The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Balletic beauty and grace astound in ‘Swan Lake’

Analise Lipari | Monday, January 29, 2007

The latest in the “ND Presents: Live at the Morris” series of attractions at South Bend’s Morris Performing Arts Center, the Moscow Festival Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” elevated a simple Saturday night into a euphoric experience of music and dance. The prodigious skill of each member of the company, combined with beautiful costumes, lush lighting and scenery and the venerable score itself, created an unforgettable evening of dancing. Despite being performed without the aid of an orchestra, and instead incorporating the use of a recording of the ballet’s score, the production was an exuberant success.

The three act story of “Swan Lake” opens at an event in honor of Prince Siegfried’s birthday, at the behest of his mother, the Queen. Courtiers, peasants and the court jester each perform various dances in celebration of the Prince, and Siegfried receives a crossbow as a coming-of-age gift. The multiple smaller dances featured during this portion of the ballet were of a more lighthearted nature than much of the rest of the ballet’s more dramatic portions, especially the numbers where the court jester took center stage.

As the ballet continues, that evening, Siegfried explores the woods with his crossbow and discovers a mysterious group of white swans who – in the mythology of the story – turn out to be an enchanted court of women imprisoned by an evil wizard, Rotbart. By day, the women are swans, but by moonlight change back into their human forms. The queen of the swans, the beautiful Odette, falls in love with the Prince, and he vows to save her life by declaring his true love for her at tomorrow’s Ball.

It is here, as Siegfried first discovers the bewitched swans, when the famous theme of “Swan Lake” is first heard, and the haunting melody subtly appears throughout the rest of the ballet as Odette’s theme. Both mournful and lovely, it conveys the aesthetic of the ballet as a whole in its simplicity and beauty.

At the courtly Ball the next night, the Queen urges her son to seek a queen, but Siegfried can think only of Odette. Other princesses are introduced, each with their own musical themes. Highlights included the “Danse Espagnole,” with its elegant, playful melody; the “Danse Napolitaine,” with its unique opening use of trumpets; and the energetic “Mazurka.”

Rotbart strangely appears at the ball with Odile, his daughter who has been disguised to look remarkably similar to Odette. Mistakenly thinking that he is with the real Odette, Siegfried declares his love for Odile, effectively dooming the enchanted swans to an eternity of imprisonment. It is only when Siegfried flees to Swan Lake and defeats Rotbart that he and Odette can finally be united and the swans can be free.

The Russian Festival Ballet dancers, especially those in the roles of Siegfried and Odette, were remarkably talented. The role of Odette is considered to be one of the most technically difficult in the entirety of classical ballet, as the ballerina plays both the white swan, Odette, and the black swan, Odile, as well as performing over thirty fouettés en tournant during the ballet’s third act. Olga Grigorieva, the ballerina who danced the role of Odette/Odile, seemed to have mastered the difficulties of the role with ease, playing both the timid and pure Odette and the seductive Odile very well.

The costumes and scenery were very well done, adding to the production’s elegant feel. The lighting in particular was striking. The ballet’s finale closed with the rising of the sun, as a stage formerly bathed in a blue and green wash was subtly overcome with the warm, pinkish-white glow of morning.