Monday, March 17, 2014

LAC—A Stylish, Rejiggered Swan Lake

Anja Behrend as the White Swan, Stephan Bourgond as the Prince. Photo by Angela Sterling
Cliché alert: absence does make the heart grow fonder. After seeing Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo perform Jean-Christophe Maillot's LAC at City Center, I realized what makes me so fond of my adopted version, by Petipa/Ivanov, currently in ABT's repertory. But first, about this new version, which, because of its foundation, begs to be discussed in relation to the classic version.

LAC takes place in modern times, with minimal sets; the women's costumes and the overall styling make the grandest statements. The music (written by Tchaikovsky—credited nowhere—with additional music by Bertrand Maillot) is rearranged. The story is taken apart and reassembled to incorporate Her Majesty of the Night (a female Von Rothbart) who may have borne a child with the king, with whom she can't stop flirting, understandably driving the continually suffering Queen mad; the daughter is a version of the Black Swan, who is  covertly swapped for the White Swan as the Prince's betrothed. White is cursed to be human at night, and a bird by day, indicated by feathered gloves that make her look like a team mascot. The Prince is spineless and confused by the sterotyped, annoying women vying for his hand, as well as his Confidant, who can't stop pranking him. Her Majesty is the most interesting character; she comes with two acolytes who carry her ashoulder, handle her cloak, and ripple her arms as needed.

The inventive, haute-couture womens' costumes (by Philippe Guillotel) push beyond the norm. Many are versions of a sleek, fitted bodice of lace with a long, accordion pleated skirt. The line is columnar, but the skirts flare out for dramatic turns and leg extensions. The white gowns worn for the final ball follow the same elegant conformation. The swans wear short shifts with tufts and feather-fingered gloves; legs are bare and they wear matte pointe shoes for an unbroken leg line. To indicate that the Black Swan is disguised as the White, the dress' tufts are ombréed gray. Her Majesty's costume is a blue-black corset tunic with sprouting feather fringe. The mens' costumes are fairly generic short jackets and knickers; the Prince's silver lamé getup is particularly unbecoming. (It was good to see Christian Tworzyanksi in the ensemble, a longtime member of New York City Ballet.)

Maillot's movement phrases connect swells, swoops, and other musical dynamics. It can be quotidien and widely sourced—bawdy hip-thrusting hops, energetic military drills, chest bumps, rough housing, or girlish prancing on pointe. The sections for the many swans carry the most power; they bend forward at the waist, and pound the floor with one toe box, standing upright abruptly to demonstrate birdlike alarm. Highly articulated feet, sometimes in forced arches, and tautly extended legs are company signatures. Instead of going for high romance, the big pas de deux becomes a snapshot of young adults playing like children who are best friends. Alvaro Prieto (King), Maude Sabourin (Majesty of the Night), Noelani Pantastico (Indifferent One), and Jeroen Verbruggen (Prince's Confidant) excelled in their roles, which were the juiciest and most physically expressive.

Mimoza Koike as the Queen and Alvaro Prieto as the King. Photo by Doug Gifford
The re-ordering and re-assignment of the music to different subplots can be mentally vexing. For me, the reason the Petipa/Ivanov Swan Lake works so wonderfully is that the musical themes pair well with the storyline, and the classical ballet vocabulary is perfectly suited to describing these narratives. (I realize some of this might be Pavlovian at this point.) Taking it apart and putting it back together out of order makes LAC feel like Frankensteinian. Even the solid musical and narrative bones of the original can only take so much bending and stretching. I'll give LAC plenty of points for style, though. Now if only old Tchaikovsky could receive some credit...

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