Official photographs are up!
Here’s a review from 2015 that makes our lives significantly easier – we don’t even need to highlight all the music all over again. We even have a 2019 review of the Black Swan and White Swan pas de deux from Ballet Under the Stars. Is my arm hurting from patting myself on the back? No, I am really late with this review so we are ashamed, should we reach for the sackcloth instead.
The pamphlet below shows Minegishi Kana and Nakamura Kenya and Yorozu “Rothbart Extraordinaire” Kensuke.
The curtain and the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra:
Just listen to the lone plaintive notes opening the show, with a few quiet instruments marking accompaniment at points – and then 0:31, when the music grows richer, grows in depth, as if painting the backdrop of a picture for you – Let me tell you a story, says the music. Listen to 0:54, the solemn grandeur; I like the little understated notes in 1:11 that are so vital and striking and actually taking you by the hand and leading you to the next scene change. Live music is like wine (I don’t drink, but). Listen to those same notes grow in urgency (1:28), and the lively strings picking up the restless spirit and then suddenly the brass instruments sound and there’s a clash of cymbals, and you are on thin ice. Then 2:00 brings you to the terrible plaintive heartbreaking moments that will resound when you watch the most dreadful scenes of Rothbart breaking Odette’s heart; and then it mellows into a balm that only makes you even sadder, before fading softly in a hopeful twilight…so that we have the lovely royal-sounding trumpety music to bring us into Act 1.
I’m 100% sure an earlier post will tell you that Act 1 sees the 101 royal couples, girls entering light-of-foot and fresh as daisies; delighted young men whirling their girls about or lifting them. Festivities, good cheer and garlands.
We’re not here to be any bit more hardworking than we usually are; we’ve slaved over previous posts. We want you to know, as we must – that we love the Waltz, the music of which may be enjoyed here; the light elastic spring in the step of the dancers bringing out the joy. A Waltz is in beats of three, says a book we will discuss at the very end of this post, a book I purposely reserved at the library and which arrived a good three days before Swan Lake aired. Was there any greater triumph in any music than at 0:51 and what follows? Is there any more stirring music than at 3:25 – sweet rosebuds in the sunlight; or anything that suits the heart pining as much as 4:35? – or anything as touching and dramatic as at 5:05? It wrings the heart with its beauty – and at 6:02 there are drums and in the forest of drums you can still hear the heart of the triangle, when you listen to the live version, and you can barely sit still for excitement.
Dancing! Benno leads the cavalry of men – they are sunshine on water, and Etienne (in Kenya-Kana shows) as Benno is always light as a feather; Huo Liang (in Satoru-Min Yi shows) leads the enlivened troops as their first violin.
Little moments stir the heart: dancers in two diagonal lines and the gentlemen lift the ladies inwards (ladies’ arms lifted) to meet and outwards again, producing visually the effect of the folds of a silk fan, of garlands and so much tulle; dancers moving in concentric circles, clockwise to anti-clockwise, gentlemen and gentlewomen turning so their shoulders are almost touching, back-to-back, as they whirl in circles. These are the nobles of the court, and there is a convivial glow upon all.
This is a kingdom that loves dancing (is there ever one that is not), and here’s our Prince who summons all to dance: Prince Kenya who, with one single bold airborne leap in the air, makes his mark immediately – light as cream, with such grace and artistry; Prince Satoru who floats like a butterfly, stings like a – and you know the rest.
Right after the dancing, the Prince (Kenya) chills with his friends and rolls his eyes at his tutor’s reminders that he should be more serious; there is a distinct sense that Huo Liang’s Benno is inviting Prince (Satoru) to the club down the road to hang out with the pas de trois girls. If you read the other review – we all know Benno is sent forth in place of the Prince when the Queen arrives, and he rushes down in a hurry (It’s really the Queen, what do you expect me to do?) – Etienne is a hoot in a corner as he primps his buttons, gives a little shiver of anticipation and tries to be right and proper. Entrez the Queen (Evangelyn Wong), a full impression of a stately Korean drama-style mother – a stately pleasure-dome decree comes to mind, especially when she imposes her will upon her son, obviously not anticipating rebellion or disagreement: marry a beautiful princess.
You can see that Prince Kenya, who originally had a Your request is my command! expression is now looking at the end of his freedom, the demise of his youthful carefree ways, and he is one long, downcast sigh. Prince Satoru is cheerful one moment (don’t take it too hard, he says to Huo Liang’s Benno, who, despite smoothing down his hair and trying to look smart, is faced with the Queen’s version of ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much‘ as she checks the guest list to see who this youth is) and obdurate the next – a thundercloud descends when the Queen says he is to marry (I ain’t marryin’ nobody, says he, turning his back) – but he is completely blown away and distracted by the superb gift of a bow.
