Mariinsky Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ at The Kennedy Center by Carolyn Kelemen

Swooning over the first “Swan”

Like those fabled swallows renowned for returning to Capistrano each spring, swans settle regularly in our area this time of year.

Back in the heyday of classical ballet in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, local dance fans had at least a half-dozen productions of Swan Lake to sample by April or May. These days we may have less selection, but what remains is choice.

Alina Somova and Vladimir Shklyarov. Photo by Valentin Baranovsky.
Alina Somova and Vladimir Shklyarov. Photo by Valentin Baranovsky.

The first flutter of swan wings were heard at The Kennedy Center Opera House last evening by St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Ballet – one of the most influential classical companies for more than two and a half centuries – and the result was magical. As short as the engagement may be (through the weekend with cast changes), you will be transported to a place far away from the doldrums of winter in Washington. Promise.

Swan Lake’s opening was everything a white, romantic, story ballet should be. The ballerinas were exquisite, the soloists sparkled, the corps de ballet set a lovely mood for the dancers, and the orchestra performed the Tchaikovsky score with clarity and sensitivity. Even the audience seemed up for the first classical performance of 2014 and responded with enthusiasm and spontaneous applause.

There were great moments throughout the ballet. Swan Queen Alina Somova and her Prince Seigfried Vladimir Shklyarov had chemistry in the romantic scenes and bravura in their solos. As the Black Swan Somova pulled off double pirouettes along with the traditional 32 foutees (those whipping turns on one foot), something this writer hasn’t seen before. And Shklyarov has a gorgeous arabesque and the ability to seemingly sit in the air.

Still it was the moment near the end of the first act where the swan queen quivers as she falls into her lover’s arms that proved to be most memorable. You could hear a pin drop in the massive Oprea House as Somova beat one foot against the other furiously as if to say, “Take me away from my evil curse.” Although Marius Petipa is credited for the large-scale choreography in the ballet, Lev Ivanov actually created this most memorable pas de deux in 1895.

For those unfamiliar with the fairy-tale ballet, it must seem a bit reactionary to revel in a symbolic story of a swan-girl who captures the heart of a prince. Within its classical framework, though, the ballet creates a somber setting that is perfect for the spiritual mood of dance.

The theme of the story allows the corps de ballet to showcase its virtuosity through little “divertissements” – those skits and solos designed as entertainment for the royal family. It establishes a special rapport with the audience that pays off when the fragile white swan queen (Odette) becomes the sultry twin vamp (Odile).

Vladislav Shumakov soared as the jester (added in Soviet productions), and the usual pas de trois, was danced by four cygnets, a variation from the original work. Some of the characters have been left out in this production but it’s all for the good of a tighter show with beautiful sets and costumes, especially the opening scene with the subtle autumn color and details of the period. Kudos to Set Designer Igor Ivanov and Costume Designer Galina Solovyova.

Looking back over the notes, the night belonged to the corps de ballet as they lived up to their world recognition as the finest. Their ability to act as a whole unit was impressive, and the flurry of white hovering over the evil spirit in the last act was a mystical experience. The corps seemed to be wearing a softer type of toe shoe; hardly a sound was heard from the 40 plus dancers on stage.

Running Time: Three hours, with two 20 minute intermissions. Act I – 70 min.; Act II – 40 min.; Act III – 20 min.

The Mariinsky Ballet performs Swan Lake tonight  and tomorrow Thursday and Friday, January 30 and 31 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, February 1 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 2, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F St. NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

Standing-room tickets: A limited number of standing-room tickets ($40 each, up to 2 tickets) will be available each day beginning at 10 a.m. on the day of the performance (10 a.m. Saturday for all weekend performances) by visiting the Box Office, or by calling InstantCharge at (202) 467-4600. They are not available online.

PRINCIPAL CASTING (subject to change)
Fri., Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m. & Sun., Feb. 2 at 1:30 p.m.
Alina Somova, Vladimir Shklyarov

Wed., Jan 29 at 7:30 p.m. & Sat., Feb. 1 at 1:30 p.m.
Anastasia Kolegova, Maxim Zyuzin

Thu., Jan. 30, Sat., Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Olga Esina, Timur Askerov


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