Magazine article The Spectator

Traditional Values

Magazine article The Spectator

Traditional Values

Article excerpt

Dance critics often refer to specific sections from a ballet as their personal touchstones for assessing artistic standards in a performance. For me, in Swan Lake, one of these sections is at the end of the first lake-side scene, when dawn is breaking and the swan-maidens dance frenziedly, as if crying for freedom before turning back into swans. Few companies today are able to evoke the climax of this moment. Fortunately, the Riga Ballet Company is one of them.

The ability to make viewers believe in silly fairy tales has always been a prerogative of the Russian school-trained dancers, and the Latvian artists are no exception. They do not need any of those fanciful readings that often turn Swan Lake into either a political or a sexual introspection of the story in order to make it acceptable. The Riga's production of the classic is a traditional one, where the adjective `traditional' does not necessarily stand for `oldfashioned'. Indeed, the garish first-act costumes and, most of all, the Soviet-- inspired finale, where the sacrifice of the two lovers breaks the spells and grants the swan-maidens their freedom, exude a slightly mothball-scented aura. Still, it is a scent that never gets too much in the way, and it is forgotten as soon as the excellent corps de ballet -- mostly beautiful, talented youngsters - is in action.

The choreography is credited to the 1895 creators, Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, but this version includes, in the typical way most Russian-based productions of this ballet do, a wealth of interpolations, such as the Jester allegedly introduced by Gorskij in 1901, and a drastic, yet convincing restructuring of the ballroom scene, which follows the original score. All in all the performance demonstrated that one does not need to have internationally famous stars to have a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

An all-star cast, though, does not necessarily guarantee a memorable performance. On Monday, the Royal Ballet made what, on paper, looked like a grand comeback, after a long period of absence from the London scene. The opening night of the programme (which changed on Tuesday) was mainly intended as a celebration of the 100th birthday of Dame Ninette de Valois the company's founder. Given the importance of the occasion, the finest artists from the highest ranks of the company had been recruited to perform in front of an equally star-studded audience. It was a pity that in spite of all these great ingredients the result was only a half-risen souffle. …

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