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Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake ballet (1876) [141:00]
Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich, after Petipa and Ivanov
Maya Plisetskaya … Odette/Odile
Alexander Bogatirev … Prince Siegfried
Boris Efimov … Rothbart
Vladimir Abrosimov … Jester
Members of the Bolshoi Ballet
Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre/Algis Zhuraitis
rec. live performance, Kremlin Palace, Moscow, 1976
VAI 4446 [141:00]






Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake ballet (1876) [131:00]
Choreography by Petipa/Ivanov/Gorsky revised by Boyarchikov
Nina Ananiashvili … Odette/Odile
Alexei Fadeyechev … Prince Siegfried
Sergei Zagorulko … Rothbart
Andrei Shcherbinin … Jester
Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet
Shinsei Nihon Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Sotnikov
rec. live performance, Bunkamura Orchard Hall, Tokyo, 11 October 1992
VAI 4450 [131:00]

Experience Classicsonline

The retrieval of old recorded performances, mainly from TV archives, continues apace. And, while it is true that not everything deserves to be rescued from obscurity, some fascinating material, often reflecting currently discontinued performance practice, continues to be disinterred.
Here, for instance, we have two taped performances of Swan Lake, each of them of some historical and/or artistic significance. The 1976 recording is of a high-profile production that was specially mounted in the Kremlin itself to commemorate the ballet’s upcoming 100th anniversary at the Bolshoi. It is, too, especially notable as offering the first fully complete performance of Maya Plisetskaya’s Odette/Odile to have appeared on DVD.
The 1992 Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet production, on the other hand, has a different significance. Its most obvious importance lies in offering the only available visual record of Nina Ananiashvili performing one of her most famous roles. But it also offers a chance to observe a ballet company coping with the immense challenges posed for all Soviet cultural institutions by the collapse of the old USSR. On the one hand, in the early 1990s dozens of theatrical, opera, ballet and other companies gained their freedom from the rigid artistic straitjacket long imposed by grey Soviet apparatchiks but, on the other, they had to face up, virtually overnight, to huge cuts in their financial resources.
Taking the 1976 performance first, it is fair to say that the critics are still out on it. While there is universal delight that it exists at all, not everybody considers that it shows the Bolshoi’s then prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya at the height of her powers. Some believe that it would have been better had she been filmed five or ten years earlier, an opinion arguably supported by Plisetskaya’s own words. Observing in her autobiography that she performed Swan Lake no less than 800 times between 1947 and 1977, she remarks, with an almost audible sigh, that “thirty years is an entire lifetime”. Personally, I find her 1976 performance rather aloof and detached – maybe she even appears a little bored? Plisetskaya is, I think, rather more involved and exciting in earlier ventures on film. There are some frustratingly brief and poor quality extracts from the Black swan pas de deux filmed at her Bolshoi debut performance in 1947 (to be found on the NVC Arts DVD The Glory of the Bolshoi) and there is also the hugely melodramatic and tremendously exciting (but heavily abridged to 80 minutes) Swan Lake filmed in 1957 (VAI DVD 4261).
Just as significantly, though, this production also suffers from its own attendant circumstances. Mounting it in the Kremlin, rather than at the Bolshoi, appears to have limited the available technical resources. Scenery is minimal and, most seriously of all, the lighting is seriously inadequate for such a vast stage. There are, indeed, times when it is just not possible to see the action in the detail that one would like and, even when a soloist is relatively well lit, the rest of the stage is often in deep stygian gloom, preventing us seeing the dramatic context in which the dancing is taking place. It is not, by the way, a case of an imaginative producer attempting to use subdued lighting to create an appropriately mysterious or dream-like atmosphere, for even the ceremonial scenes at the royal court look as though the Queen was having trouble paying her electricity bill. To make matters even worse, far too much of the production is filmed in distant long-shot, depriving us, at several significant moments, of much sense of the characters’ emotions (other, of course, than those expressed through their dance).
My own suspicion is that the problems occurred because this prestigious production was put on for an audience of Soviet bigwigs (even though we now know from his diaries that General Secretary Brezhnev had not the slightest interest in culture of any sort). Thus, any idea of filming it in an appropriately sophisticated manner using the best available technology had to take second place to ensuring that the Soviet ministers’ enjoyment of the evening wasn’t spoiled by any distractions caused by the filming.
It is a huge relief, for the eyes at least, to slot the DVD of Ananiashvili’s 1992 performance into the player. This time the general stage lighting actually allows one to see what is going on beyond the range of the spotlight and there is also far more use of medium-shots and close-ups. The production is, thereby, rendered much more watchable – which is, after all, the point of a DVD. Once or twice the director fails to anticipate some important bit of stage business or misses an important entrance by a second or two, but that is really nothing too serious to worry about.
Nina Ananiashvili is her usual self – meaning that she is technically assured to a very high level indeed, without quite, perhaps, attaining Plisetskaya’s Olympian heights. She is, moreover, a dancer who delights in showing off her self-assurance and although not everyone may find her doe eyes and her “Wow, did I really do that? Aren’t I clever?” smiles as charming and endearing as I do, at least they are a sign that she is engaging with her audience. I suspect that an evening spent with Nina Ananiashvili would have been a lot more fun than one in the company of Maya Plisetskaya – but then I freely admit that I’d rather have a night out with Black Swan Odile than with wishy-washy Odette.
The Perm company is usually regarded as Russia’s third most important after the Bolshoi and Kirov/Mariinsky troupes. In 1992 it clearly had great strength in depth (so might the 1976 Bolshoi company have had – but we can’t see that because of that 40-watt lighting!) Ananiashvili’s Prince Siegfried is her regular and utterly reliable partner Alexei Fadeyechev. Theatrical virility is not, admittedly, his strong point, but then isn’t it true that the whole trouble in Swan Lake’s plot arises because the prince is just a mummy’s boy anyway? Certainly, Fadeyechev’s quasi-anonymity makes him almost ideally self-effacing when he and Ananiashvili dance together. I also particularly enjoyed vigorous portrayals by Andrei Shcherbinin as the court jester and Sergei Zagorulko as Rothbart.
Overall, these are two performances that have been well worth unearthing. The older Bolshoi one will appeal to Plisetskaya’s legion of fans but cannot, for reasons explained, merit a general recommendation to a wider audience. The later Perm production, on the other hand, can be put with confidence into the hands of anyone who comes new to Swan Lake as well as anyone who appreciates dancing of a very high standard indeed.
Rob Maynard


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