You have to write the review, said my friend, for the folk who didn’t get to see it. But it’s not like this beats the DVD or a live viewing, since obviously I don’t know the choreography…and it’s a one-human periscope view. The periscope also saw diamonds of the first water in a necklace thicker than my wrist, and globular pearls as large as my eyes on fingers and dangling from ears, and a very fine pair of opera glasses made of fine gold-panelled wood.
On that note, loads of Singapore Dance Theatre’s dancers were in Malaysia for the first leg of their tour over the weekend. Hurray for their performances! (Though they then missed ABT’s :o)
This is the original poster with the original cast.
I’ll put up the cast lists for all the nights, but I saw Thurs, Fri and Sat nights. There was some cast changes here and there. The most major change from what we had been given to expect when we bought tickets, was that Isabella Boylston’s partner was supposed to be Alban Lendorf but was changed to Daniil Simkin. We hope Alban Lendorf is fine.
The unbeatable Singapore Lyric Orchestra. Hats off. The solo violin during the White Swan scene, the percussionists, the harp, the everything. Did you order the rumbling roar of forest leaves, the roll of thunder? Here you go.
It’s Sunday… ain’t no time to waste.
Thurs night – Misty Copeland and Herman Conejo. This is known as “Misty’s night“.
Fri night – Hee Seo and Cory Stearns. This is known as “Hee Seo’s night“.
Sat night – Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkins. This is known as “Sat night” or “Isabella’s night“.
This is the curtain when you enter. Look at those carved metal vines. “They have so much money their money makes money,” someone said once, which a friend told me means that their money is invested and grows.
This curtain is translucent. When a light is shone upon it, one gets to see the monster emerge somewhere to the audience’s right, a great green-grey creature with horns in a rubber suit that gives him huge veiny thighs and enormous arms and immense fugly abs. He claws at the air, then disappears.
Then a princess runs in from the right: Misty Copeland is a youthful light princess, fleet of foot; Hee Seo is a graceful young princess; Isabella Boylston is a graceful charming princess, which stands in great contrast to her White and Black Swans. After she disappears in to the curtains to our right, the monster appears and gazes out after her (?) and then he claws the air – you can see his head has been turned – he has spotted his prize. He vanishes with a flourish of his great, leafy cape, and morphs into a prince (who sweeps out from behind the cape). This prince is the Sorcerer of the night in Act 3.
The princess emerges again from our left, and she is drawn to the Sorcerer as he calls out to her. You can see her fall in love with him – I actually was a bit taken in for Misty’s night, perhaps due to the seating; I actually thought for a moment this was a prologue, a summary of the evening’s events. But the foreboding music hinted at what was to come, and the dancing as well – for he sweeps her off her feet and captures her heart, but also binds her spirit, as he lifts her aloft like a prize, and gives her no opportunity to escape from his iron embrace. You can see her desperately trying to escape (Misty), succumbing and flailing (Hee Seo), struggling and suddenly realising what’s going on (Isabella).
The false prince pulls the princess back into the darkness, one arm wrapped about her waist, while she grasps at the air desperately, unwillingly. And then out emerges the monster again, carrying a huge swan flapping its wings in terror. That’s kind of unpleasant and chilling.
This Swan Lake wants you to know that the ending is not pretty. Yep, got the message 😮
Lights off, so it’s darkness, and the black curtain behind the curtain (frontdrop?) can roll back to reveal a sort of town scene. Curtains back (you should see the Act 3 curtains, they winch upwards as if invisible hands are drawing them upwards, but probably it’s the work of invisible drawstrings running along their width)!
A flat railing at the back for walking on and people to sit upon. Drinks to be had, and a couple having a tiff up front. The grand stairs to the right – there’s where the royals emerge.
There’s a part where a normal peasant girl impulsively decides (against the wishes of her boyfriend with whom she has just had a tiff, and then, with him shoving her forward) to approach the Prince. I have no idea where that comes in! But the Prince is friendly, and also is clear that she has a boyfriend, and she ducks back to be with her boyfriend. This shows that the Prince is friendly with folk, and also doesn’t overstep the boundaries.
The Prince accepts a drink from Benno. Prince Cory relishes rolling the wine in his mouth, while Prince Daniil finds the wine a bit strong. Ladies bring garlands to the Prince, the Prince sits, the Waltz begins. It’s a merry and very long piece.
Now we must be facetious and comment on the lush velvets and silks. It feels as if the Houses of Gucci and Versace have sponsored the clothes. Skirts come in varied, tasteful shades and mouth-watering colours.
The Waltz is lovely and complicated: 2 rows of 3 pairs, men lifting ladies up and landing them lightly to greet the Prince. Lots of little attitudes to the back, lifted legs to the front. There’s so much action – to the audience’s left, a column of single ladies doing a little skating movement (a little leap forward then up en pointe with a leg back in attitude, then down again and repeat) to the front and all the way to the back, while in the centre of the stage, couples twirl. The partner-work and group work is very strong and graceful.
