Gliding into the realm of dreams

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Endless rows of sinuous bodies converge as the legendary Bolshoi Ballet brings the unconscious workings of a prince torn between purity and temptation up to the surface. Seemingly boundless extensions, perfectly executed pirouettes — our eyes close to summon the intoxicating world of Swan Lake

The tale is one of desire and sinister intent whose lightning strikes the contrasting beauty of romance. Psychological turmoil and the vertigo of longing are foregrounded in this reworking of a German fairytale set to Tchaikovsky’s revered score. Swan Lake, perhaps the best-known ballet of all time, is four acts that construct a delicate slice of masochism for those of us who relish the sting of getting our hearts broken again and again.

The Bolshoi, world-renowned for its trademark precision and grandiose productions, performs choreographer Yuri Grigorovich’s unique version of the ballet under the artistic direction of Boris Akimov. This tragically beautiful composition is infused with Grigorovich’s perspective on the political climate of Russia under Communist rule. It’s the quintessential account of love, deception and sorrow that beckons to be continually explored through revision. In the current Bolshoi conception, the classic story focuses on the internal rather than external struggle of Siegfried, but the more narrative version of the saga is an important memory to have to prepare for Grigorovich’s enchanting concoction.

Once upon a time ... the folk story’s tragedy begins as the wicked magician Rothbart (whom Grigorovich reconfigures as the Evil Genius, Fate) casts the princess Odette into the form of a swan. She lives as this feathery white creature all but the midnight hours, when she’s temporarily returned to her royal form. On one of these magical occasions she meets the fanciful Prince Siegfried, who falls madly in love with her then, like every good fairytale prince, promises to rescue her. The young noble is driven by his desire for sublime love, but is often distracted by the allure of the unknown.

As the legend continues, a ball is held in order for Siegfried to proclaim his bride. An enchanting black swan, who resembles Princess Odette, enters the celebration, and with the allure of a dangerous snake mesmerizes Siegfried. He declares this imposter (actually Odile, Knight Rothbart’s daughter) to be his future bride. The real Odette then appears and much to her horror sees what has happened. Siegfried too recognizes the deception. Devastated, Odette rushes off to the lake, followed by the confused prince. But the power of love prevails, allowing the couple to reconcile before falling victim to the ensuing treachery of Rothbart.

The current Bolshoi rendition negotiates the unconscious elements of desire and the often self-destructive nature of ardor, rather than adhering to the methodical storyline. In Grigorovich’s captivating rendition, the Evil Genius pulls the naive dreamer into a tumultuous spiral of shadows and light, much to the torment of his psyche. At first sight of the swans elegantly swaying under the cool, saturated light of introspection, one slips into the sphere of musing. This psychologically driven adaptation gushes its own delicate stream of splendor.

Grigorovich is renowned as one of the most accomplished Russian choreographers of the 20th century. A soloist of the Mariinsky Theatre for 18 years and head of its Kirov Ballet, he became artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet in 1964. For the next 30 years, he saw the company through one of its greatest periods of artistic achievement and activity.

The company expertly conveys the delicate struggle that tragic stories are made of through its calculated artistry and celebrated command of the art form. The upcoming Detroit performance features principal dancer Nadezha Gracheva, who celebrates her U.S. debut with the company as she spearheads the spectacular cast of dancers, including Galina Stepanenko, Maria Aleksandrova, Anna Antonicheva, Dmitry Belogolovtsev, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Sergei Filin and Andrei Uvarov.

Swan Lake’s magnetism lies in its contrasts, the interplay between the ominous dominion of black magic and the inspirational light of enchantment. From the bold and terrifying realm of the Evil Genius to the angelic presence of Odette-Odile and the majestic grandeur of the sets, the Bolshoi successfully captures the extravagant fantasy and sorrow of this meditation on the human condition.


The Bolshoi Ballet performs Swan Lake at the Detroit Opera House (1526 Broadway, Detroit), Wednesday, Nov. 20 through Sunday, Nov. 24. For tickets, call 313-237-SING or 734-764-2538.

Katie McGowan writes about dance for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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