(Above: Chen Peng and Rosa Park, and swans)
Swan Lake is nothing without the swans.
And there were indeed Swans, and their dancing was solid. Without the Swans, where would we be? The ballet is carried on their backs too, after all, in Acts II and IV. Lovely arms outstretched, necks bent, hopping rhythmically; row upon row of swans en pointe bourre-ing endlessly; swans poised quietly in the background, arms curved overhead for minutes on end.
Hats off to the Swans, I say. An eye roving over the crowd of white would see everyone following the same beat and moves, without faltering – without fail; and without appearing to be mere cogs in a machine.
And we can cast our eyes on the cast list below 🙂
(Choreography after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov; Staging and Additional Choreography by Janek Schergen)
I’ve named the songs below, because I can’t copy youtube links over anymore 😦
Edited to add: I will copy them over now.
There were, as always, two interpretations. To be frank, I watched Rosa Park-Chen Peng’s performances after Uchida Chihiro-Nakamura Kenya’s, so I had a stronger recollection of the former shows and a great deal of what goes on below is based quite heavily on those performances.
This is very long, you know. Especially because I will tell the tale of 2 Princes and their 2 Princesses.
A beautifully-painted screen down; and narration goes up to tell us about Act I. Then the back-screen lifts so we can see past painted narration-screen and see the stage; then narration-screen rises, and it’s a scene somewhere on castle grounds. Benches at the sides, and a castle and the countryside rising up in the lovely background.
I’m always intrigued by things that people do on the sidelines, and how scenes are introduced. Swan Lake opens with the girls from the waltz couples dancing out in a little intro piece before the men step in – Nazer Salgado scooping a girl off her feet and swinging her round in his arms; Xu Lei Ting looping arms joyously round Huo Liang’s neck off to the audience’s right; Jason Carter looking round for his partner before he is reunited with her.
We have two Princes:
(a) the (currently) Happy!Prince Nakamura Kenya accompanied by the ever-smiling Benno (Etienne Ferrere) and his pas de trois ladies (Elaine Heng and Li Jie); and
(b) the extremely cheerful and relaxed Prince Chen Peng with a unexpectedly playful, cheery Benno (Zhao Jun) and his pas de trois ladies ( May Yen Cheah and Maughan Jemesen).
Casting can be a fiend, and it’s a surprise to see the winning formula of Elaine Heng and Maughan Jemesen from Don Q separated, but suspect it’s a balance of who has danced with whom previously.
[Swan Lake Op. 20, Act I, No. 2 Valse]
Let’s go to the Waltz. It used to be one of my favourite pieces of ballet music, but Swan Lake is so stuffed to the gills with beautiful music and dancing that I’m starting to rethink that. A lovely and gracious waltz. One of my favourite parts sees couples divided in two rows at a diagonal, bowing to one another; and the men lifting the ladies high to land on the outer line of the rows, and promenading the ladies while the ladies are in arabesque (walking them round 360 degrees and turning them, I think that’s what it’s called); then lifting the ladies high to the inner part of the rows and promenading them again.
There’s also a little Maypole-esque portion: four lines of dancers standing in a cross; the arms of the cross meeting and one row of dancers ducking to pass between another row of dancers, and stepping out again to join their raised hands.
[See: Swan Lake Op. 20, Act I No. 4]
The pas de trois is the next major dance: Benno and two ladies. This is apparently one of the most difficult dances – some say the male solo is harder than the Prince’s pieces. Right after all three are done, one of the ladies must immediately begin on her piece (Elaine Heng for Chihiro’s performance; May Yen Cheah for Rosa Park’s). I like how the music for Benno only begins after he has run out of the wings and is poised briefly on the edge of the stage, pointing into the distance – then the music rolls up grandly and he runs to the back of the stage and throws himself into the air in a twisting spin.
Special mention must be made of Elaine Heng: clean and strong as always, but also imbuing every limb and every move with energy and significance – better even than when she was Lilac Fairy; there’s a sense of having levelled up, which is always nice to see.
