A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Лебедине озеро (Swan Lake)

I am obliged to begin with a disclaimer for all future reviews of performances held in the Opera and Ballet Theater. Here are housed the opera and the ballet companies of Dnepropetrovsk, the third largest city in Ukraine. This is no country performance, this is a major metropolitan production. As such, I am comparing it to the likes of New York, San Francisco, and Madrid (as a side note, I cannot believe that these are the only three cities in which I’ve seen major theatrical performances). If it seems like I’m being harsh, it’s because this is truly excellent company to be compared with and it is hard to live up to such standards. I also want to make known that I was a bit lenient in my review of Carmina Burana. I did not realize the excellent quality of performances here, which I have later experienced first hand, and so I treated it as a B level theater with a B level company.

This understood, I can tell you right of the bat that Swan Lake was not a perfect performance, but it was overall very good. The company was good, but did not move as one. Lead performances were technically sound, but lacked emotion and feeling. The scenery was beautiful without being too distracting, and the costumes were wonderful. The final result was a highly enjoyable performance, visually spectacular, but quite unmoving.

The Prince was truly uninspired. I could hear him thinking through each complicated move, and his prep time seemed to last always just slightly longer than it should have. In fact, although he was quite active, his movements felt stagnant because of these pregnant pauses and constant contemplation, and he developed no character whatsoever. His performance was disappointing.

His male counterparts were wonderful, on the other hand. The Jester at court and the King Swan in the lake were wonderful dancers. Although they were not technically perfect (both seemed to lose their center a few times during different turns), the energy they brought to the stage provided a welcome contrast to the Prince’s pedantic pace. The King Swan especially was full of personality and spirit, and I found myself most attentive whenever he was on stage.

As for the women, I don’t know what magic overpowered them. When they were in the lake, they performed beautifully, all of them, but when they were in the court, they were dull, spiritless, and rather technically unsound. Even our beautiful Swan Princess, when she came to court, seemed to forget her moves, when really she was doing a very similar pas de deux to that of the previous act, which was magnificent. All of a sudden, in Act 3, she forgot who she was and what she was doing, and I could even see the care on her face as she struggled to maintain her balance throughout this great endeavor.

Which is too bad, really, because she was utterly fantastic in Acts 2 and 4. I whispered to Lena that I was in love with her, and that maybe she and I could run away together and leave the bumbling prince behind. Her movements were the definition of grace and elegance. Her body and her arms seemed to be controlled by entirely separate brains, because while she might be leaping or pirouetting, her arms were flapping gracefully, preening like a swan, moving slowly as if through water, always elegant and beautiful. Her performance was uttlerly spectacular. It didn’t matter that she had no chemistry whatsoever with the prince; I blame him. She was exquisite, at least while in the lake.

At the end, I was neither happy nor relieved when the Prince killed the King Swan. I was rooting for him, honestly. How would you feel if your son or daughter came home one day and said s/he was going to marry a bird? Well, the swans must feel the same way about bringing a human. Just because the Queen was dumb witted enough to think this was a good idea doesn’t mean the Swan King must. Besides, the Swan King was such a superior performer to the Prince, I couldn’t help but hope that he would triumph. The fight scene was a little ridiculous, actually. The choreography was a far from violent– it appeared that the two men were trying to hug each other, but that some force only allowed them to link arms. I don’t know if this is the original choreography or a change the Dnepropetrovsk company decided to try. Either way, it made me laugh, rather than moved me to the edge of my seat.

I think that sums up the experience, actually. Nothing moved me, to the edge of my seat or to any precipice of emotion. I sat back the entire time, thoroughly entertained, often quite impressed, but never excited or enraptured.

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