Stanislavsky Ballet

May 17, 2011

Stanislavsky Ballet
Swan Lake

Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre

Moscow, Russia

April 23, 2011

By Laura Cappelle

Evgenia Obraztsova as Odette. © Vadim Lapin. Courtesy Stanislavsky.

Aesthetic trends are powerful beasts, and no 19th-century ballet has been more affected by them than Swan Lake. The tall stature, streamlined extensions, and sense of verticality favored in today’s ballerinas have found a home in the double role of Odette/Odile. Russian companies in particular have embraced these changes with almost fanatical reverence, and at the Kirov (Maryinsky) Ballet, where the role is a must to be considered for promotion to Principal, this has created a peculiar impasse for petite ballerinas. Like Diana Vishneva before her, Yevgenia Obraztsova therefore decided to make her debut in the ballet with another company, Moscow’s Stanislavsky Ballet, where she has been a guest soloist since 2010.

And despite the stakes, her single performance turned out to be an eye-opening event. We need to be reminded that Odette was originally a fairytale creature, not a tragic queen performing her greatest monologues, and Obraztsova does just that. A natural soubrette who cannot rely on her long limbs to do the work, she goes back to the core of Russian lyricism in Act II – arms flowing fluidly from deep in the back; still, organic poses; delicately shaped transitions. Ever the thinking dancer, she compensates for her shorter lines by stretching into fondus on pointe or drawing attention to her filigree Vaganova ports de bras. Her swan is a frightened, tender princess, a natural interpretation for a dancer better known as Juliet or Giselle, but with room for  development.

Her Odile was the real surprise, and this 1953 production by Vladimir Bourmeister allowed her to delve deeply into the sinister side of her character. An idiosyncratic take on the ballet, it emphasizes dramatic coherence over bravura set pieces and takes the notion of deceit much further than usual in Act III. The Black Swan makes fleeting appearances during the darkly exotic national dances performed by Rothbart’s court, a dangerous illusion-made-woman who lures Siegfried into a pas de deux performed mostly to the usually discarded original score, made famous by Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky pas de deux.

And who would have thought the sweet, luminous Obraztsova had such a sensual Odile in her? She projects with attack and accents what it takes powerhouse technique for others to achieve. Her luscious account of the pas de deux was a masterclass in acting, with just the right staccato épaulement and exultant response to Siegfried and Rothbart. Her extraordinary use of her eyes, in particular—their ferocious, unerring focus throughout—combined with a technique she has fine-tuned over the years to credibly take on virtuoso roles (fast, strong fouettés, a buoyant jump), made for a bewitching Black Swan, as theatrical as the production itself.

Semyon Chudin, a tall dancer endowed with a remarkably smooth technique, was an appropriate Siegfried, and the corps de ballet gave a remarkable account of the white acts and the national dances. Given the new repertoire the company has acquired under Sergei Filin, it’s high time we saw them again in the West. Their Swan Lake, an elegant, no-nonsense alternative to the Maryinsky and Bolshoi versions, even provides a credible happy ending in which Odette is turned back into a princess—a conclusion tailor-made for Obraztsova, who is only waiting for her own fairytale ending at the Kirov.