I don’t recall the slower parts of the pas de trois above, to be honest (o_o). But do listen to the first sixteen notes of the melody starting from 9:24 above – that is pretty much my favourite part of the pas de trois – especially when it’s repeated. There’s this fascinating desperate urgency to this last part; it’s so grand and marchy, but there’s this slight dark sound to the sixteen notes and the following melody right after that. Thrilling. I think it’s because you would never imagine such a tune for such a jolly-seeming ballet.
Now that the bulk of the Act I dances are over, the Prince goes back to chatting with Benno and the pas de trois ladies. Tutor pops up (we are allowed to realise he is the tutor, in part because during the pas de trois, the Prince consults him over the contents of a heavy tome, which the Prince sometimes leafs through instead of watching his friends dance, Courtesy 101 notwithstanding).
Tutor says: Think ye on ye princely duties, for goodness’ sake! Now follow me!
Let’s talk about the two Princes. Why? Because that helps us understand why we get different things out of different versions of Swan Lake.
Version: Prince Kenya
Happy!Prince Kenya pretends to follow his Tutor, but immediately turns back to join his Benno in chatting with the beautiful ladies. Tutor discovers this, returns indignantly, and Prince Kenya pretends to follow his Tutor for quite a way before giving him the slip and returning to his friends. Benno-Etienne however subsequently follows Tutor (out of curiosity? I forget) and Tutor goes up a short flight of steps and returns, escorting the Queen.
At this point in time, I realised that there were steps built into the backdrop against the castle.
These are the costumes of Tutor and the Queen, I think:
Prince Kenya greets the Queen politely, and introduces his friends and Benno. The Queen dismisses Benno (who’s this? a bad idea), to Benno’s and the Prince’s dismay and confusion, and reminds the Prince that he must get married and become the King. The Prince says, earnestly: No, I will only marry for love. The Queen insists (I won’t hear that, don’t be silly), and the Happy!Prince becomes Sad!Prince.
But the Queen then shows him the gift she has for him: #1 – a gorgeous, glittery, super blingy cross-bow — and the sad Prince is Happy!Prince again. Unfortunately, gift #2 is a pair of goblets, one being his and the other being for his bride, whoever she may be. The Prince is sad once more. This sadness actually makes for an easy transition to the more sober Prince who encounters Odette.
Version: Prince Chen Peng
The Tutor has already made clear what the Prince must do, but relaxed!Prince (to quote a description in a book – so relaxed that he is almost horizontal) laughs him off. Benno-Zhao Jun, being, appropriately, a 损友 (friend who is a bad influence), joins him in laughing off the Tutor, and they return to their mimed conversation, which has been running along the lines of – Prince: What a beautiful day; Benno: Not as beautiful as these two ladies (cups faces of ladies); Ladies: (giggle) Oh no, no. You get the idea.
Tutor is indignant and insists, so the Prince makes as if he is following him, but instead pats Benno on the back and sends a startled Benno after Tutor. Benno follows Tutor up the stairs and then dashes down in shock – the Queen is here! Benno smoothens his hair back, straightens his tunic, prepares himself. The Queen is regal, and relaxed!Prince greets her happily, and introduces her to Benno. But the Queen is unimpressed, and Benno and the Prince are quite befuddled; Benno is reassured by bystanders that all is fine.
The Queen says: You must get married.
Relaxed!Prince Chen Peng actually laughs and waves this suggestion off. Miffed, the Queen says: Stop being silly, you have to marry.
Relaxed!Prince immediately becomes downcast; but then the presentation of the hyper-bling crossbow pleases him and he is chill and delighted once more (so easily pleased) – until the Goblets make their one-time appearance – and that gives him pause, and then it’s back to being a little downcast. Relaxed!Prince’s generally chill and jolly nature makes for an interesting contrast as time goes by. You’ll see.
The Queen exits shortly after, having finished turning her son’s moods upside down. It’s time for one final dance: the Polonaise, or what is commonly called Dance of the Goblets. Before this, it was Waltz, Waltz, Waltz for me. But the Polonaise has a gorgeous sound with a touch of melancholy; it’s the last dance before the Prince heads out of his merry youth and hence, apparently, it’s more formal than the more cheerful Waltz.
