Tuesday, November 12, 2013

National Ballet of Canada Stages a Classic

I didn't want to let the opportunity to see the classic ballet Swan Lake pass by, yet not wanting to spend a considerable amount of money (ballet tickets are one of the most expensive in town), I opted to try for a rush ticket.  That didn't exactly work out but standing room did!  The absolute cheapest way to see some pretty fantastic ballet!  The rough story line of Swan Lake is well known.  My favourite version is the one told by Tchaikovsky himself (well how it could be imagined he'd tell it) in Tchaikovsky Discover's America.  There was some deviation from that since choreographers take license and obviously there are sections of music purely for the opportunity to put a solo or group number, but I enjoyed it.

Act 1 is the Hunting Ground where Siegfried (Piotr Stanczyk at the performance I saw) is melancholy even though it's his birthday.  So what else to do in a ballet, but to dance and try to cheer up the Prince.  The program notes describe the dances as "growing increasing unsettling and violent".  This is true, but one of the most exciting parts was the wench (Jordana Daumec) being thrown between the knights and servants.  There's actually only that one main female dancing part in Act 1.  The rest is a chance for the men to show their power with leaps and jumps.

What surprised me the most was that the famous theme from Swan Lake didn't have any swans dancing to it!  It is first heard in Act 2 when Benno (the Prince's friend) and Siegfried are walking through the forest going hunting for the swans.  There's not really any dancing to it at all, it's more scene change music as trees fly in and out symbolizing their travelling to the marsh.
The company (Photo by Bruce Zinger)
Now the swans get to dance, and here the artists of the ballet were awesome!  This is what I came to see, about 20 dancers in the classical white tutus floating around the stage.  We meet Odette (Sonia Rodriguez) and the duets between her and Siegfried were impressive.  If only all it took to fall in love was one dance.  In these duets the fantastic playing of the orchestra was especially apparent with cello and violin solos.  I do love how Tchaikovsky has various instruments take over a phrase and passes it around the orchestra.  The fact that it can sound like one instrument is a testament to the skill of the players.

Rebekah Rimsey as the
Hungarian Princess from a
previous performance
(photo by David Cooper)
Act 3 is in the ballroom where Siegfried is being forced to choose a wife from four princesses: Hungarian (Stephanie Hutchison), Russian (Elena Lobsonova), Spanish (Tiffany Mosher), and Italian (Shino Mori).  Each of course gets a dance and a chance to woo the Prince.  They were all good and I liked how the styles fit the country.  The Italian was my favourite though, maybe because I also recognized that bit of music (which seems to also be called the Neapolitan Dance).

Of course Siegfried has already fallen in love, so can't choose one of the princesses.  But, surprise, suddenly there's another lady, dressed in black, who looks exactly like Odette!  Unknown to Siegfried it's actually Odile, brought by the evil villain Rothbart.  Of course they dance and here Sonia was deliciously sensuous and seducing.  If Siegfried wasn't already in love with her, he would have been!  The black swan pas de duex is where the 32 fouette turns come it and to my untrained eye Sonia looked spot on.  The ballerina gets all the glory but Piotr's set of turns just after it were pretty stunning too.  (Similar choreography here, with a different ballet company)

Siegfried's choosing of Odile brings calamity as he's betrayed Odette, and a flood sweeps through killing everyone.  This was the moment where I was most awed and it was by the use of a simple piece of silk.  The silk was used as the water and was held on the sides by dancers and swept in circles causing people to be engulfed or ejected.  Then just as quickly as it appeared, Rothbart arrives, grabs the silk in the middle and it collapses in spectacular fashion as he runs off stage with it.  Simple yet so effective.

Artists of the National Ballet
(photo by David Cooper)
Back at the lakeside for Act 4, the host of swans have now turned black and dance (the famous Tchaikovsky melody reappears) while Siegfried stands at the back on the driftwood/rocks pining for Odette.  She forgives him but a storm appears.  Siegfried fights Rothbart and when the dust clears Odette is left to mourn her dead Prince.

Not a happy ending, but with the wonderful music and dancing it was a very happy way to spend an afternoon.  The National Ballet is bringing it back in March so there's still a chance to check it out if you missed it.

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