ABT has a sort of natural graceful look to it. A friend commented that she thought they tended to favour the graceful, delicate, pretty look – everyone has light twisting hands and garland arms. While I think that that look holds true for quite a few of the soloists and the principals, it’s not always so. There’s enough variation. I do think Royal Ballet holds more to that look of rounded gracefulness; and NYCB, in comparison, leans more towards the, well, lean mean sharp speed (with the exception of a few, e.g. the sparkling Sara Mearnes).
Towards the end of the Waltz, the villagers (ladies in embroidered embossed dresses that are simply unbelievably tasty-looking, and the men in shorts ala the high mountains) bring in a huge maypole adorned with long pastel candy ribbons, and each girl takes one. An actual maypole! I went back to read my SDT review and I saw a reference to a Maypole-like dance. Well, here’s the real deal. The girls take the ribbons and do little jumping partial front-splits – round and round in a circle. The young men stand in an inner ring and they lift the ladies and set them down in some alternating fashion so that the maypole ribbons are all crossed, and then the young men lift them up again and set them down so the maypole ribbons are uncrossed. So clever!
In the meantime, what of our Prince, for whom these festivities are laid out? He stands and marvels, or, if he is Prince Daniil, he is obviously mindblown and greatly cheered by all this, and then towards the end, his friends lift him up upon their shoulders so that he is the centre of attention while pretty ladies leap about him and he marvels at the work of engineering and the ribbons.
It’s not too early to say that Prince Daniil Simkin is everything the magazines promised and more. He appears to be a mood-maker, and it was almost as if his appearance on the stage lifted the spirits of the cast. Everyone seemed to be out to impress. It could also just have been that Sat night was just right – cohesiveness amongst Swans, a Benno (Joseph Gorak) who was a cheerful good friend, etc.
After the Maypole dance, I can’t remember what happens. I think the Prince has a happy solo. It feels like Herman Conejo is an old hand at this, as he takes us through the steady moves like a walk in the park, and punctuates every arabesque with a splendid sharp lift of his head and proud turn of the hand. To the layman eye, Cory Stearns seems to have a really good strong technique and his moves are very clean. Daniil Simkin has quite splendid high leaps and also the artistry you see in the videos, which makes it truly pleasant to watch him dance.
We have the Queen scene at this point. For this, she presents the crossbow before the order that he marry. Prince Daniil is a boyish prince who goes straight for the crossbow, and you can see he’s completely over the moon with it. It’s these giant moves, these great emotional touches, that carry the audience along with the story and help those in the back seats see what’s going on – very much appreciated.
The order to marry makes Prince Herman Conejo sad, dejected; makes Prince Cory taken aback and gloomy; makes Prince Daniil confused, upset. It is this reaction that makes for the great contrast when his friend Benno decides to cheer him up with a dance.
A friend remarked that the Prince-Benno friendship should be present, that they should appear to be friends. Kudos to Jeffrey Cirio, Prince Herman’s Benno, who was evidently the concerned friend throughout, and obviously built his character in relation to the Prince, as his right-hand man.
Jeffrey Cirio is a Benno who is high in infectious good energy and enthusiasm, and who puts every ounce of energy and spare into every move. It’s his goodwill and good nature that makes it all the more heartbreaking later when he offers his Prince Herman the crossbow that will forever change the Prince’s life (and death), and suggests that he go hunting.
Calvin Royal III, as Prince Cory’s Benno from Hee Seo’s night, is a very tall, lean dancer and as Benno (and also as Sorcerer on Misty’s night and Sat night), he made everything look slick and light and easy, never breaking a sweat. Clean fluid extended legs and arms that flicked like a wave of watercolour from a paintbrush. Joseph Gorak has a mix of both the energy and the ease, and a smooth finish to the partnerwork.
Pas de trois, a performance that is deeply appreciated for the amount of energy required. I found Skylar Brandt to be a marvelously nimble, agile, speedy dancer, hopping en pointe and zipping feet in and out of fifths with as much ease as if she were walking – no jerky landings. A friend enjoyed Sarah Lane’s light, noiseless, well-oiled dancing as well – she is more of the school of clean lines than the delicate hands.
Look, have some tantalizing excerpts from Jeffrey Cirio’s Instagram.
I’ll pause to say that during the first pas de trois, I suddenly had visions of Maughan Jemesen and May Yen Cheah dancing the exact same moves (remember, I watched two shows of theirs) and I remembered what Janek Schergen said about having dancers who can perform up to world-class standards and do exactly what everyone is doing. The same goes for Benno on Fri and Sat night – the opening leaps danced by Zhao Jun; the part where Benno leaps to the side and opens his arms, danced by Etienne Ferrere. (The same may be said for the Prince Cory Stearns in his solo in Act 3 — suddenly I remembered Chen Peng doing exactly the same stuff.)
Joseph Gorak had chemistry with Prince Daniil, and for every action from the Prince there was a suitable reaction. He’s also got great comic timing. This was made obvious when, after the tiring pas de trois, a bold young lady of the court decides to approach Benno and the Prince. The tired Benno tries to fob her off and foist her onto the Prince, but the Prince makes him dance instead. Any royal is good enough and she goes off with Benno. The first Benno (Jeffrey Cirio) was unwilling but way too good-natured, and his Prince Herman seemed encouraging; the second Benno (Calvin Royall III) was not terribly tired and he was very obliging to the lady; the third Benno (Joseph Gorak) was like oh noes oh noes even as he danced with her – he desired to retire to the side – while the Prince Daniil was definitely enjoying himself at his friend’s expense.