Thinking of that farewell to youth and of the potentially sad ending (but happily, not sad, in this version) left a lump in the throat for Nakamura Kenya’s performance (also the first one I watched) – perhaps because his was the Prince that was more immediately teetering on the edge of melancholy, over the whole marriage affair. That’s looking forwards into the unknown future of the Prince. Look, everyone’s smiling and dancing; and if they only knew that it could/would end badly – ! It doesn’t bear thinking about. 😥 (Luckily it doesn’t end badly in SDT’s version, or the heart would shatter).
Chen Peng’s Prince is so cheery that this song doesn’t quite have that effect from the stage (as it does, a little, up close). But if you look backwards from the end of the ballet to the start, it’s the transformation in Chen Peng’s Prince from uber-relaxed boy to grown man that makes this song a little wistful: it’s a farewell in so many ways. Here’s the music, below.
[See: Swan Lake Op. 20, Act I, No. 8]
Everyone lines up in an arc, and proceeds round the stage: beauty and grace personified. At first the Prince joins in, at the head of the line, with Elaine Heng/May Yen Cheah (Nakamura Kenya and Chen Peng respectively). But at 1:05, the Prince is standing in a corner, and his friends dance at, towards, for him, and slowly trail away to the side as their part ends.
And then when it’s all over, his friends start leaving, couple by couple. He tries to persuade them to stay, but they all must leave (天下无不散之筵席 – a Mandarin saying that means all good things must come to an end, but which literally translates to there are no banquets under the sky that do not scatter/are not sundered– I’m quite bad at translating, but I hope you get the picture). Poor ex-Happy!Prince Kenya is pretty crestfallen; ex-Relaxed!Prince Chen Peng is bemused and a trifle saddened – why would no one want to stay? It’s kind of sad…
And in the glow of the dying sun, the Prince is left alone with his tutor: Everyone has someone they love, everyone has left, I am all alone – O why, O when will my princess appear, etc.
Then lo! Benno swoops out of the shadows and round the stage like a great bird, like a foreshadowing of the great and terrible Rothbart, to doomsday music, bearing on his wings the wondrous plan to go hunting. That’ll get the Prince out of his gloom, and it does – Happy!Prince brightens up a little, and Relaxed!Prince immediately … relaxes, and forgets his woes.
Here are the huntsmen! Tutor is disturbed, but the Relaxed!Prince has already forgotten him and is racing off with the other boys, who wave farewell cheekily at the Tutor.
Thus ends Act I. And you haven’t seen the Swan Princess yet 🙂 But that’s the way Swan Lake works. Lots of other people exist, after all, in this world.
What a slick hunting party this is – crossbows in hands, long smooth kicks and perfect progress across the stage. We will miss more than half of them next year.
It’s when the Prince is alone that he sees the swan land and, when her feet touch the ground, turn into a woman – and that startles him into running away. I’d always wondered why, and this was shared at one of the sessions at SDT – as well as the wondrous fact that there are no actual swans in the dance, because everything that involves ‘swans’ takes place at night, when they are actually women.
It’s easy to love and understand Uchida Chihiro’s Odette – a fairytale princess, a friend noted, after I described her – the beautiful princess, the poor pretty girl captured by the evil Rothbart and turned into a swan. Yes, as Mr Schergen has said, she thinks he will break his promise to her (and she’s right! he says, in Act III). But for Chihiro’s Odette, she fears he will break the promise – she is a sweet, shy creature, and when the Prince slips round her, she hides her face (raised arms like swan’s wings) and she does not look up, for she is fearful and shy. Even as she flees him, you feel that she could have feelings for him.
She is a lovely princess, and Nakamura Kenya is the Prince Charming. When he beholds her face for the first time, he says, with great princely wonder, What a breathtaking beauty you are. You do get the sense that she does, and will, love him; that it is Rothbart’s powers and her own shy nature that hold her back at first. Your heart gets swayed by her evident grief when she narrates what has happened to her. The Act II pas de deux is obvious love unfolding – their hearts know it, and it’s inevitable that they will fall for each other. You want it to happen, too.
