National Ballet of Canada
with James Kudelka, Artistic Director
and Valerie Wilder, Executive Director
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver
October 6-9, 1999
By Stefan & Giorgia Moraw
In over one hundred years from the debut of Swan Lake, the focus of this ballet production has always been on its capacity to capture a full range of human emotions, like hope, love, despair, and betrayal. It is also well-known to be one of the more technically demanding ballets, being based on the drama of a woman trapped in the body of a swan and reflected in the graceful movements of the dancer's arms, neck, and feet, showing no distinction between dancing and acting.
The story is based on a German tale about a princess, Odette, who is turned into a swan by a sorcerer, Rothbart. In this version, all of her subjects become swans as well. At night they turn into humans again. Solely the pure love of a man has the power to break the spell. The night of his birthday, Prince Siegfried discovers her and the two fall in love. He promises to free her but later back in the castle during a ball where he is supposed to choose his bride, he is tricked by Rothbart and he declares his love to Odile, the Black Swan and evil twin of Odette. As Odette appears, he realizes he has broken his promise and cursed by Rothbart, who creates a horrible storm, the two are destined to perish.
With this latest production by James Kudelka, something must have gone terribly wrong. The show started and ended with powerful scenographic effects which unfortunately didn't save a slow performance stripped of its dramatic climax. The first act, without doubt the most depressing, had the audience fast asleep. Far too many male figures filled up the stage with heavy jumps and repetitive combinations. For some mysterious reason, no women dancers appeared in the act if not for one, who, in the end is gang-raped by the men.. After a needed intermission, things started to improve; with the men now gone, the white swans take over the stage. The well -known tunes and harmonic steps are finally there.
In spite of its many ups and downs, one thing cannot be ignored: the spectacular effects of both the costumes and scenography, and the influence they have on the ballet as a whole. From the opening act with the presentation of the castle under the moonlight to the beautiful images of the reed-filled stage glistening with the reflection of the lake upto the presentation of the princesses in the castle, each act opens with a visual bang. This definitely soothes the audience through some of the rough points in Acts I and III.