fri 22/06/2018

Reconstructing Ballet's Past 1: Swan Lake, Mikhailovsky Ballet | reviews, news & interviews

Reconstructing Ballet's Past 1: Swan Lake, Mikhailovsky Ballet

Reconstructing Ballet's Past 1: Swan Lake, Mikhailovsky Ballet

How do you restore a historic landmark production of a lost ballet?

A snapshot in time: the Mikhailovsky Ballet reconstructs the landmark Bolshoi 1956 productionPhotograph by Nikolai Krusser/Mikhailovsky Ballet

You need very little for a Swan Lake. Tchaikovsky’s music, white swan-girls, a mooning boy, and 32 fouettés for the ballerina in black. That's about it, isn't it? Every traditional Swan Lake we see now is a sort of balletic pizza - a musical base scattered with ingredients collected from a familiar buffet, piled up by its stager or so-called choreographer according to taste (and often a large measure of vanity for sauce).

For of all the classics, Swan Lake, the most immortal in imagery, is the most corruptible in choreography, the most fragile and most abused, its origins chequered and fractured, and its history long tainted by politics. Its story is too ambiguous to be tidy: it's about love, but it's also about tragedy, even evil - or maybe it's tragedy averted, if you go by the "happy" ending adopted by English National Ballet's arena version, for instance.

But there is slowly evolving in the ballet world a new, tentative interest in ballet history, and the visits to London this month by the Mikhailovsky Ballet from St Petersburg and the great Bolshoi Ballet from Moscow bring us two particularly intriguing attempts to “reconstruct” landmark versions of Swan Lake and Coppélia. Next week I’ll be looking at Coppélia and the Bolshoi’s attempt to go back to the final production by Marius Petipa, the genius of 19th-century Russian ballet.

First - the far more problematic Swan Lake. When last year the Royal Ballet teacher Misha Messerer was asked to become the chief balletmaster of the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St Petersburg, one of his first tasks was to find a suitable Swan Lake production for the company. But which one?

The Kirov, now the Mariinsky Ballet, up the road in St Petersburg - the flagship company of classical ballet - has a 60-year-old version renowned around the world for enshrining tradition (if not embodying the drama). The Royal Ballet has a version that, thanks to historical accident, is descended from the original St Petersburg one, and maximises the integrity of the drama and indeed the choreography, but its style is too eclectic. Most versions are bowdlerised by directors from material drawn at many removes from the original, while the original text exists only in tantalising fragments of much disputed notes in a library in America.

But why was Messerer having to ask “which one?” at all? Why doesn’t Swan Lake actually exist? It starts in the unsuccessful first production of 1877, when Tchaikovsky’s new music was accompanied by a staging that inspired too little enthusiasm to override the widespread feeling that this was terribly difficult music. It would be 15 years before the music finally got the staging it deserved, the iconic version in St Petersburg created by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. But the oral tradition in ballet theatre was strong, and the images of Swan Lake coupled with its music were what people clung to, not to any idea of the inviolability of great choreography, which was considered soft material, to be remodelled at will.

And so it changed and changed. The Tsar’s regal ballet company at St Petersburg started sharing its bounty with Moscow, sending over leading dancers such as Alexander Gorsky to remount them in the faraway Russian city, where alterations were immediately begun to suit the different qualities of the dancers and their less European taste. Gorsky’s 1901 Moscow version followed the Petipa/Ivanov model but rewrote many parts of the choreography. Every time Swan Lake was staged, a few more modifications took place, the idea of fidelity to text totally inconceivable. Not least because no one wrote complete choreographic versions down. There was no standard form of notation, and it was an alien idea anyway to dancers that they should not alter steps they were given to suit themselves.

After Gorsky died during the height of Moscow’s liberated arts period of the Twenties, the major revision was made in the far tenser Stalinist Thirties by Asaf Messerer, where now ballet had become something more “nationalist” as an artform, where Russian vigour and disciplined display were more prioritised than the introspective European romantic tragedy of the story, and hence to this day Russia has never adopted the “tragic” ending to Swan Lake that virtually everyone agrees is the fitting one.