Rosa Park’s Odette is harder to grasp. She is lonely, and she has given up; she knows there is no Prince at the end of the rainbow. When the Prince (Chen Peng) rushes out with his crossbow eagerly, she darts away on swift feet. In a comical little scene, she hides her face, peeks out, sees him, and quickly hides behind a raised arm again (he is not there he is not there). When she next lifts her eyes to see if he’s really vanished (boy, I hope he’s gone), for a second she believes he has – and drops her guard – and lo! he’s snuck round to the other side, and she retreats in horror.
When Relaxed!Prince sees her face, he exclaims, his entire face shining: ZOMG, you are beautiful. Where Kenya’s Prince Charming-Siegfried gently, warmly, lovingly enfolds Chihiro’s Odette in his arms, Chen Peng’s boyish prince engulfs Rosa Park’s Odette in his eager embrace – one quick arm after another drawing her arms together.
But she rejects him. And how! A wing of swans follows her, separating him from her, as she leaves the stage. Even when he is holding her in his arms, she gazes away; her wing-like arms are guards for her heart. She is a Princess – she stands above the others, she is different, unique, special – a little shard of ice that sparkles above all. She does not melt easily. She is so, so special – not difficult or affected, but different from any other swan-girl – and Prince knows this, instinctively, and this is what draws him to her. It’s not the rejection, the chase, that draws him, you see – nothing so vulgar. It’s because he knows and appreciates that Odette is like no other girl in the world, to him.
He lifts her high above his head with care – this is the girl he loves, she is special. Once he was young and carefree, but something in her plight drives him to become worthy of her. That is their pas de deux – a long process of hard-earned winning of affection. Because she is worth every ounce of blood in his veins.
It’s worth remembering little moves like Odette’s leg trembling as the Prince holds her – a move requiring great muscle and control; like Odette bent over and sitting on the ground, one leg extended before her, her arms folded over her head, and how she lifts her head to look at the Prince: Chihiro’s a demure, virtuous Odette; Rosa’s a suddenly possibly tender Odette – the heart of Odette awaking for the prince.
Now that we’ve yarned on at length about how the imagination may interpret the above, let’s talk about the swans. Here’s a gorgeous, recent article about the Petipa versus Ivanov debate: who did what? Mr Schergen has highlighted that Ivanov is responsible for the wonderful swan scenes. And they are gorgeous.
I know people who have fallen asleep amidst the swimming sea of white. But how delicate the dance is – drifting out on a sea of dry ice, alternately hopping out with long extended arms, and kicking forwards with folded hands and tilted heads. I’m a humongous fan of the moment the swans appear. I love the leaps, how their arms curve in, then gracefully open out like wings. Theirs is not a rigorously-patterned dance – it’s a little more organic than I remembered.
The music below merges swans with pas de deux, and my favourite moment is at 8:26 to 8:49 where, after the pas de deux has had time to itself and the swans have been frozen for ages, they get to thaw and start to hop 360 degrees with one leg extended and arms raised. First the swans at the sides, then slowly those at the back as well; all rotating, like unfolding feathery wings. I love the sudden change in tempo and mood.
[See: Swan Lake Op. 20, Act II No. 13, Danses des cygnes]
One can’t talk about Act II without mentioning the 4 perfect cygnets, in perfect beat and rhythm, arms cross-linked. Perfection. Strong dancing from Nakahama Akira, Maughan Jemesen, Yatsushiro Marina and Tanaka Nanase (for Rosa’s performance)/ Alison Carroll (for Chihiro’s performance). Fancy doing what looks like pas de chat across the stage when interlinked with three other people. Everyone’s head moves to the correct point at the same time, but there’s nothing comical about it. It’s an excellent display of needle-point precise technique. All stops were pulled.
The 2 Big Swans are up next – Elaine Heng and Li Jie – no further introduction needed, because they nail the jumps, the turns and the raised legs cleanly.
We can’t exit the scene without talking about Rothbart: Yorozu Kensuke having the time of his life, leaping out just when things are moving along nicely for our leads. One of the most awesome iconic images, to me, is his Rothbart in close control of Rosa so that she drapes herself sharp as a blade across the pointed arm of Chen Peng-Siegfried’s crossbow.
