Perm Ballet Swan Lake

Mariinsky Theatre - XVII International Festival Mariinsky

5 April 2017

Alexei Miroschnichenko is not new to choreography. With experience settings works in New York, Belgium, Saint Petersburg, and beyond, it was his early exposure to creating that led to his appointment as balletmaster of the Perm State Ballet troupe in 2009. In a collaborative effort as part of this year's XVII International Ballet Festival Mariinsky, he presented his version of Swan Lake based on a libretto by Vladimir Begichev. This version eschews the politically correct happy ending of the Mariinsky's current Soviet version, and instead presents a new slant on the traditional double-suicide finale. A somber, but more realistic closure to the classical work.

Bedecked in rich velvet and brocades in maroon and grey tones, almost Venetian in style, the members of the court immediately created an atmosphere of old world wealth in the first scene. Instead of shifting to a purely contemporary rendition of the ballet, the choreography here relies mostly on Petipa with the formations altered. The staging resembles the Mariinsky's in many respects, save for wing pieces that cut into the stage area, reducing the dancing space. Four solo courtiers execute a set of double tours in perfect unison prior to the waltz, which returns the use of stools (on which the ladies step and pose), adding an additional layer of geometry to the visual presentation. Our Siegfried of the evening, Nikita Chetverikov, cut a noble figure on stage with long, slender limbs and supple arches that resemble those of Xander Parish. If Chetverikov along with most troupe members kept arabesques at a staid 90-degree level form the floor, the reserve did not lessen the effect of the dance, instead adding an air of tasteful academicism.

In this production, Rothbart's appearance in the Prologue is an ominous foreboding of what is to come. He first  appears in the window of Siegfried's bedroom, awakening him as if part of a nightmare. He then manifests suddenly in the first scene on both sides of the stage during the celebrations of Siegfried's birthday, though only Siegfried sees him. When Siegfried begins his hunt, he finally descends from his high rock upstage and thereafter no longer hides his presence. For better or worse, Rothbart holds all the power in this production, and it is he who causes the demise of the two lovers -- a sobering commentary on the fragility and luck involved in true love.

Inna Bilash, a small-boned beauty with a tiny waist, carefully sculpted legs, languorous port de bras and lovely arches, danced Odette. Her tutu, matched by those on all the corps members, echoed the original late 19th century designs (models used for the Baryshnikov production in the 1980s as well), slightly longer in the back and falling more like a romantic tutu, with more layers of tulle. This costume design infuses a unique touch but luckily does not distract significantly from the choreography.

Several steps in the White Swan Pas de Deux were adapted (no rotation during the first two overhead lifts) and the pirouettes at the end were separated by a pose in attitude devant, shifting to attitude derrière.

These minor adjustments alter little as the dancers emitted tenderness, emulating the best of Act I's romanticism.

In the same act, the pas de quatre of small swans displayed precision timing in their head movements; the four large swans danced their section expansively.

The Act II dances also shifted, both in form and content. A Russian national dance to Tchaikovsky's music for the same was added with a couple dressed in traditional folk wear, proving a clever addition that acknowledges Russia's heritage within this classical ballet. Albina Rangulova danced the vibrant Russian with quick bourrées in sixth position and plenty of épaulement alongside Ivan Poroshin. The Spanish, Hungarian, Neopolitan and the Mazurka rounded out the other groups.

Bilash's Odile was no less strong than her Odette, decorated with double piqué turns and 30 fouettés in the respective sections. Chetverikov delivered his double cabrioles and split jetés cleanly and seemed utterly taken by this strange visitor to the ball.

In this version, at the end of the Black Swan pas de deux, the moment of truth comes. Siegfried, entranced by the black-haired beauty, is ready to commit, but  Rothbart manipulates him a step further. "Do  you find her beautiful?" he mimes. Siegfried nods. "Do you want to marry her?" he asks again, and Siegfried nods. "Then swear true love," Rothbart demands. Siegfried's pledge sets his eventual demise in motion. Here the reaction of the guests differs from the Mariinsky version: the crowd freezes and only Siegfried moves. Then they suddenly close in on him, pointing fingers, emphasizing his guilt: are the guests too, just a figment of Siegfried's imagination?

Act III opens with an eery allure, a foggy Lakeside scene, the mist covering the swans up to knee level. Unique formations of twelve, eight and six swans follow, in which the slow movement evokes the lament of the swans and their queen, Odette. Rothbart enters with his entourage of black swans and his magic manages to kill Odette; she is left lifeless on center stage. She is lifted by fellow swans overhead and carried offstage in a funeral-like procession. Siegfried, realising he cannot save her, attacks Rothbart and is thrown to the floor, killed in a single blow.

In the final scene as the huntsmen rush in, Siegfried's friend Benno is struck with grief, crying over Siegfried's body, while we see both Odette and Siegfried --rather, their souls-- fly off into the sky in the upstage scrim.

The focus on evil, on dream vs. reality, and the slight adjustments to this production do not detract from the overall message of Lake and instead render Miroschnichenko's version fresh and unique. It is a testament to the artistic director's toil that this Ural-based troupe continues to uphold Vaganova traditions in their performance practices, and that a mixture of new and old can render a historical production intriguing and engaging.

Artyem Abashev directed the Mariinsky orchestra for this performance.