The two great theatres, the Kirov in Leningrad and the Bolshoi in Moscow, each adopted their own production, keeping parts of the original Petipa-Ivanov that everyone agreed was “art” - chiefly the Act 2 swans scene and the exultant "black swan" pas de deux of Act 3 -  and replacing the weaker parts with their own variations. But - as British audiences know - every touring foreign company visiting these shores brings its box-office staple, a “traditional Swan Lake”, and all our own companies make their stagings, from ENB’s in-the-round version at the Albert Hall to Frederick Ashton’s classic Royal Ballet one, and the later more “authentic” one produced by Anthony Dowell for today’s Royal Ballet. But none of them is acknowledged as the “right” one. All or any will do, and our judgements of them are based on nothing more solid than our taste.

mikhail_messererHence Misha Messerer’s problem. What he did was to seize on a production that occupies a very particular place in the history of Russian ballet’s relationship with Britain.  Fifty-four years ago when the Bolshoi made their landmark debut tour to London, headed by Galina Ulanova, they brought a remarkable production of Swan Lake. It was brand-new in design, staged by their balletmaster Asaf Messerer standing on the shoulders of previous major ballet figures, linked by one step to Petipa and Ivanov. It duly impressed London, which had had its ballet raised by Russian teachers but of course had never seen Russians perform. The leading UK critic Richard Buckle said, half admiringly, half despairingly, that the fact that of all people the Russians had failed to see any point in preserving the original Swan Lake and had renewed virtually the lot was “one in the eye” for the guardians of sacred flames.

In my conversation with Messerer this week, as he prepared to open the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s tour at the London Coliseum last night, we talked about the value of that production, the fractured performance history that causes all the problems, and the many questions and doubts surrounding the “authentic” movement in ballet. We disagreed fairly fundamentally because we see the issue from quite different perspectives. He is a ballet professional and I am merely a spectator coming from a different discipline. Yet we agreed on some things.

 

Even I have lost count of the number of Swan Lakes there are

 

ISMENE BROWN: Tell me what line you drew in the sand when you chose this particular version to reconstruct.

MISHA MESSERER: Well, even I have lost count of the number of Swan Lakes there are. When I was asked to suggest a version for the Mikhailovsky my immediate reaction was that they should not repeat the Mariinsky version up the road - I didn’t think we necessarily could produce it much better than they do. Though some people did think that was the right thing to do.

ulanova_swan_lakeI was told that we could start with something like the Mariinsky one and change anything we liked. But I didn’t feel it needed to be a patchwork creation. I said I felt that this famous 1956 version could be done in its entirety, without being changed. This was the standard Bolshoi version of Swan Lake from 1937 until Yuri Grigorovich did his new one in 1970. All the heads of state went to see it - Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, everyone who visited the Soviet Union - often with Maya Plisetskaya [Messerer's cousin] or Marina Semyonova or Galina Ulanova (pictured right) dancing it.

So the importance of this particular 1956 version in history is obvious to London, in the sense that it was the first Swan Lake they saw the Bolshoi in, but how much was it used in Russia?

It was done at the Bolshoi right up until Grigorovich. And the standard Kirov version - which is now the Mariinsky version - was based on very similar material. There were several steps to it. Gorsky did his version in 1901 and there are many elements from the Petipa/Ivanov version - the white adagio, the Black Swan, and some of the swan corps de ballet. Though it is somewhat differently done. Asaf Messerer had made a new version for the Bolshoi in 1937 based on Gorsky’s and in fact Konstantin Sergeyev had actually danced Messerer’s 1937 version with Ulanova, so he  based his famous 1950 version for the Mariinsky on that too. Which is the version the Mariinsky do now.

So there are several leaps and changes going on between the cities and through the decades. Were there stylistic difference between the St Petersburg and Moscow versions - given that the Francophile Tsars were in the north and Moscow was a more “Russian” city?

