Monday, April 6, 2015

Paris Opéra Ballet: Swan Lake on World Theatre Day

When people ask me what my favorite ballet is, I really struggle to come up with my answer. I love so many different ballets for different reasons and it’s incredibly hard for me to name just one as my all-time favorite!

But I have no trouble declaring my favorite performance of the Paris Opéra Ballet this season has been Swan Lake. Hands down – it was an absolutely compelling production from start to finish, presented in the beautiful and modern Opéra Bastille.

Paris Opéra Ballet: Swan Lake
Cameras were flashing all over during the curtain call, so we snapped one too!

Flowing black fabric contrasted with the beating of white-caped wings and some brilliant technical magic transported us into a world where the evil sorcerer Rothbart captured the innocent princess Odette and transformed her into a swan. The image of both birds ascending from the stage was the perfect ending to the dark prologue and set us up for more magic in the following three hours.

Meanwhile, Prince Siegfried (Josua Hoffalt), took a page from Romeo’s book and moped listlessly at his palace home, too consumed with dreams of an ideal love to partake in the joyful frolicking of the courtiers. The soloists’ work in these scenes was exceptionally strong and each section seemed to raise the barre for the next, through the banter of playful, effortless solo and small group variations:

“You just did some perfect petit-allegro? That’s fine. I’m going to do a whole series of tour-jetés around the stage, because I feel like it AND because I can.”  
“If it’s okay with you, I’m going to partner not one, but TWO ballerinas in this little trio section.” And so on.

But Siegfried had almost none of it. He did eventually join in, but his heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t until his Tutor put a golden crossbow in his hands and urged him to go hunting that he snapped out of his funk – just in time to see a beautiful swan appear in the distance…

And with the filing onstage of the Swan Corps, the energy of the show shifted. This is because the large ensemble scenes of the first section, though an excellent showcase of the company’s technique, simply aren’t meant to be in the same universe as the Swans.

It’s their show, after all. And they did not disappoint.

Ethereal, otherworldly and pristine, they moved as though they were one entity. Each dancer fluttered identically alongside her swan sisters. Watching them was a study in the precision of details and absolute control. The shifting port de bras and the placement of the head were subtle, yet utterly precise. We truly were witnessing a flock of beautiful birds gliding peacefully across a crystal lake.

A beautiful swan gliding on the crystal waters of the pond near my house...

The famous Pas-de-Quatre was impeccably executed footwork and unified head movements. Those four dancers were amazing but it was Héloïse Bourdon’s Odette, with her undulating arms and soulful miming, conveying her plight to Siegfried, that we all fell in love with instantly. Together, Prince and Swan took flight with promises of love and eternal devotion.

Which we all know, can’t last. But just like how we know that Romeo and Juliet are doomed, we greeted Act 2 with anticipation because the fall from grace is just as compelling as the ascension.

My tribute to the amazing Swan Corps.
Act 2 kicked off with a celebration back at the palace and some interesting folk-dance variations to break up the ballet corps scenes. While these were colourful and bright, the dancing just didn’t have quite enough liveliness and spirit to match the ballet. The choreography was entertaining and but the dancers felt too restrained – they needed to let loose and give it more attack so it could rise above being the divertissements, the dance for dance’s sake.

But Odile, Rothbart’s evil creation and Odette’s doppelgänger, shook up the party with her fiery arrival. Bourdon’s technique and characterization were unparalleled.  Anyone who’s seen Black Swan knows it’s no simple feat to find the duality in the Odette/Odile role but this ballerina made it look easy: her Odette was all softness and curved lines; Odile was dynamic and each turn of her head and sweep of her arms had a sharp, seductive edge.

Her breathless execution of 28 (!) fouetté turns furthered Rothbart’s plan to ensnare the Prince to forget Odette, which the cunning sorcerer celebrated with a triumphant solo. It was exciting to watch Rothbart (Florimond Lorieux) dance opposite the orchestra's conductor, as both were powerful men weaving enthralling spells over the audience. Upon realizing his inadvertent betrayal of his true love Odette, Siegfried’s despair was palpable and it made his final pas de deux with the dying swan all the more heartbreaking.

When the orchestra drew out the final notes of Tchaikovsky’s epic score and the curtain fell on the devastated Prince, I let out a deep exhale and wiped away a few tears. I couldn’t help it - I was completely moved and so grateful for the experience of that performance! To the ballet company, the orchestra and the crew, I extend my deepest thanks and congratulations!

It was a dream come true for me to see the Paris Opéra Ballet perform Swan Lake and I can’t think of a better way to have spent March 27 - World Theatre Day 2015 - than watching music, dance and unforgettable characters fused together in a masterpiece of storytelling.

At Opera Bastille
Happy World Theatre Day 2015!
For other posts related to Ballet in Paris, check out:

Paris Opéra Ballet: Le Chant de la Terre from March 2015

The Swedish Royal Ballet: Juilette et Roméo from January 2015

Paris Opéra Ballet: Lander/Forsythe from September 2014

Danse Classique in Paris from September 2014


  1. My dreams come true when i would be seeking Swan Lake on World Theatre Day. thanks to share with us.

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