Nothing cheers the Prince up more, then, than the departure of his mother and making Benno and co. dance a pas de trois. Etienne, Elaine and Akira float on mellow clouds and ribbons of music. We write a love note here to the flautist and the conductor, who must hold the last trilling notes for the very end of the opening of the pas de trois. Elaine’s dancing is light and breezy, and as always, all the foot work is beautifully accentuated – feet caressing the air as she skims across the breadth of the stage. Etienne, as Benno, is a master of unparalleled airborne grace, and the conductor watches with care so that there are dramatic bursts of music punctuating Etienne-Benno’s juicy, punchy leaps, emphasising his poise and height. Akira is delightfully speedy – feet punching the stage like a needle, gauzy leaps, whip-sharp spins all the way to the end, light as perfectly whipped cream.
For Satoru-Min Yi’s show, the pas de trois trots onwards enjoyably – light, lithe, limbre May Yen Cheah displays control, the eye tracing the delicate arc formed by the raised hand and finishing cleanly with a resounding BRAVO from someone deep in the audience. At one show, if you looked, you could see the conductor nod at her before bringing down the baton to whip the coda into action, which was so very important – the communication that made the performance seamless. Chua Bi Ru is sure and bright, her delivery bold and charismatic as always – it brings a smile to the face, makes you sit up, and lingers engraved in the memory. Huo Liang is a picture of determined energy and elevation, unleashing a jaw-dropping number of spins – is there no limit to his energy? – he seems intent on saying No – and also intent on killing us all with his impressive elevation in his leaps.
The coda to the pas de trois is a race towards tragedy – are not the notes jolly? you ask yourself; but I think there are notes running under the tune, descending in a markedly dark manner. To this day when I hear the music, I feel transported back in time to my seat, feeling the dread of the impending potential tragedy creep up from under my skin – and yet I remember that at that moment, watching both pas de trois, I felt something akin to true happiness – music that is manna and live dancing – a potent combination.
The Prince now having properly cheered up, he decides to close the day with the Waltz of the Goblets, also known as the Polonaise (up to 2:12). – Courtly and regal, and well-executed by all the couples. Such glowing grandeur, such pomp and splendour in the music. The triangle! I did notice it until now, and it has a magical effect – the contrast between the brass and the little triangle – it is the white pen in an illustration of an eye, adding the glimpses of light and reflection that make the eyeball alive.
Now the party has ended, and the Prince pleads with them to stay, asks if they will just hang around a little longer – but they all must depart in pairs like the lovebirds they are (giggles from the audience when Mizuno Reo’s character heads off in the wrong direction and Tanaka Nanase’s character drags him back to the left of the audience).
The Prince most gracefully mourns the non-existence of his love life as he embraces the empty air and circles the stage so beautifully the heart breaks (Kenya as the Prince bidding farewell to his youth is especially striking) – and then out flies Benno, practically throwing himself right out into the sky like a great harbinger of doom, a foreshadowing of Rothbart – but wait! Is not Benno the hero of our story? If not for Benno, Prince Siegfried would never have found the love of his life and (in this case) rescued her and lived happily ever after. He’s a matchmaker (if an unwitting one) if we ever saw one. Applause for Benno, underrated character of the year.
Let’s take this baby for a ride, says Prince SatoruSiegfried, of his bow, and off the young fellows go, leaving the nonplussed bemused tutor in their wake.
The opening of Act 2 is desolate, haunting – it is the forest on the wings of the night, the quiet of soul. Tchaikovsky agrees. See his expression below.
55:39 of the video with the full-length music above – marks the entry of the Prince and his men, such sleek confident dancers. They fan out to fill the forest by vanishing into the wings offstage; this is my catchment area, says the Prince, and Benno dutifully runs off. Is not the composer the master of emotions – he makes you think Hark! there is danger! – but no, 56:20 is still pleasantries; is 56:40 the thrumming of wings on high? we make this up but 56:54 brings us slowly to the swans gently folding inwards to the land, their wings like huge snowy blankets and 56:58 – 57:02 brings us to Odette landing and the Prince having a near heart-attack when the swan’s feet touch the ground and she turns into the most wondrously beautiful girl he has ever beheld.
You know the story, and we plunge into it. It goes without saying that both pairs danced well.
The Kana-Kenya performance
Kana is the lightest of snowflakes of swans; and Kenya’s Prince, with his hands reaching out to touch her, is saying – dance with me – and she will not look at him, after years of not having looked at a human man straight in the eye – but when oops, she does – you know that she will fall in love with him, and he is such a boyish Prince still, with quiet hearts for eyes, saying that he has found an angel by the lake that scarce he expected to see. Kensuke is our solid slick Rothbart, a thunderbolt from Hell, with an impressive goatee and a glowering countenance to match.
