Given that, it's kind of surprising that the ballet had a troubled history--the world premier in Moscow in 1877 was a flop, and the ballet was out of the repetiore until substantially revised and revived by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in St. Petersburg in 1895 for the Mariinsky Ballet. It is this version that is the core of most modern productions, although there are many different versions and different endings extant.
The version presented by the Bolshoi Ballet is based onthe work of Petipa, Ivanov, and Alexander Gorsky, as revived and added to by Yuri Grigorovich, and gave a very clean and classical statement of the story.
In scene one, we are in the hall of a great castle, celebrating the knighting of the scion of the house, Prince Sigfreid (Ruslan Skvortsov). The Prince is not pleased to be informed by his mother that his next duty is to contract a marriage. Instead his is filled with ideals of pure love.
Enter Rothbart (Nikolay Tsiskaridze) a.k.a. The Evil Genius, meaning, in this case, the evil spirit of the place. Unpercieved by the Prince, Rothbart leads his footsteps to the Lake of the Swans, where Sigfreid sees and falls in love with the beautiful Swan Princess, Odette (Mariya Aleksandrova). If Seigfried can reamin true to his troth, Odette will be freed from the enchantment that requires her to be a swan by day, and a woman only at night.
Back at the castle, the Prince's mother has laid on a grand ball and invited the princesses of neigboring nations to attend in hopes Siegfreid will find one of them acceptable. Rothbart enters, accompanied by his daughter, Odile, whom he has enchanted to be the image of Odette. (As with most modern productions Odette and Odile were danced by the same dancer, Aleksandrova.)Failing to see through the glamour, Seigfried announces that he will marry Odile, and no other. However, the spell is broken when the company sees the vision of a white swan frantically beating her wings against the high window of the hall. Realizing he has been tricked into betraying Odette, Siegfreid rushes out.
At the lake of the swans, Seigfried begs Odette to forgive him. She is willing, but they are foiled by the fell power of Rothbart's curse. The Enchanter raises a storm that tears the couple apart and bears Odette away to her fate of being a swan forever, with Seigfreid left alone on the verge of the lake.
Whereas "Don Quixote" as a ballet is all about speed and flash in the dance, and "Coppelia" much concerned with character and storytelling, "Swan Lake" exists to be an expression of grace, beauty, and the subtle use of strength in the dance. Mariya Aleksandrova was splendid as Odette/Odile, having all those qualities in abundance. Her serene and soulful expression was perfect as Odette, with just the hint of an I-know-a-secret smile as Odile.
Skvortsov as Siegfreid likewise danced with grace and power, but was somewhat overshadowed not only by Odette, but also by Rothbart. This version gives the "evil genius" an expanded dance role, which Tsiskaridze worked to its fullest. Most of the time 'unseen' by the Prince, Rothbart hovers around him, sometimes leading, sometimes following, and making it clear he is pulling the Prince's strings. Rothbart was given a rather outre costume that reminded me of a pantomime Demon King, but it worked well for the role, underscoring Rothbart's inhumanity. Among the supporting cast, I must also mention Vyacheslav Lopatin, who danced the role of The Fool. This role has some very bravura dancing, and Lopatin was excellent.
Although this production was not perfect--on the big screen the occasional misstep is easy to see--it would be hard to imagine a better. As with all the Bolshoi productions we have seen, the corps and featured dancers were all drilled to the highest standard, with, as Georgie noted, as sharp a four cygnets as we have seen. We will be looking forward to a future season of ballet in HD.
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