Intense Performance from Liliya Orekhova in Moscow City Ballet’s Swan Lake

United KingdomUnited Kingdom   Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake: Moscow City Ballet and Orchestra / Igor Shavruk (conductor),  Richmond Theatre, London, 16.1.2015. (J.OD)

Moscow City Ballet’s Swan Lake

Odette/Odile: Liliya Orekhova
Prince Siegfried: Talgat Kozhabaev
Von Rothbart: Denis Tyurin
Jester: Valeriy Kravstov
Benno: Andrei Zhuravlev
Girl friends: Anna Ivanova, Yuliya Zhuravleva
Tutor: Aleksandr Gavrilov
Prince’s Mother: Lyubov Lysak
Cygnets: Marina Larina, Yuliya Zhuravleva, Anna Ivanovna, Mariya Khrapova
Swans: Anastasia Shiladzhyan, Olga Kudrya, Bayan Beketayeva, Ai Yanokawa,
Hungarian Bride: Ekaterina Tokareva
Spanish Bride: Anna Ivanova
Neapolitan Bride: Yuliya Zhuravleva
Polish Brides: Olga Kudrya, Ai Yanokawa
Artists of the corps de ballet of Moscow City Ballet

Choreography: Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa, Agrippina Vaganova, Yuri Grigorovich, Natalia Ryzhenko, Victor Smirnov-Golovanov
Libretto: Vladimir Begichev, Vasily Geltzer
Version and Direction: Natalia Ryzhenko, Victor Smirnov-Golovanov
Designs: Natalia Povago
Costumes: Elisaveta Dvorkina

Like the production by the Mariinsky Ballet at the Royal Opera House last summer, Moscow City Ballet’s touring Swan Lake opens on a ballroom scene presided over by a jester (Valeriy Kravtsov). In the Richmond Theatre the ballroom is small, and sparsely populated., but a cleverly designed backdrop extends the space, and the stalwart dancers of Moscow City Ballet make it seem more crowded than it really is. The jester’s clown makeup, pirouettes and sideways splits set a cynical tone at the start. As it continues, the production shifts from cynicism to stark tragedy. At the end of Act One, the jester himself acts as a foil to the yearning arabesques that Prince Siegfried (Talgat Kozhabaev) performs to Tchaikovsky’s haunting music.

Siegfried’s mother (Lyubov Lysak) smiles with benevolence as she encourages her son to marry. This makes it all the more alarming when, at the start Act Two, Von Rothbart (the lithe Denis Tyurin) creeps up behind him by the lake. This winged figure wears a black body suit that covers every part of him but his face, which is painted white, blue and black. has the power of ancient, tribal art. A jewel of cold blue shines at his forehead. Below it the dancer’s, which are also blue, stare malevolently at Siegfried and the audience. He is, in short, a figure of startling menace.

Liliya Orekhova’s Odette is almost disquietingly sad, with always more of the bird than the woman about her. She holds her chest forward and her arms far back (like Maya Plisetskaya when photographed in the role in the 1960s). She darts away from Siegfried after they first meet. She gives tiny, bird-like shakes to her head

In the ballroom scene of Act Three, the princesses assembled as potential wives for Siegfried overlap with the act’s national dances to become the Hungarian, Spanish, Neopolitan and Polish Brides. Anna Ivanova begins the Spanish dance with a bold jeté; the music starts when she is in mid-air. Ai Yanokawa, as one of the Polish Brides, has softly moving arms and shoulders. The male dancers may resemble those of the pre-Nijinsky Ballets Russes who made such an impression, around 1910, on the founder of The Royal Ballet, Ninette de Valois.

As Rothbart’s daughter Odile (whom he brings to the palace to trick Siegfried into loving her), Orekhova transforms herself and is transformed in both her movements and her appearance. Although four black swans come with her, she begins the act in a tutu that is half white. Only later does she appear in one that is completely black. Before, she was downcast. Now, from under her jewelled and feathered headdress, she flashes a wide, fixed smile at Siegfried and the audience. So intense is this dancer’s performance, that when it comes to the fouettés her small, ceaselessly revolving figure at the back of the stage makes you almost want to cry out, ‘Stop!’. The silence when she finished, and before applause broke out from all parts of the auditorium, was stunning.

As he moves towards her along the line of the rejected ‘Brides’, Talgat Kozhabaev’s face expresses his growing doubt, about this woman to whom he is now betrothed. He quickly finds out, from her father, why he should be feeling doubtful. His mother faints. It is Von Rothbart who appears, triumphant, at the start of Act Four. The swans he summons up are both black and white. When she appears as Odette, there are traces of Odile’s lipstick and mascara on Orekhova’s face. But she is sad and bird-like again. Left alone with the white swans she stands like the tip of an arrow as they form two straight lines behind her. They may sympathise, but they can not take her place or share her destiny. Her destiny, after Siegfried and Von Rothbart have struggled, is to fall dead at the back of the stage. Siegfried, pushing his way through the white swans, joins her. The ballet ends with their shockingly slumped bodies half-visible through the legs of the swans who, impassive, on pointe and with their backs to the audience, continue to raise and lower their wing-like arms. There is no happy, after-life coda as in some other productions. At the front of the stage Von Rothbart gloats and the curtain falls.

John O’Dwyer

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