1:01:20 is one of my favourite moments in the music – the swans dancing out, Suzuki Mai gracefully leading the charge of the light brigade for Kana’s show. Played live, you can hear the soft undertones of the music – you can hear and see how they were ladies once, and now they are freed. I’ve said it before – the swans are really a large part of the heart of the show, and with a live orchestra you can see why – they feather the nest, so to speak…
Kana’s pas de deux with Kenya, we have discussed in an entry on Ballet Under the Stars. Nothing can stop us now from continuing the discussion. Kana is exquisite grace, every last limb and phalange a paean to her flickering filigree grace, latticework lace. She is a swan maiden encountering a love that she has never known, and her hand lingers in the Prince’s just a little longer. Somehow, in the middle of the dance, you know that she knows that he is the One for her – and it is a brave choice she makes, to choose him
as her Pokemon, but honestly, you can see from this Prince that he has shown her nothing but endless persistent attention, love and determination. He is almost already a man now, ready to face down the enemy for her. When he holds her hands, when he turns her, holds her, you know he is saying that he will stand by her.
The Min Yi-Satoru performance
Again, we have written about their pas de deux before. In this version, we see how Prince Satoru is trying to catch her – Just take my hand, he says, and the music is the hammering of his heartbeat, filled with wondering at her mysterious beauty, and anticipation. No, she says each time – leave me alone, says she, choosing to dance away; and look at her bourres as she floats away from him – so tight and neat are the stitches that her feet make, that it seems as if her skirt is made of feathers.
When Etienne Ferrere (formerly Benno in Kenya’s show) bursts upon the scene as the imposing impressive Rothbart, his is a sinister evil rising like poisonous fumes that claw at your face. A side note here that we dig his absolutely show-stopping and wildly appropriate makeup – dead white face and a dark green and black eye-shadow band about his eyes that is half-BlackSwan (movie) and half-MatthewBourne-esque.
We are left with a baffled Prince surrounded by swans who are not his beloved. He does eventually reunite with her – when she leaves the stage later in a dignified hurry, you note it is the Big Swans and the Cygnets who are her main bodyguards, her coterie, and they take her away to safety.
In their pas de deux, Min Yi’s Odette carries a quiet longing of the heart in her lines and clean superb execution, in the refreshing clarity of her steps. She is talking to him: hello, she says, peaceably, do you even know me? And that is their dance – the dance of getting to know you – through every single step, every walk they take together. They are conversing, the long conversation a couple must have before concluding that they know and trust each other. They are growing up, in the little space of time that they have. At last, when he wanders away to reflect on this new sensation awakened in his heart, she decides to trust him and throw her lot in with him, the whole kit and caboodle. Later we will discuss the closing solo by each White Swan and what it means to us. When I went home on Saturday night I was thinking: a White Swan making an intelligent considered decision?
Oh! we need to talk about Satoru – more than one human commented that there was an increased incredible crispness in his dancing – a friend likened it to how every shape he made was so crisp you could run a pencil along his silhouette to create an illustration of the moment.
Right, on to our Cygnets. The Kana-Kenya performance’s Cygnets were Tanaka Nanase, Yatsushiro Marina, Nakahama Akira, and Ma Ni – utterly on the mark with the perfect feathering and fluttering of the feet, skating slickly across the stage, feet zipping together and apart sleekly. We are 100% pleased that Ma Ni’s debuting as a Cygnet – there is an expressive grace about her dancing – every move is enriched by her gracefulness. Pictured below, left to right: Akira, Ma Ni, Marina, Nanase. The first picture is really a very cygnety picture.
The Min Yi-Satoru performance’s Cygnets consisted of an entire batch of debuts: congratulations, and kudos to them for pulling off a very difficult debut with a thousand little details – Suzuki Mai, Watanabe Tamana, Beatrice Castañeda (displaying very fine feathery footwork), Henriette Garcia. They are intense, charismatic, energetic. The 8th shot of this set below shows (left to right) – Tamana, Henriette, Beatrice, Mai in another very cygnety moment.
Have more pictures from both shows. We will risk the big empty spaces.
Big Swans see more debuts (Elaine Heng being the only one who’s done this before). Chua Bi Ru is a swan with pronounced emotions – there is full angst and beauty (without going over-the-top) as she crosses her arms before her, her hands folding as expressively as a fallen handkerchief or flower petal; a friend remarked (paraphrased) that it made one think of a Lady who fully knew she was trapped as a bird in the daytime. Elaine is heart-rending control and dignity.
Yeo Chan Yee and May Yen Cheah are our other set of new Big Swans – characteristic perfectly-formed dancing from Chan Yee, and May Yen with her dancing that speaks to the heart. Their Big Swans are memorable again in Act 4 – we will talk about that then.
Here’s a note to say it’s good to see newcomer Stephanie Joe as a graceful new addition amidst the swans; and Esen Thang and Akira stand out a fair bit amongst them.
