Harris Theater presents State Ballet Theatre of Russia SWAN LAKE Review– Classical Splendor

State Ballet Theatre of Russia SWAN LAKE
State Ballet Theatre of Russia SWAN LAKE

Harris Theater presents One Performance Only of Classical Ballet at its Finest!

Founded by legendary dancer and former Prima Ballerina of The Bolshoi Theater Ballet, Maya Plissetskaya, the State Ballet Theater of Russia, now under the direction of award-winning dancer and Moiseyev dance company soloist Nikolay Anokhin, presented one of the greatest classical ballets of all time: Swan Lake.

55-young artists present glorious enhancement

Swan Lake is a full-length Ballet in Four Acts. This full-scale production is set to the music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and is based on Russian folklore and German legend following a heroic young prince as he works to free the beautiful swan maiden from an evil spell.

The State Ballet Theater of Russia presents 55 of Russia’s brightest ballet stars to bring this romantic tale of true love to glorious life!  Although Swan Lake  is presented in many different versions, most ballet companies base their stagings both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, staged for the Imperial Ballet on 1895, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

Seeing this original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov as presented in Imperial Russia in 1877 by Moscow’s Imperial Bolshoi Ballet was pure joy. What a guy!

Most of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s critics at that time were not familiar with ballet or music but rather with spoken melodrama.  Despite Swan Lake’s initial failure, it is now one of the most popular of all ballets. Tchaikovsky is the author of some of the most popular themes in classical music and themes today.  He founded no school, struck out on no new paths or complicated methods and sought few innovations in his works.   Yet, the power of his best music elevates it to classical status.  It was Tchaikovsky’s unique melodic charm that could, whether in his Piano Concerto No. 1 or in his ballet The Nutcracker or in his tragic last symphony, makes the music sound familiar on first hearing.

State Ballet Theatre of Russia SWAN LAKE
Classical Splendor!

Pure classical technique!

Old World Classical Ballet reigns supreme with this company and several times I had to pinch myself.  I had journeyed to St. Petersburg for 10-days when it was called by an earlier communist name and saw much ballet during the annual June “White Nights” festival. Last night I attended this performance with friend and former ballerina of American Ballet Theatre, Ms. Ruth Ann Koesun.  We were giddy with delight enjoying first of all – the pure choreography of Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Anatoly Emelianov as performed in 1877 and not all messed up with modern-day wannabes. We both agreed that the training, technique and artistry of the Russians far exceed that of our local artists.  The elevations were higher; the feats of appearing to stop high in the air; and the pure physicality merged with lyricism and gravity defying moves brought bravos from the extremely enthusiastic audience.  With each Pas or dance, the dancers came back to the ground and stopped! Dead in their places.  Detached faces!  (I had to get over that because I wanted them to enjoy us enjoying them…but alas.)

It is open season for swans!

And then after an exciting Act I comprised of the expected virtuoso Pas de Trois and Pas de Quatre came the familiar strains of Act II and 18-swans came on stage hopping in blue light; my heart stops here every time I see this ballet.  Plus, the flock of swans was elegantly knowledgeable in modesty. That moment when Odette, the Swan Queen takes the hands of Prince Siegfried in hers (I know – swan are not supposed to have hands) the flock turns in unison away from the young lovers and coyly look to the ground. Odette lets the audience know her feelings with her tutu trembling.  The two lovers profess their undying pure love for each other; this is the only way the evil spell of Odette remaining a swan can be broken.  A glorious moment that only classical ballet can deliver.

Ekaterina Tikhonova danced Swan Queen to Valeriy Tselischev’s Prince Siegfried and their Pas de Deux was romantic and starry-eyed.  Ms. Tikhonova is not only an absolute prima ballerina but an actress of the first caliber! Her port de bras are second to none and her arms seem to be ball bearings in her shoulders.  Only those Russians!  In the ball scene of Act III, an evil spell changes her into Odile, the Black Swan who enchants Siegfried enough that he professes his love to her. BAM!  His virginal love for Odette is destroyed and she is now committed to life as a swan. The frenzied highlight of Act III has been since the ballet’s debut, 32-fouettes performed by the Black Swan.  Madame Tikhonova nailed them all!

Frappe anyone?

American ballet dancers no longer execute frappes – or beating of the feet in midair; every dancer  in this company did. Frappes were mandatory in Russian and European ballet and forgotten about in modern ballet because the technique is too difficult.  Usually, in America, the only time we see this feat is in The Sleeping Beauty’s Blue Bird variation.  Evgeniy Kuchvar who dances all major roles in the company’s repertoire performed the role of von Rothbart, the evil magician holding the power over Odette.  He danced athletically and with much sensuality not usually seen in Russian companies as they are all pure technique.  Mr. Kuchvar’s performance reminded me of Marcelo Gomes, star of American Ballet Theatre.  This is a role that is all about flailing of the port de bras but Mr. Gomes broke ground with his acting and I saw that recreated last night.

It was thrilling to be in the audience!

Standing ovation

If I seem like I am fawning over the State Ballet Theatre of Russia that is because I am.  The one-performance only evening was pure classical dance, attended by a pleased capacity crowd and Russian spoken in the lobby.  I love these evenings!



Harris Theater Millennium Park, 205 East Randolph Drive, Chicago, IL 60601

For more information on upcoming events in the 2017 Season at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance visit https://www.harristheaterchicago.org/tickets/upcoming-events

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