Eventually, the Prince ends up face-to-face with the bold young lady, who retreats, shocked that she actually has an audience with the Prince. On Sat night, Benno ensured this would happen, obviously on purpose, to tease them both, and the Prince, being a little mischievous himself, then decided to play along and approach the girl as she backed off and at last he kissed her hand and sent the nobles into a tizzy.
He dances with her, and then at the end, she goes off to be with Benno (?), which seems to puzzle Prince Daniil a little. A note here that the Prince is appreciative of female company. Prince Herman fluffs the skirt of one of the pas de trois when he meets her – where did you get this amazing floaty white bell skirt with embroidered flowers, he asks – and he does look pleased to be dancing with ladies. Prince Daniil clearly is very pleasant with the ladies as well.
But now after the bold young lady has gone off and he finds himself surrounded by three other ladies of the court who dance around him, the Prince is in a predicament. Prince Herman is like “how friendly these ladies are” and sort of sorties a bit with them in a good-mannered way, but they flit away behind him and he is bereft. Prince Cory obligingly observes them. Prince Daniil, however, has already been struck by the fact that the lady he was dancing with actually has found comfort with another gentleman, and in fact, as he turns around (thus drawing our gaze to the other couples) – everyone else is in couples. Everyone in court is courting and he is all by myself, I don’t wanna be all by myself.
This is where the acting gets interesting, because it segues into a dance.
Prince Herman dances a lonely clean-lined solo. His lines say: Just me and myself and nobody else, I am solitary, I am solitude. The light falls on his melancholy figure while the others pair up and ermahgawd, there’s even a dude in front who has two ladies on his arm, how is that even allowed?? life is unfair. This is a very mature and grave, rather than boyish, sorrow – tick-tock, goes the clock, and I am still alone. The Prince has to do this arabesque that swings up into a leg in front of him, which Prince Herman does steadily. That is how his dancing is–he takes you through the moves and they unfold like an accordion.
Prince Cory Stearns, who is actually very much the Apollo dancer you read about in books, the stoic chap with good princely looks shining out of his face, chooses to infuse his dancing with his acting, and his solo here is almost a waltz of a man who is without a partner – look at his port de bras and how he holds his arms, as if they are empty (they are) of a lady whom he wishes to hold. This is very much the romantic kind of view, which I think ties up with his Princess Hee Seo, who is very much the romantic tragic figure. His dancing is essentially there I am, on the mark and nails the mark.
Prince Daniil’s version, I suspect, is meant to be the turmoil – love, what is love, it exists and I don’t know it. At the end of his dance, he glanced around with the realisation that he is supposed to marry, but everyone else gets to fall in love and he hasn’t even had a taste of that. He dances with the flair and spirit, and interestingly, saves the best for Act 3.
Sad Prince goes up the stairs and he faces us. The couples face him, i.e. their backs are to us as the cold grey-blue light of a lonely twilight falls upon them, and this is some clever direction because you always expect to see people’s faces, but now that you see their backs only, you get a sense of the isolation he feels. They are sort of swaying – do the girls sit on the guys’ shoulders and hold their arms up above their heads? I forget. But then they stand with the mens’ arms about their shoulders and waists, all warm and fuzzy in their embrace.
You know what, this is probably all on youtube. I could be watching Ugly Delicious on Netflix instead. On that note, please watch Everything Sucks! — it is a wise, heartfelt piece of writing. I even like it a bit better than Rita, which actually sags occasionally.
I think Sad Prince goes off. His Tutor watches him sadly, understanding that inner turmoil, and when the couples go back to normal and the lighting is normal (if a little muted) again, Tutor tells Benno to go find the Prince and cheer him up. Benno on Thurs night is dismayed and concerned; Benno on Fri night is surprised and obligingly goes off; Benno on Sat night was enjoying himself in the company of a girl, but he is really very sad for the Prince, and he rushes off immediately.
Then the couples suddenly go straight into the Dance of the Goblets, or Polonaise. The switch in mood is a little sharp and abrupt. ABT’s version is the opposite of what Mr Janek Schergen had said for SDT’s version, which was that the Waltz was cheery and light-hearted, and the Dance of the Goblets was more serious and formal, to mark the change in the Prince’s future and the expectations heaped upon him. In ABT’s version, the Waltz was very much a courtly dance to welcome the Prince, and the Goblet Dance had no goblets (except for one part, hmm was that what it was for?) — it is a peasant dance of cheery youths, as the skies grow pink and purple, and the curtain is to fall on the Prince’s innocence and youth – a last hurrah, if you must. Youths running about cheerily onstage, arms about one another as they kick out, lining up to lift girls by the waist (the girls tucking their legs up or under), and pass the girls along until one is set down, hard, on her bottom in the dust, and she scolds the chap who dropped her. Visually, it’s important that the rest of the row of dancers reacts so that the audience realizes what has happened.