All right, on to my new favourite part of Swan Lake. See below, up to 1:59. This music, it destroys the heart, it utterly consumes you. It is wonderful, what the dancing does to this part of the story – when you see the swans progressing across the stage, in perfect synchronous motion, the contrast between their faces lowered as if their hearts are breaking, their hands and faces angled to the light as if welcoming, savouring that one last moment of freedom. And then BOOM! out arrives their Princess. The music when she reappears, I don’t recall it being that much slower but I definitely know it was significantly more majestic – as if another instrument was heralding her arrival.
Kana, as the Princess here, seems to be saying: I made my choice and I hope it is right. You can feel, in the dancing of the other Swans, that they all share this hope. She is dancing a lone dance of bravery and exquisite grace, as if sending a prayer to the heavens – she has waited, she has waited for so very long – and you feel everyone’s hearts all go out to her. And ooh, when the Prince arrives and catches her with all the love in the world and sweeps her up, and she is poised so magnificently above him like a crystal sculpture, with her back to us, and he turns round and round – that is a stunning tableau from an old gold-trimmed book with Gothic font.
For Min Yi’s show, I suddenly felt I could see how very brave all the swans were, as they advanced upon the stage. They have had years in this – they have seen, and they have borne their burden and this is their dance, their moment. Min Yi arrives with a kind of dignity – cemented in your mind very clearly as their Princess. You can tell that they genuflect to her and she is their pride and joy, which is what their dance is saying – they enter before her to herald her appearance. Min Yi dances as a Princess who knows full well exactly what she has done, and the full consequences, and she says with her dancing – this is what I want. She is a Princess whose strength and determination sets her apart from the others. She is an emotionally mature and emotionally intelligent Swan Princess Odette who has made her decision knowingly – and though (with apologies to the choreographer and composer) I never knew it possible to cry in Act II, I found myself crying…
Satoru lifts her high as a thing of beauty and a joy forever, his to love and hold forever; and when she says to him – don’t vow eternal love to me (for if he breaks his vow, she is Rothbart’s forever) – she says it as a lover would, and rests her head upon his shoulder. You can see (as never before…) that they are actually leaning in for a kiss when Rothbart appears.
Etienne-Rothbart makes a wall of the Princess’ frame to shield himself; he holds her wrists and waltzes her from left to right in a mocking mimicry of a pas de deux, as if to say I too have control over her soul – and Min Yi wraps herself over the point of Prince Satoru’s bow, and then her head jerks back sharply at a gesture from Etienne-Rothbart’s.
For both the Princesses, you can see that the Princess halts briefly for a second before she goes into the curtains, as if she is resisting Rothbart’s spell to send her away, in a note of defiance.
Prince’s birthday party, a time of great fun and laughter. Or not.
The nobles roll in with the music (1:26:01 in the long video above). Listen to the background slow notes blasting away the tune of doom (from 1:26:05 onwards you hear exactly one per second before they speed up) – you can hear them exceptionally well live, and they keep repeating, getting even more bombastic as our guests enter, down a magnificent staircase (1:26:46, I love that music – is it Spanish? 1:27:27 is gentle and meek, and should be the 6 Princesses)… wonderful music that makes you feel exactly like you are at the party, with the glow of the golden lights upon your face. More guests sweep in, and the Queen herself at last (attired in glamorous black and gold, like an old-time Empress Dowager), accompanied by the tutor and her son.
The Czardas are first up (2:02:15). Slow, lustrous music and proud, deliberate dancing. Extending a hand in gracious welcome and sliding across the stage in perfect rhythm, heads held high and hands behind their heads so their elbows are out like the points of arrows – unafraid, bold, warriors in scarlet caps and high boots; knocking their knees, pointing their toes out – fire concealed in polite company. Steel encased in silk; and a hidden danger. Just listen to it through until it speeds up and then the audience sits up to 2:04:47 which is simply lovely – everyone’s smiling and tapping their toes and kicking and stamping their feet with gusto on stage.
Tarantella is next (2:13:21). Wiki tells us that “the Neapolitan tarantella is a courtship dance performed by couples whose ‘rhythms, melodies, gestures, and accompanying songs are quite distinct’ featuring faster more cheerful music”. Discreet steps from May Yen Cheah, who is gentlewomanly but who breaks out the speed – see the pretty lilt of the head, and the little tilt of the shoulders that brings out the character of the dance, and look how she soars through the dance – and drifts noiselessly, elegantly, backwards into Huo Liang’s arms. Huo Liang is deft as always, on his feet and in partnering, confident and fearless. Elaine Heng and Miura Takeaki have lovely lines, and are a delightfully reliable couple with joyous, genteel dancing. Both couples pull off the deliciously neat move of essentially turning and waltzing back-to-back, wherein the lady must have complete control to continue balancing atop her toe. This is an engagement party and they are here to give their blessings.