Yes. Gorsky was a contemporary with the Moscow Art Theatre and was very much influenced by it. One of his Twenties versions of Swan Lake was staged with the Nemirovich-Danchenko company, and he was very much influenced by the new style of art and acting on stage which had more realism. You could say in that period that the Petipa was neo-classical, and Gorsky was more art-nouveau. There is less symmetry in the corps de ballet, many asymmetrical elements that he introduced. Of course he based his ballet firmly only Ivanov-Petipa’s work - they were his teachers, after all. There were many stagings with different designs.

But what I am doing is based on the 1937 reworking of Gorsky’s by Asaf Messerer, with the new Act 4 that he made. Gorsky was the first who created the “happy” ending, but I couldn’t find enough material for that original one. Asaf told me various things in later life, but he said mainly that it was not acceptable for the audience to have so much pantomime - the ending was less important than the pantomime, which annoyed them, the dancers mainly. They wanted more dancing and there was hardly any dancing at all in Act 4. So Asaf Messerer created more dancing for Act 4. In 1956 he rechoreographed it again epecially for the Bolshoi’s first tour to London, and the designs also were changed - Simon Virsaladze did the new ones, and we have totally recreated those costumes, right down to the number of buttons.

The costuming obviously has developed a traditional imagery, with the white tutus and so on, but when Gorsky made his new art-nouveau version was there a change of design?

I need to mention the tutus. When I say we preserved everything from the 1956 costumes and sets, in fact we kept everything except those tutus. Ours are more antique-looking, because in 1956 they were too short and there was no material to be found in Russia at the time, so they made do with whatever they could find. Our tutus are bit longer, a bit softer compared to those. Those 1956 tutus did not look right. (Pictured below, Plisetskaya in one of the 1956 tutus.)

maya-plisetskaya-in-swan-lake-1961

Musically, how has it changed?

In Act 4 Messerer handed it to the musicologist Boris Asafiev to use the pieces of Tchaikovsky that may originally have been there, though nobody knows. So Act 4 will sound different probably to you, though I don’t think for Western audiences it will look much different from the Kirov Sergeyev version, which was also quite similarly made.

In one of Gorsky’s versions - and I’m not joking - he had boys in grey shorts dancing the cygnets' dance

Swan Lake has a very clear idea for Western audiences: we know the music, we know the story, we know it has a four-act structure. But it seems that whenever someone wants to stage it they treat it rather like a self-service canteen, selecting some of this but not that, remaking this bit, adding something new here. It has no integrity as a text.

Well, Petipa and Ivanov from the start treated it like that. They also commissioned Drigo to change Tchaikovsky’s music - there are several items in Act 3, famously the Black Swan music which was originally in Act 1. And then unfortunately I’ve had to vary something for practical reasons - in Gorsky’s version there were six little cygnets, not four, and he remade the choreography for it. I have to have four in the usual Ivanov version. But when I myself was in the Bolshoi in this production, on foreign tours they had already begun to substitute the six with four, because even in such a company as the Bolshoi it was hard to find six small matched girls, and it was also cheaper to take four on a foreign tour.

We today face exactly the same problem. I promised myself that one day we would take six cygnets, but that would mean taking on six little girls who can’t be used in the rest of the corps de ballet. But now I have recruited three young girl from Russian schools for September, and we will soon be able to have the original six.

So they have quite a different-looking Dance of the Cygnets?

In one of Gorsky’s versions - and I’m not joking - he had boys in grey shorts dancing the number.

Swans in shorts? Sounds like Matthew Bourne!

Yes. Historical fact!

 

So in choosing your Mikhailovsky version you haven’t started with a philosophical/historical idea - you wanted to go back to your family one, the Asaf Messerer one?

No, though I felt strongly we should not try to compete with the Mariinsky one, for obvious reasons. Some people in the Mikhailovsky didn’t understand that. I had suggested modern Western ones too, like Mats Ek’s. But somebody had shown the management a 1957 film edition of the 1956 Messerer Bolshoi version with Plisetskaya and Fadeyechev, and our patron Mr Kekhman liked that very much, so it was suggested to me that I should do it.