For every performance I watched, Rothbart was wildly popular with the audience at the end. You can order your Rothbart menacing and spooky (look, who turns girls into birds for fun?) or simply powerful and a little crackin’ evil (again, how are you going to play a dude who turns girls into birds?). Yorozu Kensuke is never campy or over-the-top, but he’s definitely a Rothbart with character.
Rothbart pops up at the end of Act II again, just as Odette and the Prince have found each other again, and under his spell, Odette flits away – Chihiro almost robotically precise as an Odette whose limbs are beyond her control – leaving the Prince bereft and alone again, naturally.
Off we go, then, into the sunset of Act III, easily the most fireworks-ridden piece.
It’s the Prince’s 21st birthday party! The Prince, his heart left at the lakeside, has deigned to preside upon the celebrations. Kenya’s Prince Charming is the buay song* Prince, wishing he were anywhere but here. It’s clearly a waste of his time: the love of his life is somewhere fighting for her life and he’s stuck here all day and night. (*buay song may be defined as being dissatisfied, in a slightly sour and cranky way)
Chen Peng’s Prince pastes a polite smile on his face as performer after performer enters: the 8 proud Czardas in two military columns, led by Jake Burden and Emma Hanley Jones; the 2 Spanish couples; the Tarantella pair (one of whom is played by the other performance’s Benno) and then the Princesses, watching their step carefully as they descend the long flight of red steps in their long pink silk gowns.
First up are the Czardas. Red-coated, in high brown boots. The ladies wait at the corners of the stages, hands folded on one hip, for their men to sail out in a diamond. A proud dance to snooty music: folded arms and kicks; a hand behind the head and an elbow jutting out high; quick stamping feet. Probably my favourite of the three dances, for its more unconventional moves.
The Spanish are next, in emerald green, black and gold, and peacock skirts for the ladies. May Yen Cheah is in her element for this. There are different interpretations: you can be a silently smouldering Spanish dancer, or a loud, fiery one ala Mercedes from Don Quixote – take your pick. Love the quick waltz out of a corner, and the end where the ladies are swung round to rest on their men’s thighs and calves, one leg tucked behind and one extended. Elaine Heng and Nazer Salgado make an excellent pair – both seem to genuinely enjoy the dance, and there are actually sparks flying, in a good way. They’ve danced together very well in Bliss (by Gigi Gianti, during Passages 2015), and to the untrained eye, this looks like a partnership that actually works.
On this note, the audience can sometimes tell if a pair works or, more often, if it doesn’t quite look right – likely nothing personal, but enough for the audience to hesitate at a spin or a lift, sensing some underlying discomfort. Sometimes an unconscious wrinkling of the brow tells us that the lift doesn’t work, or a spin nearly falls awry. It’s difficult finding pairs that work, but it feels scary seeing those that don’t. (To qualify: the above does not apply to this Swan Lake.)
On to the Tarantella, which I have no extremely strong memory of, except that the pairs (Li Jie and Etienne Ferrere, Chua Bi Ru and Zhao Jun) performed up to their usual standards – soaring leaps to the back, turns and lifts; Li Jie sparkling, Bi Ru lively. Right at the end of one of the performances, the beaming gentleman gave the lady a large smooch on the cheek, at which one audience member turned to another: What was that for? – perhaps to emphasise that this is a Tarantella (though, for the other pair, a decorous air peck was bestowed instead).
The most stirring music comes out of, surprisingly, the dance of the 6 Princesses who have been invited to win the Prince’s heart. Listen to the piece below from 3:24. The instruments are deceptively cheery at parts, and it’s quite genteel music, but there’s such a melancholy to it, and there are underlying dark notes that lead to growing unease and foreboding – listen to the minor key in 4:11 to 4:17, 5:10 to 5:25 and 5:41 to 6:02 as the notes fade off. Of course, this is all by hindsight. If I listened to it without having watched the dance, I wouldn’t know a thing. More below.