What’s an engagement party without our Spanish (2:10:28)! The life of the party, in smart emerald green bodices, black velvet, and ladies with peacock-eye gold skirts that float marvellously about their calves and whisper in silken voices. Jason Carter and Etienne “Benno-Rothbart” are proud Spanish, appearing to issue a challenge to each other at the start of the dance. There is a fabulous chemistry and infectious glee within and between the JasonCarter-ChuaBiRu and EtienneElaine couples. They move as one unit – there is a glint in their collective eye, quicksilver in their veins, a proud fire in the stretch of their necks and the flourish in their high kicks, a zing in the wide sweeping steps that the ladies take – and oh, that splendid finish where the ladies flick out their legs in an arc so their skirts swing the full circle, and the ladies lean back sensuously upon the gentlemen, feet off the ground.
Spanish for Min Yi-Satoru’s show sees Valerie Yeo as a smouldering Spanish, one of her most major roles to-date, if I am correct (demi-soloist role?) – her arms and legs are filled with an uncommon powerful grace; Timothy Ng is her valiant Spanish. Nanase is a cheerful, vibrant Spanish matched by the lively Yorozu “Rothbart” Kensuke. Passion and temper. This is always extremely popular with the audience.
The dance with the Six Princesses follows next (at 3:05). Kenya is the dutiful Prince who is sad because his love, and hence his heart, resides far away by a lonely lake, and, ever-loyal to Odette, he tries to walk away from the Princesses, but they surround him, led smilingly by a charming Akira. Dutifully he whirls each partner, and stands amidst them politely trying to look interested. Kenya dances with such light-footedness and ease – a fine wine settling into our bones. The dance ends with the Princesses on one knee and beaming up at him hopefully, in a — I can’t avoid mentioning this handphone game — distinctly Notice me, senpai fashion.
Satoru’s Prince, consistent with Act I, remains slightly stubborn about the whole affair, with an expression of one with a stomachache, who bows unsmilingly to the Queen because she is The Royal Mother (a professional relationship). The music is the sound of his heart – he can hardly move for missing Odette. His is a Prince that has been a little tempestuous, not quite totally impetuous but quite definitely one of evident emotion – but he manages to smile politely at all the Princesses who clearly appear equally uninteresting to him. The Princesses are dancing their hearts out on Saturday night, they are absolutely on point – sustained arabesques and all in love. Akira and Ma Ni stand out especially.
What follows is one of my favourite pieces of interlude music ever (1:39:16 – 1:40:07). It manages to carry the scene and make you feel so sorry for the Prince, who is presented with a bouquet and required to select his fiancee-to-be. It is light without being jolly because we know of the tragedy to come, and it layers the instruments as if it were a proper dance interlude instead of just passing emotions – and it ends with the trumpets sounding the triumphant arrival of Rothbart and Daughter.
Prince Kenya is parked desolately in one sad corner, hanging his head – the trumpets bring him to his senses, so he is absolutely in time to see the new guests – and he is immediately elated, as if electricity is running through from his heels to his crown, and he darts over to his mother – “That’s her, that’s her”, and the Queen is pleasantly pleased and relieved; taken aback by the sight of Rothbart, yet reluctantly relieved to find that her retirement as a grand old dame is in sight at last (it’s so tiring running a country). Prince Satoru is busy muttering no, no, none of the Princesses to himself and does not notice the trumpet until the very last moment when he jerks to life and turns around and is filled with surprised delight and overjoyed astonishment – how come she’s here!
The Kana-Kenya performance
Kensuke and Kana are of the Rothbart Family. Kana’s Odile is Rothbart’s prized daughter. She is the flesh of Kensuke’s Rothbart – she is stunning, look at that glittering snake-like smile upon her face – and he delights in and is so proud of her glorious beauty, her outstanding talent, her immense and unmatched charm. It is as his daughter that Kana’s Odile shares in his malice, and does his bidding with joy.
Now begins the process of showing her to the court. Watch her draw out the notes as she remains firmly en pointe for as long as she likes, very deliberately holding her poses securely. I can stand on my own two feet, thank you, she says, proud as the sun rising, born to be the new Queen of their hapless court. She slides under Prince Kenya-Siegfried’s doubting arm like a knife into his rib cage, she is the dagger thrust into Siegfried’s heart; and as she plays the false version of the innocent Odette, we hear the violin – O sweet violin of the Odette (White Swan) pas de deux who now thrills our heart by accompanying the false Odette, who are you? the music is half the deception.
Kenya’s dancing is a treat for the eyes, the icing on it all, with his corkscrew turns and the rip-roaring leg that zips out cleanly after an uncountable number of turns, with perfect control. Kana’s Odile is alive, glittering; she is an Odile in control of the stage and the audience. She knows what the court wants and she gives it, in spades. The crowd knows a star when they see one. Do you think – Odile is jealous of Odette and wants to control and destroy this Prince? Perhaps in her heart somewhere, she wants the Prince for herself..or not.
