistic Directorship of Evgeny Amosov. It’s currently undertaking an arduous, whistle-stop tour of Australia, following a similar tour of New Zealand. When it completes its Australian tour in Mildura in mid-December, it will have played 108 performances in 45 cities and towns in New Zealand and Australia.

According to the glossy program, the company has around 50 dancers and its purpose is to preserve the creative heritage of the great masters of Russian Ballet. In the larger cities it is presenting two ballets, “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty”.

The single performance in the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre was of “Swan Lake”.

Having paid $20.00 for the glossy program, it was disappointing to discover that it included details of only five dancers. So to find out who was dancing the principal roles at this performance, at interval I approached the only company representatives visible in the foyer, the Chinese couple who had sold me the program. 

Their English seemed limited but helpfully they pointed to the photograph of Barkolova Yelyzaveta. She didn’t look like her photograph but they assured me that she was dancing Odette/Odile at this performance, and that none of the other dancers pictured in the program were dancing in this performance. Who were the other principals then?  The gentleman consulted his telephone then wrote on my piece of paper that Romonov Maxim was dancing Sigfried, and Bogutskyi Oleksii was dancing both the role of the Jester and Baron Rothbart.

I questioned this last piece of information, but he was adamant. However, my doubts were confirmed when the performance continued and both the Jester and Rothbart were on stage together in the ball scene. Returning home after the performance, I searched the internet only to discover that the company’s website made no mention of the names of any of the 50 dancers in the company.

The next day I contacted the publicist, who was unable to help, and even the Q, in the hope that there might have been a discarded cast list left on the notice board. No luck. So I’m not able to tell you who I was actually watching in this performance. Which is a shame because even though I may not have known of them previously I would have liked to have recorded which members of this company had actually performed in Queanbeyan.

Back to the performance.  I hoped it all looked magical to the dozens of little girls in the audience who were probably experiencing their first live ballet performance. The costumes certainly looked pretty, and the 18 swans in the lake scene looked spectacular.

No choreographer was credited, but given the company’s stated mission, one would assume it was the original Petipa/Ivanov choreography, which might explain why it looked so dated and repetitive. It also featured the happy ending which became obligatory for Russian production in the Stalin era.

The ensemble dancers were well drilled, but performed the choreography mechanically and with the minimum effort, especially in the two lake scenes which lacked any pretence of dramatic tension.

Whoever the ballerina was, she was technically proficient but her interpretation of the Swan Queen, Odette, was rather too brittle, even though this quality later became an advantage for her black swan, Odile, in the ballroom scene. Alas, in the ballroom scene her valiant attempts to bring some excitement to the black swan pas de deux were thwarted by her totally dis-interested prince.

Elsewhere the Jester did his best to inject some life into the proceedings, even if his shameless mugging did become irritating, and there were occasional sparks of life in the national dances in the ballroom scene, particularly from the two Spanish ladies who impressed with their deep back bends, and from the swarthy male dancer in a bright yellow costume who danced with the sort of vitality so lacking in his colleagues.

But overall this “Swan Lake” turned out to be a rather dispiriting experience.

As long as there has been ballet there have been Russian ballet companies relentlessly touring the world, spreading the word. Watching this performance, it was hard to escape the thought that generations of people must have had their first experience of classical ballet watching such performances. How many people sitting in the audience in Queanbeyan that night were having such an experience?  And although they gave every indication of enjoying the show, would they be inspired enough by it  to attend another ballet performance ?

I doubt there was a budding Pavlova, Nijinsky, Nureyev or Makarova in this company of anonymous dancers, but if there were, we'll never be able to boast that we were in the audience the night they danced in  "Swan Lake" in Queanbeyan.

1 comment:

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