She either smacks him on the arm or ignores him, but he says Come, let’s have a drink instead, then; and they do, in a corner at the back by a barrel, their toast in a Goblet Dance, while the other pairs swish about with incredibly fast feet, from side to side. I like this dance for how the guys lift the girls up in the air, the girls also leaping high up, and arm around the guys’ shoulders for support and their legs tucked under – the very vision of a youthful, girlish leap in the air for joy.
After the dance, the youths go home – it’s dusk. Someone walks back on the railing, balancing carefully. Two other young men jete on their way back. Carefree, merry youth – silhouettes in the sunset as the trees close in from either side, probably on netted curtains.
Okay! I am done with Act 1.
Well, at least we know that Benno goes to find the Prince, and the Prince has been dancing quite sadly and beautifully, and Benno proposes he go hunting. Prince says No, Benno persuades him, Prince then says he’ll go alone, thanks, and Benno gets that it’s a royal wish, and he backs off.
Monster is in the background and Prince senses something is amiss and turns around but Monster is hiding.
Prince sees swan overhead. Prince is excited. Prince Cory is rather good at getting you to believe that he has seen a swan. She lands, turns into a swan, offstage – Prince is shocked and scared, and runs off.
Swan lands. Applause when Misty appears. I actually had tears standing in my eyes for much of the Misty night, because there was a real air of malice and fear and hope and trepidation. You hoped so much, in a way, for goodness to prevail.
I’m going to go full blast into comparisons now. You know why? Because you know what happens in the other Acts, more or less. You know about the birthday party! I’m not going to rehash it… it’s all the same structure as in Singapore Dance Theatre’s version, more or less 🙂
Thurs night – Misty Copeland: The brave, independent-minded Princess
Misty Copeland’s White Swan has been traumatized and that is what makes her flee from the Prince. She’s not recovered from the trauma of the capture. But dancing with him eventually makes her fall for hi. She sees he cares, and she finds herself caring for him too. So at the point when she rejects him for the hundredth time and he is feeling a little sad about it, she turns around and practically bumps into his shoulder as she heads for him and leans against him and lets him embrace her. What you see is a swan princess who has made her choice, exercised that free will and agency that has been taken from her, and seizes her destiny with her hands.
This is the Swan Princess who protects her flock from his crossbow – don’t touch my swan (sworn) sisters, and save us. She is strong, she is a Princess, and she does not make her decisions lightly. Her Prince is the standard classical Prince who senses immediately that she’s the one for him, and tries to better understand her.
This gives us a chance to better understand her White Swan solo as that of a girl who had once lived and breathed, and had her hopes crushed from years of captivity, and now she hopes again. That urgency, that fierce joy and hope. It brings tears to the eyes, over and over again – she is a woman who takes the plunge for love, and pays the price. When she turns into a swan again, she is a swan under the spell of the Monster, forced to bourre away rapidly.
Misty Copeland’s dancing is about precise execution and making it all look as easy and effortless as breathing so that you can see the story she is telling.
Her Black Swan is delightful and is here to have fun, and she knows we know it. She smiles at us even before she runs offstage, pursued by the besotted Prince. That smile is a wink to the audience, a wave to us: I know you know. She flirts with the Prince, she flirts with us. Her solo is a way of capturing the watching noble court’s hearts and ours too, and she’s ever aware that she’s showing them: I am wonderful and you, too, shall love me. And they do, and we do.
It’s that spritz of energy and spirit, that joyous delight in being the Black Swan, that makes it fascinating when she laughs mockingly at the Prince, darting behind her father, disappearing as everyone sweeps about in dismay, Queen in glorious green included. I would venture to say that her version of Odile and Odette are pretty consistent and seamless. There’s no break in her role. This calls for unafraid dancing and a clear vision in her mind.
When the Prince Herman comes to find her in Act 4, you feel your heart break because she is high up and all alone, while he has been at the party unwittingly betraying her.
She is at first unable to accept what has happened, but because she also has a tender heart and theirs is a relationship of support and understanding rather than the mere first bloom of love and its recklessness, she eventually forgives him.
What I gather is that if the Princess dies, Rothbart too shall die and the spell shall be broken. Or their true love will kill him. I don’t know which, but Rothbart doesn’t want either, no. She tries to run for the hills but Rothbart catches her, then the Prince rescues her, then Monster Rothbart attempts to kill the Prince with the Force and in that time, the Princess rushes up to the top and then pauses and then she leaps. This is her choice. She makes an active, calculated, firm decision and exercises her free will to do all that is in her power to put an end to it all. She is a brave Princess.
Her Prince follows, for he too respects and understands her choice, and knows his heart can only be happy when he is with her, that much is clear. Her leaping to her death has broken his heart and he must join her.
This is pretty standard for the Princes’ interpretation. To varying degrees, you can see that her death has left him with the understanding that he will follow her, for she is where his heart is. (For information: Prince Daniil collapses very visibly at this, as if the very heart of him has been shattered.)
I think the Prince here is the sort who lets his lady shine. He does his job gallantly, and lets her fly. His story is that this lady looks like the one he likes, and he can kind of see his lady love from the lake, in her current form.
