Mariinsky Ballet Swan Lake

I have to admit that I was quite hesitant to attend the Mariinsky Ballet’s Swan Lake at Zellerbach, having seen the ballet roughly ten times live now — so not only was I kind of sick of it, but also didn’t think that there would be much that any company could add, even if it was the Mariinsky (the company which the Petipa/Ivanov choreography was made) — and especially because we were laying down $175 a ticket for some nice seats. But boy I am glad that I was peer pressured into going to the show.

First, I will point out the negatives, just to get them over with. This version of Swan Lake was probably the least emotional and dramatic ones I’ve seen. Seriously, what’s with the happy ending? Isn’t this supposed to be a tragedy? The denouement doesn’t make sense at all without the sacrifice of Odette and Siegfried. In fact, most of the plot elements seem to have been stripped in this version. But oh well, who really cares about plot in a ballet? The ending still gives me goosebumps.

I think a bigger issue was the lack of drama, and a sense of lack of chemistry between the principals Evgeny Ivanchenko and Anastasia Kolegova in Act 2. Maybe it’s the choreography, maybe it’s just the Russian style, but I just didn’t feel the emotional connection there (their partnering was great, however). Kolegova’s Odette, while beautiful, felt too regal and not vulnerable enough. There wasn’t the chase or the heartbreaking sacrifice here (the choreography is probably partially to blame).

Kolegova’s Odile, however, was quite spectacular, maybe the best I’ve seen live. (Conferring with friends, I think Maria Kochetkova might be the best overall Odette/Odile I’ve had the privilege to see live. For just Odette, I think Sarah Van Patten still takes the cake for me.) Technically solid, incredible fouettes, with that slightly sadistic edge to her coquettishness: in other words, nearly flawless. For both the pdd and the variation, I was completely entranced. Although I still think that the Russian style fouettes just look a little weird…

The men and the soloists were okay, solid but not outstanding for a world-class company. Maybe it’s just that after seeing Cuban-trained and Bournonville danseurs, the Mariinsky men just seem to lack that explosive edge that makes things exciting. And the soloists in general were good, but nothing to write home about.

What was definitely worth writing about is the corps. You think that nothing in Swan Lake could surprise you, and then you see just how much the Mariinsky corps blows the rest of the field out of the water in Acts 2 and 4. It’s simply something that has to be seen to be believed: spectacular and magical how together they were. I can’t even imagine how much drilling is required to achieve that level of consistent timing. I don’t think they were off by more than a 16th note during some passages — you could hear 24 pairs of pointe shoes hitting the floor at the same time. Similarly, the four cygnets were impeccable feet-wise, although the head movements were slightly off at times (SFB has had as good cygnets in my opinion). The togetherness of the port de bras on the corps was absolutely unreal. Even the poses were immaculate and uniform, such as their B+ near the wings. It was well worth the ticket price just to see the corps at work. Totally made my week.

I don’t think the show was perfect, but overall it was probably the best Swan Lake I’ve ever seen, mostly because of the corps.