Below: an extract from the 1957 film with Plisetskaya making her first entrance as Odette:



How much is notated?

The film was a great help, because all the dances are featured there, not completely, but in some degree. You see a couple of steps of each dance, and it’s enough - you get 10 seconds here, or even 20 seconds is better and you can recreate the rest. I invited a teacher from the Moscow Ballet School and ex-Bolshoi dancer, Alla Boguslavskaya, who had danced all the character numbers and she remembered them well and used them as teaching material in her classes - so she helped me recreate the character dances in Act 3. It is all on tape in that film - only a 37-minute film but it is an edited version of the whole ballet, little bit of this, little bit of that. The camera sometimes doesn’t show Plisetskaya but shows the corps de ballet. I also have a good memory of when I staged this in Goteborg with my mother, who had a great memory, in the early 1980s, and there are other pieces of film, taken from the wings.

Does the Bolshoi have any claim on this version? Who owns it? This Messerer/Gorsky Swan Lake.

Asaf Messerer has two sons alive. For the choreography we have to pay the rights to the sons, for the designs we have to pay royalties to the family of Virsaladze in Tbilisi. The Bolshoi is in a similar position.

Interesting - spectators never realise this is part of the story!  The Kremlin Ballet, for instance, who do Swan Lake. What’s their version?

They use a lot from Asaf Messerer’s version in Act 4, but not identical as it was. Ours is identical - preserved, or where it is not like the 1956 version it is because Asaf told me in the 1990s he would have changed this variation or altered that. Such as the Prince’s solo which he inserted originally which was too hard for most of the dancers then and has been restored.

Which are the most difficult things to restage? I suppose all the solos will be remembered by many soloists, but it will be the supporting ensembles, corps de ballet and so on which will be harder?

The film really was the key. It’s a Mosfilm, in colour, and it was an important document for recreating costumes and sets. It also documented the order of the music and numbers. We stopped the film and closely examined all the costume details and scenery so we could recreate them.

You yourself danced in this.

I didn’t dance Siegfried in the Bolshoi but I did the pas de trois, and I did Siegfried in Perm in a production very closely based on that one.

So it was your experience that you could do this but that there was not precisely one obvious option here.

Well, I was told that we should change anything we liked. But I didn’t feel it needed to be a patchwork creation. I said I felt that this version could be done in its entirety, and I would not change it. The whole idea would be to preserve it as it was.

cullberg_ek_swan_lakeOtherwise we would do a completely different version, Ek (pictured right) or Neumeier or something. After all if you think about it, the original Swan Lake got altered because it was constantly restaged and reworked by its creators... You know, I am sceptical about those Harvard notations - I don’t think it’s possible to recreate from notes. It is not easily recreated even from film, even if you danced in it yourself.

[The Harvard notations are the notebooks of stagings of virtually all the St Petersburg ballet productions in the 1890s and 1900s, which Petipa’s balletmaster Nicholas Sergeyev took with him when he fled the Revolution in 1917. After being used extensively by British ballet companies, including Ninette de Valois for the Sadler’s Wells classic productions, they found their way to the Harvard Library in Massachusetts, where they remained forgotten for many years. Recently rediscovered in the 1990s by the Kirov for “authentic” stagings of The Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadère, these notations were written in an archaic system which today's readers of the notation all interpret in different ways. As a result, the Russians have been exceedingly reluctant to jettison their longstanding performance productions, however altered, for any kind of radical reconstruction of “authentic” 19th-century stagings.]

I wish Swan Lake had never been changed. I would fervently hope that we could have watched it today. But it is lost

So Misha, you say, there is no such thing as the original Swan Lake - only the music.

Even the music is no longer original, it has been changed so many times and Drigo changed it a lot.

But you can keep on playing with that until there is nothing left. Look - you can say here is something old called a cheese omelette, with eggs and cheese in it - and there is something new that we call the Cheese Omelette, containing tuna and salad, in which each ingredient has been changed one by one over time. Well, isn’t that what has happened to Swan Lake? Only the name stays the same and some of the images and some of the music.

