Friday, October 20, 2006

A Dead Bird

"Swan Lake" Conservatory Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia, October 2, 2006

The Conservatory Theatre is part of the school where Tchaikovsky studied and taught. Imagine how many of his compositions debuted in that hall! We arrived to find the entrance and lobby in well-preserved condition. To our horror, the interior of the house had been butchered in what looked like a mid-twentieth century Soviet renovation. Just dreadful!!

The act curtain seemed based on an older more classic design with fringe and other passementerie - very much at odds with the severe and bland appearance of the house.

Hopes for a true Russian ballet in the best sense were dashed as the curtain went up to reveal one of the ugliest Swan Lake sets I've ever seen. Programs were not included with admission, so I will not be able to accuse identify either designers or dancers by name.

Act I brought out the cast in a mish-mash of costumes. Blue was the apparent theme, however, no two garments managed to share the same shade - anywhere! Our guide on the bus had prepared us for the choreography originally set by Marius Petipa. (On occasion a ballet director will have the artistic need to make some modifications to original choreography to suit either a particular dancer, or perhaps make new interpretive choices. This is typically noted in a program as "Choreography after..." ) Not recognizing a single move in Act I, I commented that the evening's choreography was "after Petipa and Ivanov were dead and spinning in their respective graves."

Prince Sigfried's only connection to his character was his age. Incapable of acting and merely acquainted with the steps, he created a vaccuum of performance energy every moment he spent on stage.

Our Odette/Odile, performed without an iota of emotion. Technically weak, she did manage one or two very nice penche' arabesques.

Von Rothbart was one of the largest dancers I've seen on a stage. Credit him for at least trying to bring some interest to this tired and under-rehearsed prduction. Only the female corps de ballet offered any visual interest and they were spotty at best. When the swans entered wearing romantic tutus, I immediately longed for the opera gloves and chest hair sported by Ballet Trockadero De Monte Carlo. Say what you will about the Trocks, their Swan Lake Act I, Scene 2 was far superior to what we were forced to endure - those boys can dance!

Adding final insult to final injury, this production chose the "happy ending" instead of the traditional tragic end. I had to look around to make sure I was really in Russia!

If this performance is representative of the quality of dance instruction at the Conservatory, their administration needs to find new artistic direction.

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