George Balanchine once wished that every ballet was named “Swan Lake.” He knew that the romantic fantasy could draw a crowd. And on Saturday night at Proctors, it did.
The Russian National Ballet presented its version of the Tchaikovsky classic to a nearly sold-out crowd. And while most ballet fans in the audience are familiar with the old fable of a prince who falls in love with a bewitched swan, the crowd greeted every highlight with cheers.
Much of it was deserved. But in watching this 50-member ballet company, one is reminded that this is the second string ensemble when compared to big ballet institutions in Russia. This Moscow-based group, despite its impressive name, is more on par with an American regional company, where adequate is good enough.
This was a nicely drawn work, however. The costumes, as with even the smallest of Russian companies, were gorgeous. They were impeccably fitted and designed with an eye for color and physical flattery. But the dancers had shabby shoes.
The settings, of the ornate castle and the glowing lake, were also bright. But the dancing done within its frame was hit-and-miss. And there were portions of the story that were omitted. Apparently, since “Swan Lake” has been done for more than a century, the company expects audiences know the narrative. For example, the mother of Prince Siegfried never told him he had to marry. But that is the whole point of his birthday party, where love is found and lost, to pick a bride.
Happily though, the main characters pulled off their parts adeptly. The story centers on the swan, Odette, and her evil imposter Odile, danced by the same ballerina. Maria Poliudova danced the role with amazing technical skill. She was solid in her balances and her turns (those Russians really know how to spin). But she came off icy. As Odette, she does not convey the shivering vulnerability that one expects from a frail princess trapped in a swan’s body. And she will stay like that until a prince comes along and promises to love her forever. Despite her cool temperament, Siegfried, danced by Vladimir Statniy, did vow his fidelity. Yet he tossed it away when he met Odile, posed as Odette to trick him.
While unconvincing as Odette, Poliudova was marvelous as Odile. Her chilly disposition was ideal for the cunning Odile.
Statniy, on the other hand, did not embody technical perfection as he danced slightly turned in. To his credit, though, he bore his feelings of love and betrayal clearly making every woman fall in love with him.
Another standout was Kuat Karibaev as the Jester. He was a bouncing, bright ball that enlivened every scene he inhabited.
Less than stellar was Alexander Daev as the cruel Von Rothbart, who kept Odette under his spell. His dancing was too jerky and stiff to be enjoyable. Also disappointing was the cute pas de quartet for the swans. The key to this little interlude is synchronicity. They were off.
All in all, Russian National Ballet’s production was a few notches above mediocre. An excellent version always bring tears.