I wish Swan Lake had never been changed. I would fervently hope that we could have watched it today. But it is lost. It is not possible to look for it now. All you can do is create an interesting production that reminds people of what the original was about.

Below: Ulanova with Vladimir Preobrazhensky filmed in 'Swan Lake' inside the Kirov in 1947 for the film Solistka Baleta (Ballet Soloist):



Your coaches at the Mikhailovsky are all from St Petersburg? What was their reaction to doing a Moscow production?

Highly negative. They were the ones who wanted to put on the Sergeyev version from the Mariinsky, because it was the only one they know, and yes in my view it is very good and it is based on the Messerer/Gorsky one in certain ways. But my preferred version is an original landmark one in ballet history.

 

How much do you think Gorsky or Petipa knew about the first landmark, the 1877 production?

We don’t know. All we have is that the original critics liked the music least of all. How much trust we can put on their opinion we don’t know, and nor do we know how much Petipa and Ivanov took from that Reisinger production 15 years earlier. One thing Gorsky did that many purists hate is that he had the corps de ballet of swans doing a lot of movement during the Act 2 pas de deux.

That’s like Fokine’s Chopiniana, isn’t it?

Same period. The Russian critics liked that at the time - they felt the movement of the swans reflected real women, reacting to what was going on, taking part, like typical women, rather than just standing stiffly there. But it was not up to me to change it. My entire purpose was to give the version done in 1956, yet there are some updating notes which show things intended to make it more acceptable for contemporary audiences.

Does that alter the style of the movement?

The Mikhailovsky company don’t act in the same 1956 style!

What about the line of the leg? I think I remember when you were staging Class Concert for the Bolshoi a few years ago you were trying to correct and re-align positions to make them cleaner and less exaggerated.

I tried to strike a balance between then and now. You know, in 1956 they did try to lift the leg very high, though they couldn’t.

How do you handle the ending? The “happy” ending that all the Russian stagings have.

We do that too.  One can have the tragic ending, but there aren’t any in Russia that are famous. But it’s not my job to make changes for the better or for the worse. I wanted to preserve a complete period piece as a piece of art of its time - the 1937 version as performed famously in London in 1956.

A snapshot of its time.

Correct.  I did actually offer this to the Bolshoi a while ago and they did consider it, but Grigorovich then reappeared and the project was dropped.

So you say, much as you’d like to see the original Swan Lake, it doesn’t exist - therefore it will come up in a different version each time. And yet other ballets do seem to be able to be given an original foundation of authenticity. What is the importance to you of the authentic idea? I was just interviewing Sergei Vikharev last year about his "reconstruction” of Coppélia. There does seem to be a philosophical disagreement here.

I admire Vikharev’s talent, and I think the productions he did for the Mariinsky were a success, largely due to his great talent as a stager - not necessary as a re-stager. How close those are to the original are anybody’s guess. Nobody can convince me, as a professional, that it is possible to recreate identically or almost identically what people did then, because it’s lost.

But is it not worthwhile striving to do so - so as to draw a line over the past, and enable people to move on, create fresh things, instead of constantly titivating old things with new “improvements”? Wouldn’t it be better to have genuine alternatives, because you have established: this is the old iconic Swan Lake and that is something new.

I would agree with you completely if it were possible to establish it.

But you directors and coaches should all get together and try your best, since otherwise ballet will lose more and more and it will have less and less genuine flavour.

Well, yes, but it is impossible. Look, I went to see Manon in the Royal Ballet one day and in the Mariinsky the next - the text was the same but the ballet was totally different. Yet there is a solid text. But with Swan Lake we can’t even establish that. There’s no film, there’s no unambiguous notation. So far we cannot even argue that the notated text is right - it’s read by one person here, Doug Fullington here, Vikharev there, someone else - they all disagree what the notations means. I cannot accept it is possible. It is deeply unfortunate that it is lost, and I would be the first to support keeping the Petipa/Ivanov Swan Lake absolutely preserved and not touching it, if we could have had it. To take it from notation I do not think is possible, although I admire Sergei Vikharev and I like his ballets. It’s just I don’t believe it can be accepted completely as authentic.