Friday night – Hee Seo: The graceful, pretty, delicate Princess
It takes much technique, a friend highlighted, to carry the White Swan through the Act as Hee Seo does hers – as a fragile, delicate and intensely graceful White Swan. No matter how taxing the dancing is, she pours all her energy into that grace. The suffering, shy, terrified princess who flees from the strange man with the cross bow. The prince was quite playful in trying to catch her, but he also grows up once she tells him, with her tremulous arms, about how the lake was created from her mother’s torrents of tears when she vanished.
In the Coda of Swan Lake Act 2, when Hee Seo makes her delicate way down the diagonal and the swans dance at the sides (this is before the series of rapid interchanging passes – foot raised to the knee), I felt so sad because she was so beautiful and fragile, and she was a Princess once, and just a young Princess who wanted to live her life. There’s a sharp sense of loss – the Princess she could have been, and the life she is doomed to lead.
Hee Seo stands out for the part where she transforms into a swan again at the end of Act 2. You can see her body change into a swan’s, that of a fluttering bird’s, and when she bourres away, it is not with the mechanical movements of someone under a spell, but with the shivering wings and tail feathers of a bird that is compelled to fly away. She is a tender, delicate swan. Unlike Misty’s and Isabella’s White Swans, who return to their Princes just as their Princes have turned away dejectedly, it almost seems like her Prince turns to reach for her first.
The whole intent of this White Swan is, I think, to provide a sharp contrast to the Black Swan in Act 3 and then the White Swan again in Act 4. In Act 3, Hee Seo made quite a surprisingly stunningly wicked entry–with a great laughing smile. She was all daggers and sharp edges. You can see Prince Cory Stearns pondering briefly if this is really the White Swan, but then – interestingly – Hee Seo makes the most of her tiny little steps at this point, which are meant to mimic and bring to mind the White Swan, such that the body language of the legs and torso are White Swan. Delicate little flickering steps.
This Black Swan cunningly plays hard-to-get, and when she rebuffs her Prince, she does so very sharply, one arm slicing through the air. She’s arch – leaning into his arms and swallowing his embracing arms, throwing her head and back all the way back. How she advances upon him, proud of her catch and her abilities. Somehow, all this manages to lure the Prince. Why so fickle, Prince? I thought your ‘type’ was the pure, innocent, 哭哭啼啼 (ku ki ti ti – I suppose this can be translated appropriately into ‘sobbity sobbity’ or ‘tear-drenched’ and is used to describe tear-jerker, handkerchief-wringer TV dramas) type. You know, 泪流满面 (lei liu man mian – tears pouring down her cheeks) sort.
At the end of the pas de deux (together) section, the Black Swan should lean back in the Prince’s arms and drape her arm over his in a show of complete possession. That shape is so arch, the two of them together – it’s so wicked by itself. Yet Hee Seo chooses instead to remain upright and smile straight at us, glowing and basking in her evil glory. Why? I can’t understand.
What’s very interesting is that this amount of evil and a little of the moment where she slips forward and he just about catches her hand – they reminded me a little of Rosa Park’s wicked Black Swan.
Her Black Swan solo is, I think, meant to show more of the vitality of the Black Swan, and the stars are aligned when the Prince reappears because her whole show is for the Prince, and his presence gives her Odile/ Black Swan purpose and meaning.
This Black Swan is totally wicked and super enjoys it when the Prince has been fooled. Right at the end, she throws an arm up when he leans down and, at last, bursts into a sunny smile as he rests his cheek upon her hand. At last, I say, because it’s hard to say if he’s really been fooled throughout, but at the end he actually does look quite happy. Maybe his version of the story is that he’s not so silly and fickle.
Thusly, when we see the White Swan again, she has this air of absolute nobility and purity to her, standing all alone on the crest of the mountain which will be the platform for her doomed end, etc. You actually feel great stirrings of fondness suddenly because she’s quite a poor thing and also because you’ve been really annoyed by evil Black Swan. I think it’s really a deliberate choice to play up the very stark black-and-white versions.
This means that while she is heartbroken, at last she tremulously accepts her handsome prince’s apologies and sorrowful declarations of love. When the Monster Rothbart carries her away, you can see how fragile and delicate she is, and then she decides that it’s time to end this. She rushes up the mountainside overlooking the lake and she pauses dramatically, and she leaps. It’s in this moment that you feel a sense of admiration for her. In Act 4, she is all purity and forgiveness, and she sacrifices herself with sudden newfound courage.
Callous as it may sound, I must say that Princess Hee Seo and Prince Cory Stearns made magnificently elegantly graceful leaps. Prince Cory did the leap you will see in textbooks on what sort of leap you should make – it was a photo-worthy moment.
Now we must comment on Monster Rothbart as played by Thomas Forster. It’s not easy to emote for Rothbart, but he managed it. It was not the breaking of any enchantment that did him in. It was pure heartbreak. He was evidently jealous of the Prince in Act 4, and the death of the Princess broke his heart, and near killed him. He was in absolute agony, seeing the girl of his dreams die, and then when the Prince followed, that just ripped him apart from inside. I actually felt really sorry for Rothbart.
Together, the Prince and Princess are really a good-looking pair, and you can see how grateful she is to him at the very end, and how happy he is.
