Very few ballets have the kind of appeal Swan Lake does! There are movies that have used its storyline, there is a modern dance/ street dance version of it, animated versions, and of course musicals and TV episodes based on it. Closer home Opernhaus Zurich showcased the recreated 1895 version of Swan Lake in June.
The 1895 version started the rise in popularity of the Swan Lake and most modern adaptations of the ballet are based on this version. Alexei Ratmansky, the choreographer has reconstructed the most celebrated 1895 version of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov by deciphering old records and using the Stepanov notation (encoded dance movements created by Vladimir Stepanov).
Divided into three acts, the first act presents the celebration of the Prince’s birthday. The second act shows the Prince and his friends going on a hunting expedition where they meet the Swan princess Odette, followed by the Prince falling in love. The third act is about the costume ball at the Palace where the Prince must choose a bride. The black/evil swan Odile transforms herself to look like Odette and the Prince proclaims his love for her whereby the Swan princess Odette can never get out of the evil spell cast on her. Odette then leaps to her death followed by the Prince.
Ratmansky wins over his audience in the very first act. The entire ballet has a very classical/traditional touch to it and there is a lot of pantomime used to express the dialogues/ emotions. This is very reminiscent of the traditional dance drama in Indian classical dance forms where mudras (hand gestures) and expressions are used by characters to explain their emotions. One notable thing is how beautifully the ballet uses one mudra, the equivalent of the humble “Pataka” mudra in Indian classical dance forms, to denote so many things.
Act two has a very interesting presentation of the love between the Swan Princess and the Prince. Instead of keeping the scene restricted to the two characters, the Prince’s friends are also a part of the choreography. It takes away from the intimate nature of the scene. The dances at the ball in Act three have a folk feel and the portion showing the Swan Princess leaping to her death is breathtaking.
While most performances stick to the normally depicted storyline of Swan Lake some of them also present the background showing the Princess becoming a victim to the curse, or some background about the evil swan. This one stuck to the normal storyline probably because it is a restoration of the 1895 version. A couple of those scenes could have made the storyline even more dramatic and gripping.
The sets were minimalist but very colourful and had a fresh feel to them. The costuming was a tad different too. The feather ears one normally sees for the swans in Swan Lake ballet presentations gave way to ponytails and a crown. The costumes in the first act were quite eye-catching.
Elena Vostrotina, who plays Swan Princess Odette and the evil lookalike Odile was brilliant and incredibly light on her feet. To sum up, this restoration of Swan Lake was an absolute treat to watch.
Photography credit: Carlos Quezada