So, last night I went to see ABT‘s Swan Lake, starring my favorite (Marcelo Gomes OF COURSE), and the Russian ballerina ALL the critics are talking about, Diana Vishneva, who divides her time between the Kirov Ballet, in St. Petersberg, and ABT. I was really looking forward to seeing these two together, and particularly to Ms. Vishneva, since I’ve seen so little of her.
I just WANT so badly to love her. She just didn’t really do it for me here. I do think she’s a great ballerina capable of really taking your breath away at points. In the third Act of the ballet (the famous black swan pas de deux), she whipped around those fouettes around like I’ve never seen anyone do before — I’m not a counter but I swear it seemed they numbered in the triple digits, and she was spinning so fast I felt my own head spin just watching her. She looked pleased with herself, for once (I think she’s very, very hard on herself). But artistically, and I almost feel badly criticizing her for this because I feel kind of like it’s a Russian thing, but I feel that she’s a great solo dancer, a great prima ballerina, but one who works magic on her own, not with a partner.
In fact, she wasn’t working with my Marcelo at all! Near the beginning, Marcelo’s Prince Siegfried has just been given a crossbow at his coming-of-age party and now is out in the woods dealing with the fact that he’s about to become king and must get over his childishness and pick a bride. He sees the beautiful swan and of course, like a dumb boy, starts to take aim, when she suddenly transforms into the beautiful girl, Odette, that she is (pre-spell cast by the evil von Rothbert). When she does so, he is stunned, immediately taken with her, and quietly watches her. She soon spots him and is afraid, and he makes clear he’s not going to harm her; to the contrary, he’s mesmerized. She then tells him her sorrowful story of the spell and what must be done to relieve it.
So, I feel like I only saw this story from Marcelo’s point of view. When he shows her he’s not going to harm her, his feelings are so clear; he acts it perfectly. But she hasn’t seemed fearful, so I’m totally confused. And I don’t see her transforming from swan to girl, back to swan — I see something lovely and ethereal, but that’s all, no story and no dual character. And then when they do the pas de deux (in which she’s supposed to tell him her sad story), I see a prima ballerina dancing gorgeously as a beautiful swan, but NOT a swan — a prima ballerina dancing as a swan. And, I don’t see her communicating in the least with him. It’s like the man is just a human elevator, just there to lift her ballerina / swan into the air so that she can shine up there, half way to the ceiling, gloriously. And I know there are those to whom this is what Ballet is: the man is not supposed to be seen; he’s just there to carry the ballerina all over the stage and keep her from falling during her turns and arabesques so that the illusion that she’s this ethereal being who can float in the air unsupported can be maintained.
But that’s not Ballet for me. The man is essential to me. He’s part of the story, and he’s an important character, and he’s not just a human transporter of ethereal ballerinas. He’s the man, he’s Marcelo, and he should be seen, dammit!
Okay, back to that third Act, the black swan pas de deux where she does the spectacular fouettes: Diana is now playing the evil von Rothbert’s daughter, Odile, whose mission is to seduce him so that he will not be able to save Odette from her swan fate. I felt this duet worked ever so slightly better since she’s now supposed to be kind of wickedly, meanly, seductively playing with his feelings, but it still wasn’t what it would have been if theirs was a true partnership. It was too much about her; she was still too aloof to be seductive.
Weird as this may sound, what I actually DO kind of like about her is what she brings culturally to ABT. She so Russian, the way she takes her mid-performance bows and then curtain calls in the end. It’s actually kind of fun to see that on an American stage — all of that slow, drawn-out melodrama and extreme seriousness. Russian ballet dancers take themselves and their art with all the seriousness in the world. And what I love so much about Marcelo is that he’s such a great partner, such a great guy, such a great overall human that he just goes along with whatever his ballerina is doing. So, with her, he kind of became “Russian” too — standing in back of her and presenting her as if she’s absolute Royalty, all intense seriousness and melodrama right along with her.
My ballet universe just would not be the same without Marcelo He tells the story for me and makes everything real and human and relatable. Even just the way he sits on his throne watching all the would-be brides, taking it all in, humored by some of them at points, then thinking he sees Odette, remembering her, realizing how devastated he is, the way he first sees the swan and boyishly wants to take aim, then is overtaken by her transformation, the way he “talks” to her… Like I said, he just tells the whole story with his face and his actions. And even outside of the world of the story, the way you can see the dancerly concentration on his face, making sure he’s being a perfect support for the ballerina, just taking care of her onstage — it’s so endearing; makes him seem like a real guy and not a “dancer” — I guess the complete antithesis to her.
One other thing about her: I saw this posted on Ballet Talk. It’s her website and she has a page where fans can interact with her. One fan recently told her they were excited about coming to see her perform here, said they were really looking forward to seeing marvelous dancing. Her response: “good luck.” Hehe. She obviously has a fun sense of humor, another thing that makes me want to like her… Not like personality is a substitute for knock-out dancing, but it’s definitely not unimportant either… I will definitely keep going to her performances; there is something very intriguing about her; she has a real mystique, even if she hasn’t blown me away yet
Anyway, intermissions were fun-filled as well. I saw Anna Kisselgoff, former New York Times chief dance critic, in the ladies room. Then, I ran into Apollinaire in the lobby! She took me to the press office to get press packets — there’s a lot of very interesting info in these little packets: in-depth history and synopsis of the ballet, info on the choreography, the scenery and costumes, the music and the score broken down to each tiny piece of the ballet, all kinds of cool details. And there’s a whole little universe over there on the lower left side of the house, orchestra level — all these little nooks and crannies, little rooms and offices! Who knew?!
AND, while we were lounging outside of the press office, in the hallway, who should come blazing through the back door but the illustrious Roberto! I tried to stay all calm and act nonchalant and pretend I had no idea who he was, but, as they rounded the corner, his friend caught me staring at him all doe-eyed from behind. Oh well…
One last thing: here is Vitali Krauchenka, a corps dancer who danced von Rothbert:
Philip and I saw him at the gift shop at New York City Ballet a few days ago (albeit looking not like the pic above but like this :)) during the final performance there. Very strong stage presence! I really like him.