Russian National Ballet dances a pleasing Swan Lake

Photo courtesy of Russian National Ballet Theatre
Photo by Larissa Pedenckuk

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

A production of “Swan Lake” without its lovers’ tragic end? It appeared so Tuesday as Elena Radchenko’s Russian National Ballet Theatre performed its version of the ballet classic at the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts.

The enchanted story of maidens under the spell of the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart who take the form of swans during the day and humans at night and its central love story between Odette, the queen of the swans and Prince Siegfried, usually ends differently. In most versions the ballet climaxes with the two lovers committing suicide to break Von Rothbart’s spell. RNBT’s version appeared to omit that conclusion in favor of a happier ending.

That wasn’t the only variation in RNBT’s otherwise fairly traditional and well-received production. For whatever reason in the ballet’s first act, Siegfried is lured by Von Rothbart (Samat Abdrahmanov) to the swan lake to encounter Odette rather than coming across her during a hunting expedition with friend Benno, who doesn’t appear in this production.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s memorable score for the ballet with choreography by Petipa, Ivanov and Grigorovich, RNBT’s production featured colorful sets and costumes and a well-rehearsed cast of dancers ranging from students to seasoned professionals.

Like many Russian touring troupes not named “Bolshoi” or “Mariinsky (Kirov),” the production was dominated by the dancers in its lead roles. Aidos Zakan as Siegfried and Maria Sokolnikova in the dual role of Odette/Odile outshined the rest of the cast by a good margin. Both were technically superior and danced with presence and feeling, although Zakan could have been more expressive.

Photo courtesy of Russian National Ballet Theatre

Photo courtesy of Russian National Ballet Theatre

The four-act ballet began with a celebration at Prince Siegfried’s castle to commemorate his ascension to the throne. The act featured several group dances performed by RNBT’s well-trained corps de ballet, whose dancing was marked by an elegant delicacy. Highlighting the act was the lively performance by principal dancer Maria Klueva in a pas de trois that showed off her lovely line and extension, and the animated and at times bravura performance of Viacheslav Tapharov as the court jester.

The rest of the two-hour ballet unfolded along familiar lines with the story being advanced through solidly danced scenes featuring RNBT’s uniform female swan corps and the magnetic performances by Sokolnikova and Zakan. The pairs’ finest moment came in the second act grand pas de deux in which Zakan displayed his steady partnering and turning skills while Sokolnikova as the demure Odette captivated with an airy grace and precision.

Also of note in the overall pleasing production were the performance of a determined quartet of dancers in the “four little swans” and the engaging soloist Olga Gudkova as the “Spanish Bride.”

This review first appeared in The Buffalo News March 28, 2013. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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