The finale is always a blast – Kenya launches straight into the air, perfectly composed with wonderful form; the live music is suitably glorious. The Saturday matinee crowd is always slow to warm up but for Kana’s fouettes, by the 27th they are awake – they start to cheer. But that’s not the end of the show, because she is still playing the shy Odette – not yet, she says, I am not yours – and the entire crowd is eating out of her hand as she darts towards him and then starts dancing backwards, luring him away – if you know the dance, she repeatedly lowers her arm and bows her head as she moves backwards (one version is seen here, slightly different), and there is something so falsely demure in how Kana’s Odile does it, as if she is hiding a little smile even as she looks gentle and meek.
The Min Yi-Satoru Performance
Woooo, Min Yi’s Odile is evil, and Etienne-Rothbart is hot evil, and together they are here to set the stage ablaze. They are having so much fun together that it is practically their party. They arrive in triumph, crackling with excitement and electricity, with joie de vivre. They race in, blazing with glee. They can barely wait to get this party started, they have been high-fiving their way all the way in their carriage ride to the castle. There’s no shame in being evil, Min Yi’s Odile will let you know. It’s not by Rothbart’s bidding that she does this – evil gives her life.
Prince Satoru seizes her hands with a fervour – is this she? yes, it is his love at last; come on in, says the spider to the fly. Min Yi’s Odile does not draw out the notes – she chooses an intense vibrant speed to drive home the point of her stake in the game, into Satoru’s heart. When she looks over at her father, you can see their shared agreement that the Prince is their victim. Wicked, that’s what she is, as she glows with the knowledge of a hand well played, lifted high above the unsuspecting crowd’s heads, flicking her hand with imperious evil. She pulls her hand away from the prince coquettishly, she luxuriates in the manipulation and she uses her expressive limbs and hands and feet to full effect to lure him (I love you, her intoxicating gestures say) while communicating to all of us with the flaunting wrists and eyes that she is Odile; don’t you want me, she says, with a sidelong glance over her shoulder, while retaining the innocent downcast eyes of Odette. This is what you came for, as Rihanna sings. Odile enjoys being Odile, and we enjoy being Odile with her.
Prince Satoru is all joy and delight (my beloved, at last), and turns in an impeccable showing as always. The finale is always the favourite for all, and it’s hard to drop off when it’s going at such a dizzying pace – the leaps, the fouettes that thrill the crowd, that final triumph of Min Yi’s Odile throwing her head back with such delight and Satoru’s Siegfried pressing a cheek to her hand with equal happiness.
The rest of the story follows as we know it – the Queen very proudly takes Odile for one tour round the court to show her off so they can all see how beautiful and talented she is (in your face!). But the marriage-to-be is interrupted by Rothbart (Kensuke makes for a spectacularly scary Rothbart declaring – “how do I know that he loves my daughter?” – ain’t nobody questioning that he looks right about the most frightening father-in-law to have?) — and Rothbart tears away the white cloth that is about to bind the two in holy matrimony – thusly cleverly manipulating the gullible Prince Kenya and slightly more emotional Prince Satoru into declaring their eternal infinite love for the wrong Princess. Lo and behold, the Rothbarts have won and who is the dancer who plays the White Swan trapped, that is the Question of the Year.
I don’t think there is any person happier in the whole of Swan Lake now than Etienne-Rothbart and Min Yi-Odile – the latter has been watching with undisguised anticipation as the White Swan is revealed – she can’t wait for the Big Reveal, and such great mocking laughter from Odile I’ve not seen before. They dash off, victorious.
The Prince runs off after the Rothbarts – Prince Kenya with his heart torn out of his chest, Prince Satoru is all omg omg what have I done, and the court must hurry out of his long-legged way so he does not trip over them on his way out of the court while similarly, Tarantella man must declare the Prince gone, in time for the Queen to faint spectacularly, surrounded by the court, in colours as richly rendered as an oil painting.
This is the story of Odette knowing that she has been betrayed, and of the forgiveness.
It is also the story of the Swans (2:23:30), who are already onstage when the curtain rises, amidst blue fog. Was there any more ladylike, delicate music than this, butterflies’ wings on harp strings. Briefly, their swans’ skirts catch the light, tears on feathers. There is a dance they call the Bluette Dance, of the swans. It is just another night by the lake for them, and this is their sorrow. We marvel at the stamina of the swans to the pining yearning music. It is pretty, it is gentle – it is moving. Listen to the music. Leane Lim is light and graceful; kudos to Valerie Yeo for holding up on the day that the shoe dies – it must be painful and shocking but she carries on beautifully (and this was in the Chinese papers in another of those unmentioned interviews) and reappears at the right point later with a live shoe.
