National Ballet Theatre of Odessa: Swan Lake

It occurred to me that you could keep the choreography for Swan Lake exactly the same and change the story to be about a prince who encounters a magical swan who helps him to realize that animals are people too and sets him on the path towards becoming an animal rights activist. The prince turns down the four princesses because each has livestock as part of their dowry. Von Rothbart is a swan farmer and Odile is actually his daughter who tricks the prince into swearing to protect her father from those in the kingdom who would take away his living. Really, Rothbart makes a lot more sense this way than being some random magician who likes turning young women into swans. I mean, what’s that about? Is he supposed to be some sort of incel misogynist taking his revenge through sorcery on women who won’t date him? And, really, the prince falling in love with a freakin’ swan-lady on first sight is pretty shallow and just a little on the gross side. Unless he’s got some serious bestiality fetish for birds, I don’t think someone that shallow is going to risk his life to fight a wizard who can summon lightening and turn people into animals. He’d be like, “Oh, you’re hot but there are other fish in the sea…or birds in the sky…or ducks in the pond…whatever,” and then go have his way with some serf girl who will be killed if she says no to him because, let’s face it, the reality of feudalism and our romantic ideals aren’t really as compatible as the modern adaptations of the old European folktales may want us to believe. I find it much more believable that the prince became a vegan and tried to keep the swans dancing to Tchaikovsky instead of singing Orff.

Regardless of the story, the National Ballet Theatre of Odessa’s production of Swan Lake on Sunday at the Fox Theatre was really enjoyable. Normally we would see State Ballet Theatre of Russia at the Fox around this time of year, but I’m happy that we had NBT Odessa instead. SBT Russia’s works are good but they feel a bit archival: dedicated to bringing classic Russian ballets to the stage as they were performed a century ago. NBT Odessa’s Swan Lake felt more alive, showing the influence of 100 years of stagings and restagings by some of the most brilliant artistic directors in Ballet. A friend of mine whose experiences with ballet are minimal went with his girlfriend who had received free tickets from her company and he reported enjoying it. He said that he felt that it was hard for him to get into the beginning, with all of the court dances, but by the end he was drawn in and really appreciated the performances. Given the various updates come in the narrative and not in the dances, I think that he might not have enjoyed SBT Russia quite so much whereas his experience with NBT Odessa seems to have left him thinking that a trip to the ballet would be a good date night.

The drops and the costuming were all in good repair with no obvious stains or creases and colors that looked fresh and unfaded, which isn’t always the case with a touring company. I think that they should rethink Von Rothbart’s costume, which was all black. It blended with the black of the marley and the dancer’s lines were broken up even more by the gobos in the scenes by the lakes, making it hard to see. The lighting techs also seemed a bit off here and there, particularly with the followspot, but aside from those two things, I think the mise-en-scène was excellent for a touring production.

The performance was generally good. The principals were all a delight to watch and, with the exception of a corps member being a bit off mark here and there, the rest of the cast did a good job of bringing the choreography to life. As someone who really appreciates ensemble work, I was particularly pleased to see that the Dance of the Little Swans was well done. Overall, I was very happy with this production and hope that Odessa sends its company to visit regularly in the future.

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