[See: Swan Lake Op. 20, Act III No. 17, Scene. Sortie des invites et valse]
Here we have 6 Princesses and their sparkly dome-shaped fans, all gorgeous and dancing with such light feet and grace. What lovely arms and legs in arabesque en pointe (I’m always partial to arabesque en pointes that then land, and roll up again in the opposite direction). In particular, the eye is drawn to Xu Lei Ting, a graceful Princess who looks exceptionally delighted to be at the dance, and has a little zing of charisma.
But we have one extremely buay song Prince Kenya standing amidst them, extremely unhappy to be forced to pick someone whom he does not love; and he plunges out of their circle not once, but twice, though they try to enchant him. When the Princesses dance prettily in a row facing him, and he makes his way down the row, he is forced to whirl each in a circle so that all the Princesses will dance facing his direction; and despite being buay song, he whirls each dutifully and with excellent form (as always).
Prince Chen Peng is not so much buay song as despondent. At some points, he (the Prince, not the dancer…) appears to have lost interest in the plot (i.e. the whole pick-your-princess thing). As he stands at the back of the stage and the Princesses seek to draw his attention, he glances round at the circle, and forces himself to consider one (one raised arm) – but no, she’s not quite the One, so he considers another (another raised arm) – but no, she’s not the One, either – and he reaches the depressing realisation that all six ladies in pink are exactly the same to him: they are none of them Odette.
Unfortunately, the Prince is handed a heavy bouquet of flowers. The buay song Prince dutifully walks past them all in a buay song fashion but rejects them; the despondent Prince once more attempts to consider them, and gives up.
But happily for the Queen (!), trumpets sound and new guests arrive: Rothbart and his daughter, Odile. Or, to the Prince’s eyes, Odette.
Have you seen the way Odile enters the ballroom?
Chihiro enters as one with a God Complex –glowing with joie de vivre, alive from every pore, glittering – she is here to rule the entire room, she will be the belle of the ball, and work her charms on everyone. Hers is an easy target: the romantic, good-hearted prince.
Rosa Park enters with a knowing smile, in partnership with her evil father Rothbart, her hand resting confidently in his. Here is a party she was not invited to, and she will have fun. She delights in the specific plan that will unfold tonight. What kind of girl, after all, would delight in her father turning girls into swans?
Prince Kenya is immediately in bliss – the moment introductions are over, he positively leaps over to Odile. The once-despondent Prince Chen Peng informs his mother excitedly that this is the Princess he adores and will marry; the Queen, relieved to see her son revive after a long night of being buay song or despondent, is pleased (thank goodness he’s going to marry, after all!).
It’s time for the glorious pas de deux. Listen to the wonderful preparatory notes! Chills. Wiki tells me that this was formerly intended for Act I, hence its title. Which is also why some of it is unrecognisable – not from the same pas de deux set?
[See : Swan Lake Op. 20, Act I No. 5, Pas de deux]
0:28 to 0:32 – The Prince holds Odile about the waist, and she dips her head into her arms, then unfurls them like wings, raising her head – she pirouettes once, and flings her arms out. Chihiro-Odile emphasises the unfurling of the arms, the wicked flourish of the wing-tips as her hands fan out and the wicked light in her eyes. Chihiro-Odile aims for seductive magnetism, and when she walks backwards, the Prince follows, hooked and drawn.
Rosa-Odile puts the emphasis in the flinging of her arms, razor-sharp as jet. Hers is the long lure, an exercise in laying traps every step of the way. Each series of steps gets her a little closer to her goal.
1:00 to 1:07, to my short memory, is one of many favourite parts of the pas de deux – a slick, sharp moment when Rosa slides forward as if she’s skating – and Chen Peng catches her sharply by the wrist at just the right moment, creating just the right amount of tension so she’s jolted into a sharp arabesque. Stunning. It makes you sit up. It’s their Swan Lake version of the gorgeous Sleeping Beauty whip-turn where Rosa-Aurora whips round so fast that she nearly falls over, and indeed she tips right into a fish dive held at just the right angle by Chen Peng.
There are a couple of moments when the Prince steps aside and ponders if this is the Odette he knows and loves.
