Water and air

The Kirov’s Swan Lake  
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  November 17, 2006

EYE OF THE STORM: Uliana Lopatkina as Odette.
Bred in the city that Peter the Great built on a marsh to be Russia’s window onto Europe, the Kirov Ballet is equal parts water, air, and Euclid. The vectors are vertical; everyone’s as pulled up as the Admiralty’s space-needle spire. The corps women in Swan Lake look as uniform as the Baroque façades of the Winter Palace; in the double row of their battement tendu derrière they’re so still they seem frozen. Sometimes you want a breath of Firebird, or at least the St. Basil’s kaleidoscopery of the Church on Spilt Blood.

The Swan Lake that the Kirov Ballet and Orchestra presented at the Wang Theatre last weekend, part of the Bank of America Celebrity Series, is the same one they brought to Lincoln Center in July of 2002. Shaped, like the Boston Ballet edition of the 1990s, by former Kirov artistic director Konstantin Sergeyev, it’s a study in opposites: flock and flight, castle and forest, major and minor (that opening F-sharp from the oboe leaves you guessing), black and white. Prince Siegfried and his would-be lady’s man of a Jester seem at first birds of a feather, Siegfried in his black doublet and white tights, the Jester halved in black and white. But when his mother proposes marriage, Siegfried flees the castle, and the pale flame of its autumnal birches, for the forest; like Tchaikovsky, he knows his destiny lies elsewhere. For the last two acts, Siegfried is all-white against Odile’s black and Odette’s white; Odile might as well be Antonina Milyukova, the woman with whom Tchaikovsky entered into what he imagined would be a “white marriage” in 1877, just months after Swan Lake’s premiere. The troth Siegfried plights to Odile in the third act is the black mark against him in the fourth; Sergeyev represents it as a flight of eight black swans threading through the white ones.

The opening-night Odette/Odile and Siegfried were Uliana Lopatkina, last seen here in 2003 with the Kirov as an incendiary Sheherazade, and Igor Zelensky, who at age 19 guested as Siegfried opposite Carla Stallings in the 1992 Boston Ballet Swan Lake. He remains a recessive, almost monastic, Prince, blond verging on bland; she’s an eye-of-the-storm Odette, all calm convent center and cantilena line, with rapt arms and a back attitude that she must have started practicing in the womb. They move dreamlike through the White adagio, and she fills out conductor Mikhail Sinkevich’s adagissimo tempo as if it were a pillow she were stuffing with down. Her Odile is simply Odette with sex, Eve with the apple, but Zelensky is too white to bite, and since unlike many Odiles Lopatkina doesn’t play to the audience, she has no audience. Her fouettés suffer, lagging; her predatory diagonal final run dissolves. I wonder how she’d look with a blacker Siegfried.

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