Swan Lake by the Moscow City Ballet at the Corn Exchange

Yesterday we went to the ballet. It was a wonderful opportunity to go to see the Moscow City Ballet just at our doorstep, in the Corn Exchange, rather than trekking hours to London and waiting hours in the cold for trains/buses.

The venue is quite lovely, though the stage is probably a little small for such an important company, and yet they managed to use the space superbly, often leaving me breathless as I thought the dancers might land in the orchestra.

I have only been to the ballet three times in my life (so far!). The first time was a couple of very dear friends to watch the Swan Lake performed by a company which left us all breathless as to how beautiful, strapping, and yet healthy everyone looked. They were Southamerican or something. It was lovely, though shorter than I thought the Swan Lake would be. I remember being awestruck by the jumps but no real emotion aout the story, especially at the end, when I expected the dramatic final bit in Tchaikosky’s score and the tragic yet heroic conclusion I knew of to come about and instead, in an almost comedic moment, Prince Siegfried shot an arrow into the Magician, and that was that. All lived happily ever after. I was so disappointed and it had spoilt my whole experience so much I nearly cried was fuming. The most memorable element of the whole things was the Joker. He was incredible and when I find a clue as to who he was I’ll post it here.

The second time was to watch something I had never even heard of, at Royal Opera House which I was absolutely thrilled about as I’d never been. It was called Onegin and its music is also by Tchaikovsky. The setting was astounding and I remember being fascinated as I watched, but the story didn’t make an impression on me (I cannot remember it at all, it was probably more complex than the extremely simple and basic four acts of the Swan Lake).

This time, I bought the tickets and didn’t even think to check about the finale. I had read all about that previous ballet’s choice of happy ending, had thoroughly disagreed, but I understood it. Ok so you want to make ballet more accessible for the masses, fair enough, why not Walt Disneycise it? However, I did remember very very clearly how as the climax built up, I was waiting for something… something… and then the guy shot him and ta-dah, they were done. What an anticlimax, what a betrayal, and, especially, where was that final bit of music I was expecting? Rubbish.

So this time, as I sat in the front left row, and I could see the very-aptly-described-by-my-friend “packets of muscle” that the dancers were, and every expression, all the sweat, and the orchestra right there in front of us, and I floated through my friend’s snarky comments and beer breath and my husband’s criticism of how loud the (gorgeous) principal male dancer Talgat Kozhabaev was (he really wasn’t, it was normal for the high jumps he was doing), forced myself to not too look too hard at the skinnier-than-skinny ginger dancer, I slowly managed to get into the ballet and was completely sucked in when the swans came on… and then she arrived, the incredible Liliya Oryekhova, with her hypermobile limbs, her birdlike flutters and incredible suppleness.

Siegfried was hot, proud and a perfect prince, but she was stunning. Both as Odette, incredibly sad and yet secretly powerful, you could feel her personality despite the curse she was under, and as the wicked, cheeky Odile. I was completely mesmerized by her and I will start to follow her, to find out when I can see her again (hopefully I’ll be able to afford a ticket). The whole corps-de-ballet was amazing, the famous pas-de-quatre stunning, and I wish I knew all the technical names of all the amazing things these dancers did.

By the time the ending was near, I had forgotten about the drenched best friend of Siegfrid’s, that the Joker was very good but not as good as the South American one we saw three (or four?) years ago, and the harp sound coming from the pianola player right in front of us. I had forgotten and was just sucked in the confrontation between Siegfried and the very very excellent Daniil Orlov as the very menacing and darkest Rothbart. Loved when they danced as he the shadow of Siegfried, so much interpretation could be done of this but I’ll leave it for another time…. and then Rothbart takes Odette, he has killed her, and lays her down. His power was diminishing you see, for despite his ruse Siegfried and Odette were once again strong together. He kills her and lays her down, and Siegfried, instead of, (as in this version that my daughter was watching today) deciding to ignore her, kill Rothbart (why not kill him earlier, then, you prat, if it was so easy?) and then stroll over to Odette who miraculously revives (but I must admit this ending was a little less ridiculous than the ballet two years ago, though the musical choice to complement it was laughable), he lies down next to her, and dies. Rothbart is finally vanquished for good, their love seals the most powerful counter curse and all the other swans are now free. Sadness, and just joy, together, with a beautiful soft sad music at the end, rather than a random hyped up volumized bit of the original music just placed there to fake coherence and last-minute smiles of victory.

Bravo Moscow City Ballet, for maintaining purity and drama, and for managing such a lovely performance in such a cramped place.

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