Swan Lake by Staatsballet Berlin is a “majestic and surreal beauty”

Berlin Staatsballet - Swan Lake (Schwanensee). Photo by Carlos Quezada

It is particularly interesting to watch the Staatsballet’s production of Swan Lake (or should I say Schwanensee being in Germany) after attending their performance of Cranko’s Onegin (see our review here) two nights before, as it illuminates how modern and different Cranko’s approach was to Tchaicovsky’s master piece.

Originally choreographed in the 1870s by Julius Reisinger (though the Staatsballet’s choreographer Patrice Bart has based his staging on the late 19th Century revival by Petipa and Ivanov), Swan Lake is much more formal, and traditionally structured than Onegin, and the standout feature is that it is much less preoccupied with storytelling. In both Act 1 and 2 there are endless lengthy cycles of male and female duets, solos and sometimes trios (the most engaging of which are set around a theme, such as the Spanish and Neapolitan dances), which, separated by bows and applauds for the audience, feel more like a variety show and display of technical excellence than part of a plotline.

Your enjoyment of said cycles heavily depends on the reason you attend the ballet, as whilst they may not be the most narratively engaging, they are unquestionably breathtaking in terms of the dancers’ superhuman abilities, which, along with many of the iconic and challenging moments of the ballet (such as the danse des petits cynes and the 32 fouettes executed by Odile the Black Swan) is what many have come to the Deutsches Oper to marvel at.

Berlin Staatsballet - Swan Lake (Schwanensee). Photo by Carlos Quezada
Berlin Staatsballet – Swan Lake (Schwanensee). Photo by Carlos Quezada

This being said, one cannot deny the magical spectacle that is created in Swan Lake, which is why it is still regarded as one of the most famous and loved ballets of all time. This sense of majestic, surreal beauty is epitomised by the beginning of Act 2 Scene 2, where the curtain lifts to a sea of dry ice spilling over the edge of the stage and cascading down into the orchestra pit. No dancers are to be scene, until the corps of swans rise ethereally out of the snow white smoke, and proceed to transition between being in and out of vision as their arms flutter and glide through the space in perfect unison.

Kudos must be given to the corps de ballet, as their precise unity is the backbone of Swan Lake, and their ability to hold elongated stillness and subsequently snap back into complex motion is remarkable. However, the dual role of Odette and Odile, danced on this occasion by prima ballerina Liudmila Konovalova is undeniably the standout performance of the night. As Odette, she employs a graceful, melancholic demeanour, gliding across the stage, her arms holding immense strength and connection to her back, making them appear more like animalistic wings that limbs.

But Konovalova’s excellence is not fully realised until Act 2 where she appears as the black swan, her dynamic range and character completely changed as she executes her movements with a flirtatious staccato dynamic. This new performative style is far removed from her previous nature that one can hardly comprehend how the Prince mistakes her for Odette. Maybe, for such a mistake, he deserved the heart-breaking consequences…

Reviewed on 21 October at Deutsches Oper