This is the song in Act IV that I love – 2:28:50 above. The Big Swans reappear in this and I like Chan Yee and May Yen’s version for this particularly – there is a soulful harmony that they share, as if they are swept up in the music and it is almost as if this dance is to remind you that though the Big Swans are birds by day, they are women, alive, full of human feeling, in the night. This song is tears in the soul – swans in circles, eyes lifted heavenwards and arabesques as if in a prayer. 2:30:24 marks someone with a woodwind – imagine the recorded version as a soulful woodwind that is fresh and sweet and light; 2:30:56 gives us the orchestra quietly supporting this lone voice, giving it heart, and the swans in their multitudes rise to the occasion, carry you away with their dancing. There is more – there is 2:31:27 – the faultless patience of these ladies. On Sunday night, they are dancing their hearts out, they are dancing with an outpouring of the music.
Odette plunges onstage. Princess Kana-Odette is in terrible heartbreaking desperation – you can see it in her skittering steps, in the fluttering of her wings – where shall she go, where can she hide now – her arms sweeping down like her tears cascading. You are looking not only at a girl who has lost her lover, but a girl who is to lose her entire life and youth for all eternity, you are looking at despair; and its urgency that cuts into your heart and you simply cannot stop weeping. Her 6 closest friends (big swans and cygnets) surround her and comfort her. In her dancing it is as if she is reliving Act 2 with all its steps and how she is now alone. Rothbart captures her again and lifts her high above all in a dreadful mockery of the end of Act 2, but the major swans fend him off eventually. Prince Kenya, when at last he is reunited with her, is a heartsick man who has had his heart ripped from his breast and he will visit her every day by the lake, a broken man, for the rest of his life, if he must.
Min Yi’s Odette is emotionally mature – it is not the betrayal that carries her and makes this scene refreshing, but that she must manfully bear onwards, that she must reconcile it with the choice she has made; and in this moment, it is this emotion that makes her Odette pure and sweet – she has already understood, and forgiven, but she will not see her Prince again. It is over, with a terrible finality; she covers her face as if she never ever wants to look up again. The greatest pain is knowing you have made your choice and must live with it – the heart is lonesome, and must build itself up again, and it breaks our hearts when Rothbart captures her and destroys her defences. There are chills down the spine when Prince Satoru arrives on the scene, riven with heartbreak and regrets made alive by the music; when he dances with her again, you can tell he is re-acquainting himself with the correct Odette, making up for the time lost at the ball. The music sings.
Now let’s just jump to 2:37:45 and listen for a bit; and there! did you jump out of your skin? Here is the greatest marriage of music and dance you will ever witness. If, for some reason, before this, you did not realise you were listening to live music, you will now know the difference. I cannot imagine for the life of me how it is done, but it is perfect, the thunder, the cymbals, married with the Prince’s agonised rolling on the ground (Satoru and Etienne having a great tussle-fest), Kensuke as Rothbart whirling through the air like a massive magnificent hurricane as he battles Kenya. There is this grand pause for air as Prince and Rothbart both pose before launching into their final showdown, and the timing is so organic and note-perfect it is as if the dancers are conducting the music. We applaud the conductor because it is the conductor whose eye and baton make it safe for the dancers to simply charge forward into the battle of the century. The other swans act as a diversion for the Prince as he reaches for his bow, thus teaching us that despite his undoubted good looks, he is also all about brains over brawn.
You have your heart in your throat with the clash of these titans coupled with that roaring music…
..and at the same time, you must know, the audience loves and laughs at Rothbart. If there were a poll like Shonen Jump’s for popularity or Valentine’s Day chocolates for the characters in its serialized mangas (I tried googling this and somehow only the Prince of Tennis manga turned up, though), Rothbart might well top it. Such magnificent straight teeth on Kensuke’s Rothbart as he throws his head back and laughs; and always, always, when Rothbart dies, someone will guffaw (and that’s part of the fun) – whether it’s because of Kensuke laughing maniacally before suddenly dropping off into nothingness, or Etienne holding up a bit in the silence before popping backwards exactly like he’s taken an arrow to the gut, to a ripple of stunned laughter.
I write this so I won’t forget: on Sunday night, I forgot everything except how magnificently perfect the Rothbart scene was, how perfectly-timed it was, Kensuke and Kenya primed to attack – I didn’t know I was actually sick but I had been feeling a bit out of sorts, and the emptiness in my soul (and gut) was filled instantaneously with incredible soaring music and dancing.
The end! Reconciled up on the stony precipice, one a loving couple matchmade in Heaven (with Benno’s help), the other a couple who have met their soulmates. The closing music, starting with those soaring strings, is itself an art in manipulation and how to write a great tune. (It’s good to start with 2:38:53 – but it begins at 2:39:00, if you want to hear the tune.) It is the sound of catharsis, of water and sunlight in the dawn of hope (okay, or tragedy depending on which Swan Lake you watch).