Vikharev reads the notation himself - and with the Bolshoi’s Coppelia, Yuri Burlaka does too?

Yes. I like the work of both but how do you know how well each one is reading it?

I think it’s more important for people to be good stagers than good historians - or they just become librarians

Is it not important then for there to be an academic history of balletic text?

I think it’s more important for people to be good stagers than good historians. The better historians they are, the worse for the profession - because they just become librarians. The old details shouldn’t get in the way.

But then you have no control at all over coaches who say, “There is no such thing as authentic, and I will teach my pupils what I did and my ‘improvements’ and they will then make their own ‘improvements’."

Horrible. We had to lose one or two coaches on the way. Now we have a very strong team. I reimported Tatiana Legat from the United States, who is for me the best coach I know, most remarkable. Of course, we are a small company compared to the great Mariinsky. We have only 140.

140 is small?

Yes, they have 200.

Where does the Mikhailovsky fit into St Petersburg - is it like Birmingham Royal Ballet to the Royal Ballet?

Correct. We do have fights - the Mariinsky took four leading girls from our corps de ballet just as we were about to go on tour to Japan, girls whom I’d spent hours coaching, and the Mariinsky had chosen not to take them from the school. But we polished them up in our company, and then the Mariinsky came in and poached them.  But we have 135 more girls, and if the Mariinsky wants to help themselves from our girls, well, let them.

You are bringing your own orchestra?

Eighty-something.

All funded by Mr Kekhman.

Yes. We do get some state money, but only as much as, say, youth theatres get - ie, very little. The Moscow companies get something from Moscow city government; we don’t get the equivalent. The company was originally founded in the Mikhailovsky Theatre by Fyodor Lopukhov as the Malegot, the smaller more experimental dance theatre company in Leningrad. Lopukhov was the first avant-garde producer - Shostakovich’s The Nose, The Bright Stream, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk were all produced in the Malegot. All the contemporary and avant-garde productions were there. The Maly company made pieces like Halte de Cavalrie, Esmeralda and so on, some pieces that we have now restaged in part.

So although this seems like a standard Russian classical company, this theatre has a very characterful, idiosyncratic history which you can draw on.

Correct. Unfortunately with the collapse of Communism, this company struggled financially, and they were invited to Japan where people preferred to have Swan Lake and Nutcracker. So of course they staged parallel productions to the Mariinsky, with small changes, and for years the company was fed by Japanese classical tours in the Nineties and up to 2007. It lost its contemporary edge. So that among our dancers almost none of them has even touched contemporary work.  The theatre was completely run down until Mr Kekhman came and spent his own money on completely redoing the building and reestablishing the company.

It’s almost a parallel history with Ballet Rambert, which was originally contemporary, then got starved and was pressed to become classical, but found that hard to do - and then eventually returned to contemporary work. Perhaps this is a cycle.

Before one does any experimental work from outside there is always the received opinion that we have our own Russian heritage, so why bring in foreign works

I would like to bring back the Mikhailovsky’s contemporary history, partly because I’ve spent 30 years in the West and I like contemporary ballet and have done so much of it as a teacher and coach. But when I came to Russia again I realised that before one does any experimental work from outside there is always the received opinion that we have our own Russian heritage, so why bring in foreign works? Before you can start bringing any Western influences in, you’d better pay attention to the Russian heritage first. So I agreed we could do Chaboukiani's Laurencia, and then now we can have Slava Samodurov’s new piece which we commissioned (it will be seen on the triple bill on Sunday at the Coliseum). For our young dancers, Samodurov’s was the first time they ever touched a contemporary work.I am planning something avant-garde next year, but it remains to be seen if it’s accepted. We've been rehearsing Sensorium, Alastair Marriott’s piece which he made for the Royal Ballet a year ago [which opens the Mikhailovsky's autumn season in St Petersburg on 15 September].