Look, was gentle Odette ever so alluring, so brilliantly alive? – this gives Prince Kenya pause. For Prince Chen Peng, the Princess tonight has some of the same special element that made Odette so different from any other maiden. She looks exactly like the girl at the lakeside; but she is different, a triple-magnified version of Odette, stronger and more glorious than ever.
Where the lakeside Princess once slipped away from a great embrace from the Prince, she now wraps her arms around his so that he folds his arms around her; and by almost the end of the scene, he will be wrapping his arms around her of his own accord, and you can see the triumph on her face.
Yet she rejects the Prince when he leans in for a kiss, using a delicate hand to her cheek to fend him off. In reality, this is because she is rightfully afraid that if he kisses her, he will know the difference. Perhaps that seems normal to both Princes, since Chihiro-Odette is shy, and Rosa-Odette has spent much of Act II rejecting the Prince. But there’s still something a little too flashy and bold about this Odette. How very odd. The Prince goes to a corner to reflect on this oddness.
But cue the tender, slow violin music, and in a clever move mimicking Odette’s by the lake, Odile wheels her arms delicately to lift the Prince’s arm and slips in demurely under his arm, and leans against his arm, body tilted.
The Prince falls for this and holds her aloft – Chihiro-Odile smiling wickedly; and Rosa-Odile actually throwing her head back and laughing, evilly, high above where he cannot see her.
There’s actually a moment where the Prince talks to the Queen, and Rothbart then speaks with Odile: Chihiro-Odile as his wicked daughter, listens; but Rosa-Odile gives the impression that she is conferring with Rothbart as if she were his partner-in-crime, and that’s when you realise that from the very beginning when she entered, Rosa-Odile was as equally invested in the evil as Rothbart is. Together, they are Rothbart, Inc. (Of course, this could simply be in the mind of the audience.)
I’ve watched both Odiles up close before. Chihiro’s is the seductive sort, and every flicking glance thrown the Prince’s way could be either wicked or delightfully coy, like she wants to share a secret with him. Rosa’s was eeeeeevil from the core, and the viewer laughed along evilly in her heart, enjoying every moment and supporting Rosa’s Odile in her exciting evil deeds. (But up close can be a little different from offstage, i.e. viewer did not actually laugh along excitedly this time round.)
In any case, Odile is quite sure she’s won the Prince’s heart, and she raises a curved arm: triumph! But Rothbart springs forward and seizes it: Not so fast. The Prince may or may not be unconvinced still. So Odile bourres towards him, little delicate steps, and he watches. See that plaintive look on Chihiro-Odile’s face, a mockery of Odette in Act II; and Rosa-Odile puts on her best good-white-swan face as she approaches the Prince, but shoots her father a look of pure evil delight.
One of my favourite parts is next: Odile mirrors Odette’s little move of sitting on the ground with one leg extended, arms folded over her head demurely. When she unfurls her arms and smiles at him, you can see from Chihiro’s dagger-bright eyes that she’s Odile. When Rosa turns away after that, folding her hands over her knee, she throws her head back again and laughs.
They’ve their own separate parts to dance, of course. Chihiro’s Odile is lithe and limber, with a sensual kind of elegance in every long limb. Rosa flashes through her parts swiftly with glittering precision: turns in a large circle in the centre, round and round with music to spare.
Lots of people are here for the fouettes. I lost count for both, though I heard someone behind me count fifteen during Chihiro’s turn. Rosa is speedy – one, two, bam, a triple fouette; one, two, bam, another triple fouette; after four such rounds, I gave up. To be honest, I didn’t want to start counting at all, because I just wanted to enjoy the music and watching people do beautiful fouettes (8:48).
The Princes have their own turn but the audience is busy clapping for the Princesses. It’s easy to forget that they’re accomplished, too.
But it’s not the fouettes I’m after. It’s the very last part of the music, which sounds like the fouette-music –marching, victorious. The music at 10:00 builds up to 10:05 – and then Odile, instead of luring the Prince along by dancing backwards, proceeds towards him, posing strikingly at the end of every phrase. Chihiro’s eyes dart to us, she brings us into the secret that she is evil and we know it.
