Finnish National Ballet
Finnish National Ballet
Kenneth Greve’s Swan Lake (after Petipa and Ivanov)
November 27, 2009
Reviewed by Elizabeth Kendall
Salla Eerola, Andrew Bowman, and corps de ballet in Kenneth Greve’s
Swan Lake. Photo by Sakari Viika, Courtesy Finnish National Opera.
After directing the Finnish National Ballet for a year and half, former Danish principal dancer Kenneth Greve has mounted his own Swan Lake. Overall, the 75-dancer company looks wonderful in it, offering proof of effective changes in morale. The corps de ballet dances eagerly and neatly. Soloists like Samuli Poutanen and Wilfried Jacobs have found new depths of expression. And ballerina Salla Eerola has matured into a marvelous Swan Queen. The compact Eerola doesn’t have a long, attenuated line, but her dancing displays something like Finnish opera star Karita Mattila’s sleek mix of Nordic stolidity and emotional extravagance.
The problem is that this production (which I attended as a guest of the company) doesn’t give the Swan Queen enough to do. Or rather, it doesn’t give her the means to show us her desperate sorrow at loving a mortal while trapped in a swan’s body. It’s because of Greve’s retooling of the dramaturgy. This Swan Lake isn’t so much about love between the prince and swan/woman, as about the prince’s inner torment, his hatred of Von Rothbart (who’s courting his mother— shades of Hamlet), and his confusion about his devoted friend, Benno.
Yes, Benno is back, that slightly inexplicable ghost from Petipa’s Russian production, who helped the first Siegfried (Pavel Gerdt) partner the Swan Queen in the famous pas de deux/trois. In Greve’s Swan Lake, Benno becomes the prince’s best friend from childhood, who can’t bear his going off to romance a female, whether swan or woman.
Some things work well here: the overture prologue, showing the sad boy-prince mourning his dead father, with the merry boy-Benno (though it mimics, uncredited, a charming 2005 Finnish Children’s Ballet I saw three years ago, Lake of the Little Swans, by Sami Saikkonen). Also beautiful is a “lake” of wavery light, into which the prince jumps twice, to be rescued by a mock-naked Swan Queen. Nor is a Benno-like best friend illogical, since Tchaikovsky wrote Swan Lake as he was trying to make himself marry. And turning Von Rothbart into a Claudius-like suitor for the Queen Mom’s hand helps explain the prince’s torment.
Onstage though, such fancy innovations go awry: Benno being “changed” flutteringly into the Black Swan (yes, Odette is supposed to be a transformed Benno); Von Rothbart staggering around with a gold arrow in his gut. And in the end, so much male angst deflects the focus from the Swan Queen and her sorrowing sister-reflections, as well as disrupting the logic of the score, cut up accordingly. Tchaikovsky had the grace to let the ballerina and the female corps carry the grief and torment presumably in his own heart. In Greve’s Swan Lake, the ballerina becomes incidental to the drama among the guys (she’s passed at times simply back and forth between prince and Rothbart). Sometimes this production manages an excitement that other Swan Lake revisers might do well to look at. But the heart of the ballet, which must reside in the Swan Queen’s own sorrowing heart, goes missing.