Sat night – Isabella Boylston: The regal princess
“I began to understand what you said about Rosa Park’s version,” a friend told me, after Act 2. You remember Rosa Park’s complex version of a little icicle of a Princess who does not trust, in order to protect her vulnerable heart, and whose heart is moved by the tender, overwhelming warmth of the smitten Prince.
This Princess is regal. She was once girlish and happy and carefree, and now she has become a regal swan. Oh, when she appears, in between the stretching of her arms, she gives a little shake of her head as if she is still a bird, learning to be human again after 12 hours of being a swan. In case you think you saw wrongly, she does it again later. And it is so bird-like, as if she is shaking water off her crown, that you are blown away by this tiny little touch of genius.
She’s the regal sort who’s embarrassed that he’s seen her transform into a person. (If her transformation is anything like when Sailor Moon characters change back into their normal clothes, then I can see why…)
The Prince must be spoken of with her, because that really explains stuff. They are clearly a partnership in this, a shared story. Interestingly, this Prince Daniil keeps his distance from her at the very start, to great dramatic effect – it shows his disbelief, his amazement, his wonderment. He grasps her hands, but she gives him the slip. They are more than dancing – they are telling a story and filling the stage with their energy. They are gilding the pages of those old-time storybooks rather than merely colouring within the lines. Basically, throughout the pas de deux, Prince Daniil handles the White Swan with care and tenderness. He shows her: I’ll be there for youuuu, Rembrandts-style. He shows her that he is really serious about being with her. Catching her about the waist, lifting her.
You know, I’d never known much about Daniil Simkins’ partnerwork, only about his flash and flair, because I hear things but I don’t really watch a lot and I’ve not read the magazines for a while. I had worried about the hype. But all I saw was a really generous partner who was not afraid to squat a little, if he had to, just to make sure his partner could do her (8??) pirouettes and look splendiferous. Anything to make her shine.
Through the dance, she shows how she has started falling for him: at the start, she rejects him; then at one part, she allows him to stroke her face but she pulls away quickly right at the end. When he turns away, dejected, she regrets what she has done, and she turns to him, and wheels her arms towards him as if to push away his arm and fall into his embrace (very slightly similar to SDT’s version), but happily, his mind meets hers and he is ready to lift his arm and embrace her.
Eventually, she rests in his arms and she caresses his hand as he embraces her. The second time he wraps his arm about her, they match each other for the degree of longing and trembling love. There’s a degree of sensuousness that you don’t expect because everyone says that Black Swan is the seductive one and White Swan is the pure, innocent one. Well, this White Swan says Man, I feel like a woman, and it’s kind of a Stuttgart feel, if I may say so. I mean, have you seen their Romeo and Juliet, and their Onegin? Those are not afraid to be open about their romances.
Isabella Boylston’s White Swan solo is beautiful and when it comes to the passes to the knees and the little bounces with that, you see that she’s fighting to live her life. The other swans genuflect and you can see she is their Princess. She has stopped him from shooting her people, and in this scene, they also acknowledge that she is someone they love and admire, as she dances with so much life.
Prince Daniil actually gives the prince emotions, too. His Prince smiles at the end of the pas de deux, in parts, as he lifts her. Who does that when they must be tired as anything? You know how at the end of Act 4, there are two diagonal rows and he lifts her kind of a little high but then carries her in one arm as she unfurls her legs and drags them on the ground? Well, Act 2 involves him dead-lifting her high up and walking. That’s got to be fun, not. But he’s smiling because he is in love and she loveth him too.
Now for the transformation back to the swan. She does that with a series of flurried neat pirouettes that are like Jessica Drew turning into Wonder Woman, and you can see her changing into a swan in that way, and then she has a very straight back and super-straight arms – not human, says her body language – she is the very arched-neck stiff swan who flies away with huge swan wings. A very different swan from the previous 2.
…the Prince does so much trying to find the Swan that it feels like he’s in Central Park: “Which lake? This lake? Or that lake?”
How now, Black Swan? I wondered how wicked she would be. And you know what? She is not actually about wickedness. No, this is a logical game. Your Prince knows you, and how can you lure him by being so straight-out wicked? Rather, you must be lustrous and have a winning smile. Such a sparkling personality. This is a little like the Singapore Dance Theatre’s interpretation in that it relies on the belief that the Black Swan retains just enough traits to the White Swan that the Prince’s heart may falter.
The Prince is overcome with joy and darts forward when he sees her.
In this case, Isabella Boylton plays the daughter to her father, rejoicing when his plan succeeds. She’s a strong confident dancer, and a joy to watch in how she simply eats up all the moves. This Black Swan is a glorious beauty and she sets out to seduce the court in her solo. Misty’s Black Swan has us and the court eating out of her hand because she’s not here to threaten us, just to make us marvel at her. This Black Swan, she will be Queen – and she’s here to show us her sparkling personality.
The Prince is marvellous in his solo here, giving us his famed high leaps and concentrating on his countless spins. In the pas de deux, when they are back to back and she spins round, and he too spins, arms outstretched, you can see his great longing and love in his face and how he holds his arms. Without his love, her hard work is for nothing. All this acting lends a dimension to the scene.