Rosa is focused entirely on her Prince, her lips curved in triumph, her arm arched high in victory – you should see her at the end of every phrase, drawing closer to her target. She has her Prince where she wants him and she knows it, and she is simply nailing in the last nails in the coffin, because now he believes that she truly loves him, when all this while it’s she who has his heart in her hands. All that’s left is for it to end brilliantly with the Prince kissing her folded hands and she pulling one away so that he can rest his cheek on the other hand, in absolute beaming bliss. The end of the long lure.
But of course, when they are to be bound by marriage, Rothbart tears them apart and declares that the Prince must swear his undying love to the bride, which he does without hesitation – and he is confuzzled when Rothbart&Rothbart, Inc. laugh long and hard at his misfortune.
Odette is revealed to still be trapped – a dancer in a white tutu seen in a mirror (through a glass frame, likely) before a hand pulls a black curtain across her visage. Who’s this dancer? I wish I knew. ‘twould be funny if she were the other Odette/Odile.
So off goes the Prince, after the evil pair, and Queen faints when Tarantella guy tells her that no one has been able to follow him. Exeunt Prince.
Odette seems to know she’s been betrayed – O the urgency, the grief as she finds her fellow swan maidens and hides amidst them.
The Prince rushes out to find her: Kenya, in great urgency; Chen Peng, knowing that this is possibly the end for them both, and desiring to make amends. I love how the swans sit in a V-formation and, when the Prince rushes up and down the V-formation, they turn and rotate, swishing an arm overhead so that they can fold their hands on their knee. This is not the droid you’re looking for.
Rothbart versus the Prince showdown (minor dance-off) ensues when Rothbart leaps out and scatters swans and locates Odette. Rothbart and the Prince leaping past each other, doing double or triple twists in the air, Rothbart locking the Prince’s hands in his so that the Prince is bent back, knees buckled, and collapses.
Rothbart perches atop the great solid stone wall that rings the lake, and laughs – a wild, mocking Ha, ha, ha (to borrow from L.M. Montgomery). He gets down from the stone wall and circles below with the swans, whose pleas he disregards. Then he zips up onto the stone wall again to laugh.
One should not laugh twice. The Prince regains consciousness and spots the crossbow on the other side of the stage.
Prince Kenya holds out for the tension, grabs the crossbow at the last moment and shoots Rothbart.
Prince Chen Peng sneaks over and takes the crossbow a good few seconds earlier than expected. He waits in the wings, bides his time – when Rothbart ascends the wall, the Prince pops out, takes aim, and shoots. Rothbart falls over at the height of his glee, and into the lake (and someone in the audience laughed in surprise).
It was this moment that made me sit up in the Rosa performance. Wasn’t the Prince supposed to be totally relaxed? You’d have thought he’d have seized the crossbow on a lucky whim. But no, he’s changed: he’s now a man who’s found someone whom he wants to be worthy of, and he’s grown worthy of her – he’s grown into a man who’ll grab the crossbow and wait, and kill for the one he loves, because there’s no other way.
Happily, the two are reunited and the Prince can now pledge his undying love to his beloved.
That was lengthy. I never expected that I would enjoy Swan Lake so.
There’s so much detail in this that it almost feels a waste to not say that Benno and his pas de trois girls do a little opening dance that seems to prepare us for the Prince’s entrance. Or that two sets of girls dance up in fours, bearing long green garlands, to greet the Prince, and the garlands are graciously accepted (and popped aside onto the floor); there’s a lovely welcoming dance for the Prince.
I was very fortunate to be able to watch Li Jie with Nazer Salgado in the main portion of the Black Swan pas de deux. It’s actually Li Jie whom I best remember in the scene where Odile raises her arm in triumph before Rothbart darts up and stops her from revealing it all. I had always wanted to see Li Jie’s Odile, and I enjoyed it. I think there’s so much potential and some day – though that could mean Rosa isn’t in it any longer – I hope to see Li Jie’s Odette and Odile. That would be interesting 🙂
That’s it for this Season. More to come on next year’s Season.