Monday, January 20, 2020

Shanghai Ballet's Swan Lake

Shanghai Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo: North America Photography Association
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the Shanghai Ballet’s Swan Lake did not include the swans in the formation of a heart (at least through the curtain call), as their marketing images showed. It did, however, have many, many formations made by up to 48 swans massing on the Koch Theater stage. Mostly grids of incredible precision and symmetry, with subtle arm movements like rippling water, paired with subtle head angles, but also wheels, wedges, and lines, to mesmerizing effect.

This 1997 version of Marius Petipa’s Swan Lake, by Derek Deane, artistic director of Shanghai Ballet, is slightly bloodless, if undeniably gorgeous. My “native” Swan Lake is ABT’s rendition by Kevin McKenzie, and thus I can’t help but compare all other versions to it. In the Shanghai Swan, Prince Siegfried (David Trzensimiech, guest artist), is less the honoree at his coming-of-age party than remote observer, sitting on the sidelines as his guests frolic. (In ABT’s, he is literally the center of attention, lofted onto the shoulders of his pals as the maypole dancers explode in cascading jumps and turns radiating outward.) Thus there is less contrast between the outwardly beloved prince and inwardly unhappy and unfulfilled youth, and less empathy. Trzensimiech has well-articulated legs and high-arched feet, and soars in split grand jetés, but remains unsympathetic due in part to a lack of characterization.

Shanghai Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo: North America Photography Association
Odette/Odile was danced by Maria Kochetkova, a guest artist, who is a lovely, skilled dancer familiar to New York audiences, which—no offense to her—was a disappointment. What does it say about a large, 40-year-old ballet company that doesn’t cast from within for just four performances of Swan Lake? (Zi Bingxue and Wu Husheng comprised the other cast.) From all indications, the technical level is high throughout its ranks. Why not give another pair some deserved international exposure, and communicate confidence within the company?

The role of Von Rothbart (Wu Bin) relies heavily on a pair of massive, foliage-like wings which he flaps relentlessly. While he takes on the presence almost of a conductor, at one point standing downstage before a wedge of swans, he doesn’t dance much. (Compare the delightful purple boot solo in the McKenzie, when the human Von Rothbart displays his dancing chops.) Many of the core passages remain faithful to Petipa’s choreography—the act one pas de trois, the main pas de deuxs, the swan quartet. The large corps scenes tend to be orderly and linear, if often exercises in traffic management due to the stage’s size. (The production would have benefited by being at the Met Opera house, which is easy to say and, practically speaking, not to achieve.) One of the most thrilling scenes opened with a dense bank of fog, from which swans rose row by row, like phantasms. 

The New York City Ballet Orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s haunting score, conducted by Charles Barker, who is affiliated with ABT. While the ballet didn’t suffer from this collaborative approach, it would’ve been far more satisfying to see some home-grown talent in the alternate cast leads.

No comments: