John Frayne: 'Swan Lake,' 'Cinderella' truly enjoyable
The winter-spring season at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts opened with a three-ballet stand offered by Sergei Radchenko's Moscow Festival Ballet. I attended the Jan. 21 performance of "Swan Lake," with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and the Jan. 23 performance of "Cinderella," with music by Sergei Prokofiev. I found both ballets thoroughly enjoyable to watch, with a slight preference for "Swan Lake."
In past years, I have heard the complaint that this ballet company does not represent the top state-of-the—art level of Russian classic dancing. To that I reply that such may be the case, but I still vividly enjoy these performances! This is a touring company, and I would not expect the super stars of the Bolshoi or Kirov companies to be performing on such a tour. It might be that we are watching younger dancers on their way up to ultimate stardom.
That said, the presentation of the company's dancers is slightly off-putting. The names of the dancers in the leading roles are indeed in the program, but the dancers on any given night are announced over the public-address system, and they all have Russian names (enough said?). There are no profiles of the dancers' career paths that would give some indication of their level of experience. Further, the synopses of the ballet plots sometimes do not match the stage action. In "Swan Lake," we are told that Siegfried sees swans on the lake, and they turn into women dancers. I could see no such transformation. In "Cinderella," we are told in the program that the fairy godmother first enters as a poor older woman. Not in this version; her entry is resplendent.
But enough! The dancing was highly enjoyable. The "Jester" in both ballets was Eldar Sarsembaev, and if he is not a star, he soon will be. His spectacular leaps on the stage brought rapturous cries from the audience.
In "Swan Lake," Olga Gudkova danced a lovely Odette, the Swan Queen, but Odylle, her evil alter ego, as played by Maria Sokolnikova, had more brilliant, crowd-pleasing dances. Even in ballet, bad girls get the limelight. Evgeniy Rudakov gave a powerful performance as the evil sorcerer von Rothbart, but at his every appearance, a blast of smoke issued from offstage, an effect which became comic with repetition.
Konstantin Marikin was dignified and performed his leaps with great vigor on both the roles of Siegfried in "Swan Lake" and the Prince in "Cinderella." And in that same ballet, Maria Kluyeva was sweet and sympathetic in the title role.
Evgeniy Rudakov played with malapropian gusto the transvestite role of the Stepmother, and Elena Khoroshevo and Natalia Ivanova did their best to convince me that their awkward motions as the stepsisters were real and not feigned. Olga Gudkova, who had danced Odylle in "Swan lake," was very impressive as the Fairy Godmother
The solo dances of the brides in "Swan Lake" and the "Ambassadors" in "Cinderella" were quite exciting and at times dazzling. The dance of the little swans brought down the house, as usual, and the the corps de ballet was highly professional on both evenings. The scenery carried by such a touring company must be minimal, but the illusion of splendor was artfully created with little means. The costumes were beautiful.
The musical score of "Swan Lake" I esteem is the greatest of all ballet music (except for Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty"), and I reveled in its splendid melodies. In the sparkling and tart Prokofiev score for "Cinderella," I noted the ironic quotation of the march from Prokofiev's opera "The Love for Three Oranges" as one dancer held oranges in her hands.
The recorded score of these ballets was too loud for my ears, and the identity of the orchestra and conductor are apparently state secrets. The ends of some of the dances were clipped, that is, cut off to go at once to the next dance.
Many in the audience stood at the end of "Swan Lake," but no one did during the hefty applause at the end of "Cinderella." I think "Cinderella" should come across as much funnier than this performance. There was only one-loud outburst of laughter during the whole evening.
But all in all, I found both ballets a delight to the eyes and ears. May we see them soon again.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.