The final part is the icing on the cake, and the cherry on the icing. Princess Isabella Boylston gives an endless loop of fouettes (if I must say, about 34) and at least one set of triples or quadruples, to great cheers. This Black Swan is slick and confident, and young, and she knows that the Prince loves her now, more than ever. This gives the Prince Daniil the soaring mood he needs to launch into incredible dizzying turns that look almost acrobatic.
They are sizzling, the dance is absolutely on fire, and now at the very triumphant finish she must skate towards him, holding an arm up before her, rotating it to face herself like the normal port de bras, then to rotating it out to face him, like a veiled threat, and back to herself, and then to him. But what does the Princess do? She holds her arm up in a fabulous port de bras – then she flies at him, her arms opening – the one that is held up stretches a little more outwards than is usual, and the arm that is behind opens up a little as well, so she is flying on great dangerous wings. And she repeats this, for she is going straight home to his heart, and he is waiting for her with open delight, and we are all filled with glee for this is a magical, magical moment that you will never see again. They are feeding off the energy – she is feeding off the energy, and off his lifeblood.
They dance right up to almost the very last note, and then he falls to the ground and rests his cheek tenderly on her hand – not trulymadlydeeply as you would have imagined, but in joyous love – and oh, instead of doing the rest on my hands and I snatch one away, she in fact leans forward in a loving, caressing embrace as if she is the loving White Swan – yes, she bows forward to caress his cheek with her forearm! — then she leans back and throws her head and shoulder back in triumph.
The emphasis is not entirely on the pullback, but on that almost anti-climactic embrace that is another touch of genius. You’re like What is that?! and then you see what it means to the Prince. Little wonder then, that when the delighted Prince throws himself at his mother’s feet and declares this is the one, the one he loves, please please let me marry her, that the Queen sees her beloved son deep in love, and which mother would not want that? And of course she says Yes, yes, get up, my love, you must marry her.
In case you didn’t know, when the Sorcerer reveals the White Swan and rushes up the steps to exit through the front door, he disappears with a loud pop and flings down flames that burn briefly – three sharp dots of light. Such a clever idea. Prince Daniil is blinded, falls to the ground. This is very good acting on his part, this horror and writhing and rushing forward.
The two of them, the Prince and Princess, act very well with their body language.
Act 4. We see the Prince struggling against a storm and buffeted by winds and pairs of leaping swans. When he sees the Princess again, up on the crest of the mountain, she is grand, and sorrowfully regal. She tries to flee from him. You can see that she is a little bitter, perhaps disappointed, perhaps she should have known better than to trust, et cetera, but they grow close again, because it’s clear he is remorseful and really loves her and does not love the other.
Her choice to throw herself off is really following through with the whole breaking of spell thing. What stood out was the broken-hearted Prince – and then he dashed up to the crest to throw himself off – and there was a moment of good-humoured amusement from the audience, for he was (in the words of a male audience member I overheard) “horizontal”, and sort of belly-flopping, and the audience feared for his tummy and that he might smash his nose on the mattress.
They are reunited at the end, of course, in the sun.
That brings us to the Swans, for at the end, they transform into women when the sun rises, and there were tears in my eyes for the Misty night because they were so, so grateful, and free at last, thanks to their Strong Princess, who paid the price for their freedom. On the Hee Seo night, I was also a bit teary because oh, the sun, oh the mist, oh the freedom and the beauty of these swans who were now lovely ladies once more, and free!
Swans. I must paste here this part that is now in my mind as Gorgeous Important Swan Lake Music. That choreography makes it stick in the mind, that walking waltz step. This is from Act II Coda, with the brilliant heartbreaking Gillian Murphy.
Four of the Swans had to put their arms up and pose with their arms up for a while during the White Swan pas de deux. Four had to sit down. Then they had to get up and start hopping and stretching their arms out. That’s painful!
I like the choreography. Things like them in rows and the front row, hands folded, bowing while the back row raised its arms like wings, then alternating so that they looked as if they were flying. Or when they were in eight columns (four sets of 2) and they did little jumps to the side to lend in fifth and then pose, then another leap to the side, and pose, as they moved towards the centre, then to the side. A friend said it seemed like aerobics, but to me, there was an air of pathos to it.
I also liked how, in Act 4, they proceeded out before the Prince found his Princess. You’d see swans sitting on the ground while one swan proceeded out with folded hands, and a step, then en pointe, then a step, then en pointe, while her other foot stayed out behind her, lightly raised. Then another swan would follow suit. Then you’d have two swans. It followed the music. Then you’d have swans jeteing out, arms raised, eyes upwards, as if they were flying. Then the swans on the ground would get up and, with their hands sticking back a little, and eyes downcast, and walking en pointe, feet not turned out at all, picking up their feet very clearly, in a slightly scarily regimented way that really set the mood for Act 4.
The Big Swans were especially good on Saturday night, very graceful and athletic. The Cygnets were pretty united on Friday night especially. It’s quite difficult to essentially run a 400 m race, which is what the Cygnet dance seems to be.
