Richardson — Despite the resurgence of tensions between the United States and Russia, the dance world has the Russians to thank for the most popular classical ballet, Swan Lake. Swan Lake is to ballet what the book of Genesis is to the Judeo-Christian faith. Even outsiders understand the gravity each has in their communities and are vaguely familiar with the works. Dance enthusiasts and casual onlookers alike go to the ballet to see Swan Lake just as religious and non-religious people entertain the story of Adam, Eve and the snake.
On Oct. 20, the Russian Grand Ballet made a stop at the Eisemann Center for the Arts to perform the famous ballet. A diverse crowd flocked to the performance hall to hear Tchaikovsky’s sweeping, heart-wrenching ballad of Act II and good versus evil battle it out in the form of white and black swans.
A beautiful painted palace backdrop that extended onto the wings loomed as 24 men and women dressed in eveningwear waltzed around the stage. The mood however did not reflect the grand setting and celebratory music in honor of Prince Siegfried’s 21st birthday. The corps de ballet grimly and stiffly went through the motions, dissipating the enchantment of the 19th-century party. It wasn’t until the entrance of the striking Prince Siegfried, danced by Eugeny Svetlitsa, and his mother where the ballet gained momentum. Siegfried pantomimed to the queen his frustration of being forced to select a bride by the following night. Discouraged by the queen’s response, Siegfried took up his crossbow for a nightly hunt in the woods.
Although the Russian Grand Ballet advertised that they would be performing the full-length version of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s Swan Lake that was “lovingly retouched” by the company’s ballet master Andrey Litvinov, it was evident that the ballet had heavily been edited.
Upon meeting, Siegfried and the mythical Swan Queen Odette, danced by Olga Kifyak, skipped over the pantomime exchange that explains the conflict. The audience isn’t informed on who Odette is, why the sorcerer Von Rotbart turned her in a swan, and how the curse can be only broken by true, unadulterated love. Instead the audience had to settle for the synopsis provided in the program. The sorcerer trailed oddly behind Siegfried and then disappeared as the prince and Odette went straight into their duet. As the sustained musical notes plummeted lower into grandiose melodies, Kifyak masterfully pitched herself forward and extended her leg into a 180-degree line or arched back into the iconic swan pose. Syetlitsa dutifully partnered her and held himself with great poise. And yet, there was a missing element. Their movements and emotions felt contained and didn’t fully fulfill Tchaikovsky’s beautiful musical score. In their defense, there is only so much artists can give of themselves while touring 45 cities.
The lovers run off stage and the corp de ballet swans emerged from the perimeter tableau. The famous Big Swans glided within their variation, the Little Swans executed quick, difficult footwork in their pas de quatre, and the audience went into intermission jauntily humming.
The curtain opened to the castle setting and a much more lively group comprised of Spaniards dancing salsa, Hungarians dancing a czardas, and Polish dancing a mazurka. Four noblewomen lined up for the prince to select as his bride, but Siegfried walked in a lovesick trance past them all wondering if he’ll ever see Odette again.
Kifyak stepped onto stag boldly; dressed in a black tutu to portray the wicked Odile. Trailing behind her was the sorcerer in a flimsy cape. Their devious plot to trick Siegfried to fall for Odette’s evil doppelgänger brought out a ferocious spirit in Kifyak. She danced confidently beyond her comfort zone. Her 32 fouettés established her control over Siegfried, shattered Odette’s chance at breaking the curse, and electrified the stage.
The 19th century choreographers Petipa and Ivanov were not honored in the final act, instead the Russian dance company opted for the Disney-version, fairytale ending. Instead of witnessing both Odette and Siegfried take their own lives to be with one another in the afterlife, Siegfried and the swans overtook Von Rotbart by ripping off his wing. Odette is freed and united with her lover.
The American happily-ever-after outcome cheapened the hours invested into a ballet originally created in Russia during a time where nihilism was popular. Nonetheless the company received a standing ovation from a audience of all walks of life. The dancers seemed relieved that city number 20 could be crossed off the list.