I’ve just seen the Royal Ballet School matinee, where all their work is like a buffet of different styles for people to see they can do a bit of everything, be employed anywhere - a Euro/Kylian style, a Forsythe style, a British light-classical style... Yet you say young Russian dance graduates have no exposure to anything other than classical. This can’t encourage choreographers.

i agree. They close their eyes.

Mikhailovsky_laurenciaNow you have also restaged the historic Soviet ballet Laurencia by the great Georgian dancer Vakhtang Chabukiani, also from the Thirties.

It’s the centenary of Chabukiani’s birth and there is a film of this too in existence, which though only 24 minutes long - and the ballet is two hours - has enabled restoration. The story is Lope de Vega’s story of the feudal Spanish landlord who takes advantage of peasant girls and eventually one of them, Laurencia, leads a revolt against him and he is killed. It was created in 1939 by Chabukiani, and he danced it with Dudinskaya, and it was staged in Moscow in 1956 with Maya Plisetskaya, and danced by many very great Bolshoi dancers. (Pictured right in the Mikhailovsky production, which will be shown next week.)

So it is well remembered?

No! Soloists remember their work, but it’s the corps and the ensembles that make difficult work to reconstruct. The music is by a predecessor of Aram Khachaturian, Alexander Krein, melodically it’s dansante music, with some Spanish music - but again it’s a period piece from the 1930s and 40s. I’ve staged the 1956 version which Vakhtang told me he considered the best he did, though he did some later versions. This is a typical example of dramballet.

So although the story is tragic - and when it’s staged as a play it is a dark and dramatic experience - I presume the ballet makes its lighter.

There is a big dancing scene for the wedding of Laurencia and Frondoso, which is unfortunately interrupted by the Commander bearing Laurencia to his castle and throwing her fiancé into the prison, which causes the revolt. But I shortened it. I’ve done it as I believe Chabukiani would have done it nowadays.

When you try to decide how to restage a ballet, principally are you after a ballet that will have a lot of dancing in it?

Ballet needs to be dancing. But in Swan Lake though I preserved almost everything as it was in 1956, I did not preserve every single thing of Chabukiani, because he told me and my mother he would have done it shorter, so I used all the three versions of Chabukiani. It is my adaptation, because I have changed it in places.

What about the choreography?

Yes, I have changed it, because he was a great dancer and many dancers can’t do what he did. Even though he didn’t have such a  fine line as people expect now, it was the spirit and his acting. Unbelievable.

Below: watch Vakhtang Chabukiani dance Frondoso's solo in his Laurencia

It seems that whenever someone wants to stage Swan Lake they treat it rather like a self-service canteen

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Comments

Pastora and Richard This is interesting .... Jane

Richard For us SWAN LAKE afficianados, this is interesting .... Jane

Yes, but the score of SWAN LAKE performed today isn't the original one by Tchaikovsky. It's been heavily edited and changed by the conductor Drigo, who worked on a revised version after Tchaikovsky's death. If you want TCHAIKOVSKY'S SWAN LAKE you have to throw away the Drigo score (the one performed everywhere) and start again.

It came as quite a shock to find all the stuff (Tchaikovsky arrangements) Drigo had jammed into the last act in the Mariinsky version. But that's not used 'everywhere', surely? Certainly not much in the west, and not in Matthew Bourne's version, which has a great deal of pure Tchaikovsky though not all in the 'right' order. But when did a ballet score EVER get performed as the composer intended, except for the shorter Nutcracker, I wonder?

All Drigo did with regard to additions in the last act was an orchestration of the 2 pieces of Tchai's piano opus 72. Everything else he did in accordance with Petipa's wishes. Personally, I like the Drigo edition better than the Tchai, though I do love the pas de six that was omitted. This ridiculous Russian mis-trust of the Sergeyev notations astounds me. The original 1895 Swan Lake is not fully lost, Mr. Messerer.

But MrLopez, those two numbers come at the expense of the Danse des petits cygnes and some of the narrative. Tchaikovsky integrated everything, uniquely, in the last act. To hear it ruined by a couple of fripperies is a musical disaster.

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