The life of the party, the charismatic man who lures women. Here’s an awesome video of the dance. You can see how the princesses from other nations dance, too. Love the choreography for this. Calvin Royal III was a slender, sinister Sorcerer, while James Whiteside was an exceptionally exciting Sorcerer to watch: charismatic, enticing, seductive with a fabulous smile that charmed the audience.
You know, at the start of the party, the four delegations meet in the centre and bow. Also, each time a delegation is about to dance, the Master of Ceremonies leads one lady-in-waiting with a furry fan out. When they finish, the lady goes out again, to show that the show is over.
What puzzled me was that the Princes sometimes engaged the ladies-in-waiting / princesses in conversation. I was used to the Prince-whose-mind-has-wandered-and-is-still-mentally-at-the-lake.
The dance with the Princesses was quite gorgeous as well. I think Prince Daniil held up his end of the distracted Prince pretty well. He danced with the ladies out of gentlemanliness, and looked around for the next lady to dance with because it was required.
The Hungarians were in red and in boots, and for the Czardas, Fang Zhong-Jing stood out with her little tilts of her head, on Thurs and Sat nights – she and Alexei Agoudine, her lead male Czarda, seemed really quite amused and happy on Sat night. The lead male Czarda (heavily-bearded) for Fri night was very good as well, moving well to the beat – he was Roman Zhurbin, aka Monster Rothbart on Thus and Sat nights!
What is fascinating is that the very same Fang Zhong-Jing who was so bold and spirited as a Hungarian Czarda was — I’m sure of it — the delicate fragile Hungarian Princess on Fri night, who was so pliable and had a gentle pleading expression. (I thought she was in purple, i.e. Polish, though . . . unless there was a shifting in cast.)
The Princesses on Fri night were exceptional. And their amazing dresses actually rustled.
Before we forget, Spanish were in gold, with luxurious gold beaded netting in their hair. Two pairs, sliding across the floor. I liked Courtney Lavine as Spanish on Friday night, but on Sat night, she was replaced both as Spanish and as Big Swan – hope she is well.
Italian were two men in white shining tights with a blue ribbon pattern, who did multiple twirls and sleek jumps. Thursday’s pair were superbly slender and tall, and did incredible innumerable spins and looked almost rubbery whipping round so fast; Friday’s pair were shorter and in sync; Sat’s pair looked like twins and were full of good humour and energy.
Polish were in delightful shades of purple approaching pastel, and they danced in a row, 4 facing front and 4 facing back, arms around waists (or stomachs, if facing in opposite directions) and this required much coordination and fast kicking feet.
In all, it was a visual feast and totally worth watching. The music was utilized beautifully. When I watched it closer-up (Misty’s show was a bit further because it was opening night, and hard to get better tickets) – when the curtains drew back to display the gorgeous dresses and the first scene, I felt myself fall in love and I remembered, again, why I love going to the ballet.
A side note. I know there is a counting of fouettes and the papers are quite unfriendly if we don’t reach the actual numbers. Also, I remember Mr Janek Schergen saying principal dancers are not those who are the best at everything, but those who can bear the weight of carrying the production, and who are best able to hide their errors. As with any review, I have glazed over the odd moments, which I put down to jet lag also, and little skips. In all, amazing in any case, and you could tell everyone was brilliant.
Anyway, I will also say that everyone pitched in as hard as they could and the show is glorious when the music is used to perfect effect, when the audience’s spirits are lifted, when they are completely engaged and invested in the performance. That’s what we are here for.
And the curtain calls.
First, Misty’s night. Not a very good photograph…
Hee Seo’s night
Hee Seo’s night: Swans and Monsieur Monster Rothbart:
Mr Rothbart as a man, to the left – James Whiteside, also the Prince for Sunday’s matinee.
Hee Seo and Cory Stearns
Isabella Boylston’s night
Mr Rothbart in a suit
A ton of pics from the leading couple.
A ton of thanks to whoever had a better phone and used it wisely for Hee Seo’s night.
Here’s a video of the bouquet moment, for the Isabella Boylston night. Just because it’s amusing and touching, and includes the conductor.
One thought that occurred to me, because I’d heard about the ages of the cast, was that they have a lot of people, which might help when someone is injured. I’d reflected on this quite a bit in the past. Some of the past principal dancers in SDT were the sole principal for a period of time, or did a lot of the heavy lifting and footwork for a long time, and if they were injured, they probably didn’t get to sit it out a lot; and there are sports scientists and doctors in other countries. Here there are helpful clinics and masseuses and the like, of course, but I also don’t think there’s the cash to support all that to the degree that there is in the larger companies.
Anyway, especially with the smaller population of dancers, this means that even with fewer shows, the rotation cycle is smaller, so dancers have to do the same show on alternate times, sometimes overnight e.g. Friday night, Saturday matinee. I know the Swans do that too, if you look at the cast list here. But what I mean is that sometimes that doesn’t help the lifespan or life cycle — it’s difficult. It does make one a little sad, too.
This came to mind partly also because I was reading an old article about one of the past dancers’ injuries (a weak right knee) and I also recalled another dancer saying she had essentially danced so much that one of her bones had been ground away. (Though that’s as may be so for all dancers.)
But we also don’t have the funding, I do know also.
Eeks, this is a strange note on which to end this. Eeeks.