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A brilliant trip to 'Swan Lake'

Vladimir Bourmeister brings his revisionist version of the Tchaikovsky classic to L.A.'s Kodak Theatre.

May 26, 2003|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Suppose for a moment that Tchaikovsky knew what he was doing when he composed "Swan Lake" -- that all the cuts, interpolations and other extensive changes that choreographers imposed on his score after his death just weren't necessary. Suppose too that the traditional story line of the ballet could be strengthened, heightened, clarified without doing any violence to the classicism of the dancing.

These suppositions may have seemed radical to conservative balletomanes half a century ago, but by acting on them, Russian choreographer Vladimir Bourmeister created a generally persuasive and sometimes downright brilliant version of the ballet that still outclasses most others on international stages.

His Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet introduced local audiences to its surprises and satisfactions a year ago at the Kodak Theatre; on Friday, the company returned for seven additional performances of "Swan Lake," plus three of "Giselle."

Many of Bourmeister's innovations are elaborate and even startling -- notably a ballroom scene in which the wicked Odile keeps materializing in the midst of the Spanish, Italian, Hungarian and Polish dances.

Some, however, are very simple: keeping Prince Siegfried onstage during Odette's Act 2 solos, so that her dancing reinforces the couple's growing relationship.

Current artistic director Dmitry Bryantsev is an important choreographer with his own enlightened version of "Le Corsaire," but he has treated this "Swan Lake" as personal property, refurbishing it in 1992 with the imaginative, atmospheric designs of Vladimir Arefiev (feathery foliage, tree limbs that look like wings) and overseeing performances of great freshness and conviction.

Unfortunately, you can't tell who's dancing: The Kodak program booklet offers merely a jumble of names -- everyone who might be cast in a given role during the run.

However, three slates of Moscow Stanislavsky principals over the weekend proved that the mystery of who's who in "Swan Lake" can't mute the triumph of what's what.

In some ways, the Saturday matinee cast offered the strongest case for the ballet as dance drama.

As Siegfried, the youthful Vladimir Grigorev endowed his limited virtuosity with limitless passion, with the febrile, birdlike Oxana Kuzmenko melting into his arms as Odette but defining a fierce independence as Odile.

Collectors of fouettes could rejoice in the daring of Kuzmenko's Black Swan virtuosity, but artful dramatic touches also made her portrayal memorable. And, for once, the cast boasted in Vitaly Breusenko a Jester who not only blazed through bravura turning combinations but also actually found time to jest.

In contrast, Vladislav Buchkovskyy looked less like a court jester on Friday and Saturday evening than a champion jumper hiding out in jester drag. However, the spectacular speed and lightness of his dancing set a standard for the entire season.

On Friday, Tatiana Chernobrovkina exuded lyric nobility as Odette and technical force as Odile, but for all her skill, the result remained muted -- no flashpoint, no tragic or demonic stature. As Siegfried, the long-limbed Georgy Smilevski partnered her conscientiously, soared through turning combinations and reinforced the evening's emphasis on classical form over dramatic content.

One night later, Natalia Krapivina danced a small-scale and rather clenched Odette, but an expansive, sizzling Odile. Victor Dik partnered her attentively and made dramatic projection loom larger than virtuosity in his portrayal of Siegfried.

As Rothbart at all three performances, Anton Domachev capitalized on malignant glee, always manipulating giant wings and a red cape with authority.

The women's corps admirably served the large-scale choreographic design of the swan scenes but also carefully preserved the subtle dramatic details that distinguish Bourmeister's edition.

Confirming the company's excellence, a roster of fine soloists embellished the weekend performances, most notably Kadria Amirova, Anastasia Perchenkova, Stanislav Bukharev, Inna Ginkevich, Irina Belavina, Ekaterina Safonova, Lesya Sulyma and Roman Malenko.

Sharing conducting duties, Georgy Zhemchuzhin (the evening performances) and Vladimir Basiladze (Saturday afternoon) upheld the deep respect for Tchaikovsky underpinning the whole project.

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