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About the Change

Moscow Ballet La Classique

‘Swan Lake’

March 2008
Glasgow, Royal Concert Hall

by Gareth K Vile

© Elik Melikov

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La Classique conjure up unfortunate associations: the company only tours outside of Russia and has a repertoire slavishly attached to the recreation of the romantic classics. Made up from dancers who trained either in Russia or former CIS countries, it relies on the audience’s nostalgia for old-fashioned ballet and the insatiable demand for dramatic Russian panache.

Swan Lake fulfils these desires at a rapid pace and with consummate professionalism. Based on Lev Ivanov’s and Marius Petipa’s choreography, this is certainly a museum piece. The dancers wear beautiful costumes, and perform the dances hallowed by time and reverence. The corps do not discover new depths in the second Act, nor do the principals astound through exceptional acrobats. The unity and precision of the dancers is well-honed and practiced, rather than intuitive or lyrical. They may not leap high, but they do it exactly together.

As a museum piece, Swan Lake panders to the audience: it confirms the prejudice of show, posturing and grace. It recalls the clichés of the past- slightly effeminate male dancers, mime shows and limited dramatic impact. At the same time, it is utterly charming. It reveals ballet’s past, putting modern work into context. The bustle and flow of Acts I and III are engaging, Act II is moody and sinister, while the great pas de deux of Siegfried and Odile is a bravura display of solid technique. The strengths of La Classique are the straight-forward presentation, the lack of cleverness and the simple restaging of the romantic dance tradition.

Of course, this is damning with faint praise. Hardly a single modern company would want to ape this production. It is old-fashioned. It lacks characterisation- surprisingly for a Russian company, it does not have any real stars and does little to milk the tragedy of the last two acts. The queen, Siegfried, the villainous sorcerer- none of these are really brought to life- although Von Rothbart is limited by a horrible costume and very dated make-up. The virtuosity seems to be the only point- never put at the service of story or characterisation- and this makes the performance slightly distant. It becomes obvious how challenging the choreography is, and how impressive the dancers must be.


Moscow Ballet La Classique's Swan Lake
© Elik Melikov/ Moscow Ballet - La Classique

The company could certainly deepen their interpretation of the work- Dmitri Smirnov’s Siegfried is emotionless, spinning around the stage in a powerful but purposeless whirling, and it is difficult to get past Von Rothbart’s cat-suit and take him seriously. Act III ends limply, and even the reunion of Act IV feels insipid and rushed.

However, this carping misses the purpose of the performance, which is to affirm the worth of traditional ballet. The audience is enthusiastic-applauding every solo vigorously, interrupting the performance with spontaneous clapping and obviously delighted by the gorgeous colours and technical skill. Certainly, two performances exceeded the others: a kitsch playful Fool (Aleksander Sedov), which made much of his very small part as he grinned his infectious way through the court scenes; and, thankfully, Nadegda Ivanova’s Odile/ Odette. She makes a clear differentiation between the two roles: where her Odette is all a-quiver, delicate and sensual, Odile is taut, mechanical and harsh. Her ovation is the most deserved.

La Classique are working hard, touring to unlikely venues and bringing the wonderment of ballet to diverse audiences. They ignore modern experiments, preferring to keep alive a populist vision that, ironically, is increasingly marginalised. As long as it is not compared to a major company’s programme, their Swan Lake is quick-fire fun and a realisation of dance’s fairy-tale fantasies.

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