Total Pageviews

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sarah Lane's Swan Lake

Sarah Lane and Danil Simkin
Last night Sarah Lane made a last-minute substitution for an injured Maria Kochetkova in Swan Lake. This was Sarah's New York debut in the role, and after a banner season where she's triumphed in Ratmansky's Whipped Cream and Giselle, the buzz and anticipation in the sold-out auditorium was high. It was generally thought that if Sarah could bring down the house as Odette/Odile, a promotion to principal would happen.

Odette/Odile is not as natural of a fit for Lane as Giselle. Sarah Lane doesn't have a physique that screams "swan." She's petite and her limbs are beautifully proportioned but not elongated. Her extension is decent but without the height and dimensions she did not fit the aesthetic of the traditional Swan Queen. Also, she's a natural allegro dancer with fast limbs and quick footwork. (Whipped Cream took advantage of this to an absurd degree.) The drawn out adagio movements of Odette were sometimes clipped short -- no languorous poses. With that being said, it's remarkable what she was able to do as Odette. Her arms are soft and fluttery. Not the majestic flapping arms, but certainly boneless enough. She has a wonderfully flexible, pliant back. Her Odette variation was marvelous -- those sissones that seemed to scream "I want to be free!" along with a fast. exciting coda that established Odette's independent spirit. And as always with this dancer, there's this quiet intensity that is riveting to watch.


She had a worthy partner in Daniil Simkin. Simkin put aside his usual arsenal of tricks and partnered Sarah beautifully in the lakeside scene. The overhead lifts went off without a hitch. What's more, Simkin did something that also doesn't come naturally to him -- he emoted. This was a Siegfried who was in awe of Odette. He often lowered his head as if in obeisance to her. Simkin's youthful look gave us a reminder that this prince is young and wet behind the ears. He's not Albrecht.

After the white lakeside act was over the general consensus was that Sarah would have an easier time with Odile. Alas, this was not the case. Sarah's Odile came across as incomplete in characterization -- more rehearsal time no doubt would have helped. She smiled a lot directly towards the audience but didn't project much besides a vague coquettishness. The tender rapport that she and Simkin had in the lakeside scene did not carry over to the Black Swan pas de deux. There were a few partnering bobbles, nothing major, but enough to throw off the flow of the adagio. Sarah's Odile variation was technically fine, but she hasn't figured out the trick of dancing for the ballroom crowd yet. The exhibitionism that is very much a part of Odile wasn't there with Lane. And ... those 32 fouettés. Sarah started strong -- single, single, double, but abruptly stumbled out of them with some extra music to go, and couldn't hide her disappointment. So the moment of triumph for Odile was overshadowed by Lane's visibly crestfallen demeanor. There's no doubt Sarah has a better Swan Lake performance in her. Hope she's given another chance.

Speaking of those fouettés -- ABT audiences often complain that there's a lack of consistency and artistry in the 8 week Met season. Well, I'm just going to put it out there that ABT's audience is part of that problem. Much of the audience seems to only care about the fouettés (which is about one minute of music in a 2.5 hour ballet) -- after Sarah fell out of her sequence, she received nothing but golf claps. This couldn't have been good for her nerves and for her future performances. Likewise, Daniil did not get applause until he started doing his usual fast turns, double tours, and other tricks. As long as the audience continues to treat the ballet as a display of circus tricks, ABT has no reason to coach dancers to focus on the finer details. Just churn out 32 fouettés (for the women) and 540's (for the men) and you're good.

This was illustrated last night by the audience APPLAUDING Simkin as he jumped into the lake and made an impressive arc with his body. Come on now. That's just vulgar. And the audience ignored the very beautiful final duet between Odette and Siegfried. Purple Rothbart (Alban Lendorf last night) usually gets the loudest cheers of the night for a very brief if flashy solo.

Alban Lendorf as Purple Rothbart
As for the production, I've avoided it for years and I'm not in a hurry to revisit. It's a very basic Swan Lake which captures little of the poetry of the ballet. First of all, Purple Rothbart: he's become a huge audience favorite but he adds nothing to the story. The fourth act is abridged beyond recognition -- the beautiful, mournful dances of the swans has become reduced to some marching in front of what I call the "swamp curtain." The whole thing lasts 12 minutes, of which way too many are taken up by the Green Swamp Thing gyrating in the background. Only the Ivanov-choreographed lakeside scene isn't really tarred by the general Disney-ish, shallow feel of the production. The swan corps were very sloppy last night -- arms, wrists, and fingers all not in sync, many sickled feet. The pas de trois was well-danced by Joseph Gorak, Cassandra Trenary and Skylar Brandt but Gorak's been dancing this number for years. It can't be good for his morale that he's still stuck with the pas de trois.

Will Sarah be promoted to principal? Will ABT finally provide its dancers with the coaching and support they need? Will ABT's audience ever learn to look beyond the obvious tricks and learn to appreciate the subtler artistic details? I hope so, I hope so, and I hope so.

I mean, last night's couple only had four rehearsals. Wow.



ETA (June 17, 2017): Word came today that Uliana Lopatkina, the longtime ballerina of the Mariinsky, has retired. I didn't see Lopatkina as often as I would have liked, but the times I did see her the beauty and artistry of her dancing was unforgettable. Her Swan Lake lives in my memory as far and away the greatest Odette/Odile I ever saw, and reckon I'll ever see. She made time stand still with her uniquely mournful, elegiac Swan Queen. I was also fortunate enough to see her dance her cameo specialties such as The Dying Swan, La Rose Malade, and even some Balanchine: her adagio in Symphony in C was a master class of control. Her Nikya in La Bayadere was a bit too remote for me, but I couldn't argue with the beauty of her dancing. But Lopatkina's artistry extended even to pieces that were frankly sub-par. I remember beautiful legs and feet slicing through the trite choreography of Alberto Alonso's Carmen -- she alone made something sexy out of this tripe.

An amazing ballerina. She will be missed.


4 comments:

  1. What you are hoping for from the typical audience will never happen. Ballet is entertainment and sport. This doesn't mean that ABT shouldn't improve... train and coach more. But when they have a business strategy called Misty Copeland...it becomes apparent... Ballet is second to buck$.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm the NYCB audience has been "trained" by the Balanchine works to applaud in areas where there aren't necessarily all that many tricks. For instance the curtain opener in Serenade always generates applause. So it's possible for audiences to learn to appreciate more than fouettes and barrel turns.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the review--and especially the comments about the production and the unfortunate transformation of a sacrificial suicide into an occasion for male bravura. I wonder if audiences don't focus on bravura in part because they aren't always seeing artistically complete or profound performances. In other words, I am sort of considering the problem with some sympathy for the audiences as well, because I have seen less than technically exciting, but artistically formidable performances at ABT be very warmly received--Part and Cojocaru (the latter when dealing with injury).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I think different ballets also bring out different audiences. For instance the old Kirkland SB had people counting the seconds Aurora balanced in the Rose Adagio, but the new Ratmansky version requires more homework. I just think the Swan Lake the ABT presents is so watered down (really a "highlights of SL") that it tends to bring out the crowd who is only there for the 32 fouettes and to see how many times Purple Rothbart can spin in his variation.

      Delete