Wed, Jul 24, 2019 - Page 13 News List

A somewhat muted ‘Swan’

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Timur Askerov danced the role of Prince Siegfried in the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet Company’s performance of Swan Lake at the National Theater on Friday last week.

Photo courtesy of Valentin Baranovsky / State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The National Theater in Taipei was packed on Friday night last week to see the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet Company’s second performance of Swan Lake in its four-show run, thanks to Management of New Arts (MNA) promotions.

Despite its being the company’s fifth appearance in Taipei, and the very high ticket prices, the desire to see such a legendary company appears as strong as ever among Taiwan’s well-heeled. It is very expensive to bring such a large company, or even half of it, plus a good portion of the theater’s orchestra and crew on tour, along with the elaborate sets and costumes: air fare and air freight does not come cheap.

It was wonderful to see such elaborate staging and to hear Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score. If only all of the dancing had lived up to expectations.

Perhaps I had set the bar too high, given that I have seen Swan Lake performed by many companies, including the Mariinsky, but this is a ballet that demands drama, and a lot of emoting on the part of the lead dancers.

I cannot fault Ekaterina Kondaurova and Timur Askerov as Odette-Odile and Prince Siegfried, although I found Kondaurova better as Odette than as the evil black swan in Act III, and Askerov looks every inch a prince.

The problem is that the company has turned Konstantin Sergeyev’s 1950 restaging of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s 1895 version of the ballet into the equivalent of museum piece. The dancing is clean and faithful to Petipa and Ivanov and the corps de ballet’s swans are always magnificent, but all the passion and drama has been smoothed away.

While Kondaurova was believable as the enchanted swan princess, it was harder to believe that Askerov was besotted with her, and she had to be practically dying at his feet in Act IV to get him to think about fighting for her.

Most of all, if a company is going to stick with the Soviet-era mandated take of good triumphing over evil and a happy ending — in which Siegfried defeats the magician Von Rothbart so that he can live happily ever after with Odette instead of plunging off a cliff into the lake with her to break the magician’s spell over the swan maidens — there should be a clash between the two men worthy of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Instead, Askerov barely grappled with Roman Belyakov — who had been appropriately dastardly as Von Rothbart and gets great elevation in his jumps and jetes, not to mention impressively dying — removing one of his wings almost as an afterthought and then standing holding it as if it were a used tissue he did not know what to do with.

It was enough to make one yearn for the good old suicides seen in most non-Russian productions.

But the swans, the swans — having a chance to watch the corps de ballet’s white swans (and the eight black ones in the final act) — was enough to leave the theater on a high note. If not perfection, they were very close.

YOUNG CHOREOGRAPHER PROJECT

I was not expecting perfection on Saturday as I traveled to Kaohsiung to see the show that caps this year’s International Young Choreographer Project at Tsoying Senior High School, just something fun.

Organized by the World Dance Alliance-Asia Pacific, every two years the project is held in Kaohsiung, bringing together choreographers from Asia, North America, Europe and Taiwan for three weeks to create new works on dance students from Taiwan and Asia.

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