Russian Grand Ballet’s Swan Lake Cranes For Splendor But Loses Its Essence


Reprinted with permission from the Russian Grand Ballet.

Crystal Sung, Editor in Chief

It was with anticipation that I bought my ticket for the classic ballet Swan Lake, brought by the Russian Grand Ballet to a familiar stage at the Escondido Performing Arts Centre, one that I have danced on many times.

Despite claiming to possess “Russia and Ukraine’s brightest ballet stars,” the company fell short of my already modest expectations.

Starting with the first act, the dancers fumbled mechanically through their village dances with no expression of courtly cavorting whatsoever, making for a very bland half hour. Only Denis Chernyak as the Jester brought some smiles with his lewd charm and smatterings of applause for his spectacular tours. I was also disappointed that the variations in the pas de trois were entirely omitted in favor of reserving energy for the coda, though Dmitry Vasilev’s sky-splitting leaps were truly exceptional.

The same corps de ballet was mediocre as the white swans, their port de bras more lackluster waving than truly feeling. When it came to choreography, the director did not use the dynamics of the music to the corps’ advantage. The only things that saved the second act were a stellar Dance of the Four Cygnets and a perfectly-coordinated Dance of the Three Big Swans.

In the third act at the ball, Olga Kifyak was a skittish Odette, but shone as the wickedly coy Odile in the third act. Her acting was superb, her extensions in the pas de deux sky-high and her 32 fouettes razor-sharp. Her power was clearly much better suited to Odile’s understated aggression than Odette’s fragility.

As for Prince Siegfried, he cut a stately figure throughout the whole ballet, but did minimal dancing. His poses were so far posed as to seem almost laughable, and the couple of double-tours he did as part of his famous variation were unremarkable. Although I can understand reserving energy for the coda, the absence of all the variations detracted greatly from the ballet for me.

The last act was, frankly, a let-down compared to the hype the company gave to the little-seen white swan vs. black swan battle. With the exception of von Rothbart’s repetitive moves, there was no dancing — that is, unless you count the swans’ stiff flapping and Siegfried’s slow procession around and around the stage “chasing” after his love. My penchant for the dramatic death scene was left ungratified, as Siegfried killed von Rothbart by stripping off a Velcroed wing (yes, it was that loud). Just like that, prince and princess embrace, ready for a life happily ever after.

My conclusion: the lack of expression and variations in this production made for a bland performance in the eyes of someone who is a dancer herself and stripped Swan Lake of all that makes it acclaimed, but the production might still provide an evening of entertainment for those willing to pay for a second-rate performance.