Photographs, and we will close with intriguing quotes from a book on conducting music that I borrowed to help me understand the live music for Swan Lake.
Two-second musings: A friend or two asked me which of the two Swan Lakes I preferred. I mention this solely because I’ve always wanted someone to ask me this so I can make a reference to “I’ll Never Tell” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (nothing to see, moving along, my lips are sealed, I’ll never tell). I’ve learnt that different people favour different things. I have never (I hope) expressed preferences here. I enjoy everything for different reasons. I am also unable to tell if something is “better” than another. I am sometimes effusive because I would rather be positive than not.
Swans and Czardas and Royals. As mentioned before, this is for the “X woz here” effect.
Back row: Shan Del Vecchio, Justin Zee, Jeremie Gan, Miura Takeaki, Timothy Ng, Reece Hudson; (Spanish) Etienne, Jason Carter; Mizuno Reo, Ivan Koh, Erivan Garioli (a noble with a very broad smile!), and Jasper Arran
Swans: Watanabe Tamana, Felicia Er, Valerie Yeo, Yayoi Matches, Jessica Garside, Ma Xiaoyu, Yamauchi Sayaka, Stephanie Joe, Leane Lim, Henriette Garcia, Suzuki Mai, Beatrice Castañeda
This shot also has our Cygnets and Big Swans. Swans, left to right: Tamana, Nakahama Akira (in front as Cygnet), Felicia, Ma Ni (Cygnet), Valerie Yeo, Yatsushiro Marina (Cygnet), Yayoi, Tanaka Nanase (Cygnet), Jessica (hidden), Xiao Yu; Sayaka, Elaine Heng (in front as Big Swan), Stephanie, Bi Ru (Big Swan), Leane, Henriette, Mai, Beatrice.
In front we have Evangelyn Wong as the Queen and Mohd Noor Sarman as Tutor, and a blur of Rothbart by Yorozu Kensuke.
Yorozu Kensuke again as Rothbart.
Big Swans – Elaine Heng and Chua Bi Ru!
Cygnets! Akira, Ma Ni, Marina, Nanase.
Minegishi Kana and Nakamura Kenya! 🙂
The cast for the Kana-Kenya show. Cygnets to the left, Big Swans to the right and Kana with Kenya stuck in the middle with Rothbart 🙂
I have more pictures for the Satoru show, I don’t know why. I think at one performance, a kid behind me said I thought no pictures [allowed] so I gave up.
Terrible photo of Men for that show: Reece, Justin, Jeremie, Huo Liang, Jason Carter, Shan, Timothy, Kensuke, Miura Takeaki as Tarantella, Mizuno Reo, Ivan, Erivan, Jasper. We are too lazy to type most surnames at this stage.
Cygnets in the front, left to right: Henriette Garcia, Beatrice, Suzuki Mai…oh no, I’m missing Tamana! Must be cos of someone’s head that I cropped out – but I’ve Cygnets below. Front and centre are May Yen Cheah and Yeo Chan Yee as our Big Swans.
Ok Cygnets get their own pictures.
Tamana, Henriette, Beatrice, Mai. If feet are cropped there must be rows of heads, that’s why.
Agetsuma Satoru and Kwok Min Yi. Etienne is Rothbart to our right. You can see Timothy Ng and Kensuke as Spanish too.
The Conductor, Joshua Tan
Massive applause for our orchestra.
Quotes now, worth a read:
“Anyone brave enough to conduct dance is also a hero, made even more so because so little is understood of everyone’s willingness to create the grand illusion of human beings defying gravity through movement and precisely synchronized sound. Few in the audience have a clue as to how incredibly difficult it is, and when the result is good, it is the dancers who are the center of admiration, affection, and indeed, adulation. The conductor, always looking uncomfortably inelegant, coming onstage at the end and surrounded by the physical beauty of these superb athlete-artists, usually takes a sweaty bow while pointing into the orchestra pit, as the musicians are packing up their instruments or just walking out. [pg 125]
“..When a critic writes something negative — “too fast,” “too slow,” “too free,” “too rigid” — it comes as a real intrusion, of course, because how can they know better than we do? As individual members of the audience they are as important to us as any other member of the audience. However, they have something the other audience members do not have: a buly pulpit. No one tells a conductor when he begins to study that our work — should we be blessed with the ability and opportunity to perform– will be judged by a stranger who generally knows significantly less than we do and whose words will be read by far more people than attended the concert. [pg 135]..
“…Tchaikovsky absolutely hated what was done to his score for Swan Lake — cuts, abrupt tempo changes to fit the steps – by its original choreographer, Julius Reisinger. [pg 164]”
– Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of Conducting by John Mauceri (First Vintage Books Edition, 2018)
With this, we close our review of Swan Lake 2019, at last.