If you had to name one ballet off the top of your head (aside from the Nutcracker), chances are good that you’d think of Swan Lake. This work, from composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky — especially its most recognizable “Swan Theme” — is universally recognizable.
Can you hear it yet? Think back to Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl, Natalie Portman in Black Swan, or the men of Ballet Trockedero. Whatever jogs your mind for the genre, you’ll be pleased. So — whether or not you’re familiar with true ballet renditions of Swan Lake, don’t be quick to write off a special performance of the classic from Russian-born ballet company the Saint Petersburg State Ballet Thursday evening.
After twenty-five years of touring the globe, this is, surprisingly, the Saint Petersburg State Ballet’s first season in the United States. How appropriate for this company to touch down in a city that is equally invested in preserving music, culture and tradition.
Russian-based Saint Petersburg State Ballet company will deliver an artistic, yet quintessential Russian tour de force. With a mission to preserve choreographic authenticity, the Saint Petersburg State “Russian Ballet” maintains an exceptionally traditional dance form and style that dates back to Marius Petipa’s original choreography from 1876. If you’ve seen Swan Lake performed by an American company (none of which took place until 1940, more than 60 years after the ballet premiered in Moscow), you’ve probably seen the modern choreography of George Balanchine or Peter Martins. Alternatively, on Thursday, you can view the classic at its most tragic and romantic, and, as the Russian Ballet Theatre hopes, be “transported back to a glorious past.”
To this day, the origin of Swan Lake continues to be disputed. Some critics trace the story back to an old German folktale, “Der geraubte Schleier” (The Stolen Veil), while others claim Russian folktale “The White Duck” is the ballet’s original source of inspiration — which follows Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse.
Despite some creative variances, the Saint Petersburg State Ballet’s version of Swan Lake maintains the plot structure — presenting the story in four acts. Historically, many choreographers have harnessed the most creative liberty in Act IV, where they decide how to end the ballet. Nonetheless, there still exis numerous alternative endings contrasting this dominant plot arc — ranging from happily-ever-after to utterly tragic finales. Given the ethos of the Saint Petersburg State Ballet, the curtain will fall not on a grieving Siegfried (Odette’s lover), but rather on the couple’s ascendance into heaven, united for all eternity.
The Saint Petersburg State Ballet was founded in 1990 by a family of professional ballet dancers. The company tours internationally to promote Russian ballet at its finest: expressive, emotional, dramatic, technical. To this end, its dancers all trained at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, formerly the Imperial Ballet School, which also claims George Balanchine and Mikail Baryshinikov as graduates. Thursday night’s performance will showcase the soloists Anna Voitina, Alexander Voitin, Natalia Potekhina, and Ivan Sitnikov. With rigorous training behind them, these dancers are likely to impress with strong, proficient technique: distinguished turn out, quick turns, and jaw dropping leaps. And if their Russian heritage plays any part in Thursday’s performance, expect emotional flair and drama in every gesture.
WHO: The Saint Petersburg State Ballet
WHAT: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”
WHEN: Thursday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts
TICKETS: $50 – 155