Thu, Aug 23, 2018 - Page 13 News List

A new flock of Moscow swans

The Moscow Classical Ballet has brought its 1988 version of ‘Swan Lake’ to Taipei, which includes a few variations rarely seen in other productions and a twist at the end

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

The sets for the Moscow Classical Ballet’s production of Swan Lake were created by British theatrical designer Tim Goodchild for the company’s 1988 tour of the UK. The company will perform five shows at the National Theater in Taipei this weekend.

Photo Courtesy of Moscow Classical Ballet

Decades ago, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union jealously guarded its famed ballet dancers, aware of the promotional value of tours by the Bolshoi Ballet and the then-Kirov Ballet, but fearful of defections by dancers eager to escape the artistic restrictions imposed by the government’s cultural censors.

All that began to change with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy of increased openness in the late 1980s, which led to greater artistic freedom and the creation of several new troupes that were able capitalize on the rich history of Russian classical ballet and make extensive tours abroad, such as the Russian Festival Ballet — now known as the Russian National Ballet Theater, and the Moscow City Ballet, as well relative newcomers like the Royal Moscow Ballet.

Sometimes it is hard to keep track of the companies, given the similarities of the names.

However, the history of the Moscow Classical Ballet, which opens at the National Theater in Taipei today, dates back to 1966, when it was founded as the State Academic Classical Ballet Theater under the Ministry of Culture, with Igor Moiseyev as artistic director.

The idea was to have a contemporary classical company that would present new works. The experiment did not last too long, as Yuri Zhdanov, who took over as director in 1971, began to add pieces from the 19th century golden era of Russian ballet. The troupe was also renamed the Classical Ballet.

Six years later, the husband and wife team of Vladimir Vasilyov and Natalia Kasatkina moved to the company from the Bolshoi Ballet to take up the roles of artistic director and principal choreographer respectively.

Under their leadership and with a new name, the company not only began to tour internationally, it developed a reputation for international collaboration while maintaining the standards of Russian classical ballet. It also became the launch pad for several dancers who went on to have careers with companies such as the Royal Ballet and the American Ballet Theater.

While Vasilyov died in August last year at the age of 86, Kastkina continues to lead the company.

The Vasilyov-Kastkina production of Swan Lake was one of their early international forays and made history, at least by Russian ballet standards, by being a joint Russian-English production, created for a tour of the UK in 1988.

Well-known British theatrical designer Tim Goodchild was hired to do the sets, while his compatriot Kim Baker designed the costumes.

While Vasilyov and Kastkina kept to 1917 Swan Lake revival choreographed by Maris Petipa and Lev Ivanov, they included later elements added to the Bolshoi’s version by Alexander Gorsky and Asaf Messerer, which became known as the “Old Moscow” version. They also added some of their own choreography, especially in Act I.

Their flock of swans might be smaller than normal, but are no less impressive in the key scenes.

Perhaps to please their original UK audiences used to “united in death” endings seen in Western versions of Swan Lake, Vasilyov and Kastkina departed from the standard Soviet “happy ending” that sees Prince Siegfried kill the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart to free the swan queen Odette from his curse so they can live happily ever.

In their three-act version — spoiler alert — Siegfried and Rothbart kill each other and Odette dies, falling onto her prince’s body, while the rest of the swan maidens go free. .

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