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A Sumptuous Swan


Article # : 20525 

Section : THE ARTS
Issue Date : 11 / 1992  2,016 Words
Author : Bruce Merrill

       The Paris Opera Ballet has remounted its original version of Swan Lake, staged by Vladimir Bourmeister in 1960. Bourmeister, the first Russian choreographer to work in the West, had presented this version with his own company, the Stanislavsky Ballet of Moscow, in 1956 at Paris' Theatre Chatelet. This summer's program was to be the first full-length version for the Paris Opera. Swan Lake, perhaps the most famous of all classical ballets, originally debuted in 1877. Strangely enough, it was not a success. The critics found Julius Reisinger's choreography uninteresting, the conductor inexperienced, and Tchaikovsky's score not very danceable.
       
        In 1895, one year after the composer's death, the ballet was remounted in the famous version by Marius Petipa and his assistant, Lee Ivanov. Petipa, who was ballet master of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre from 1862 until 1903, created approximately fifty ballets during his career. After his success with The Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker to scores by Tchaikovsky, Petipa convinced the director of the Imperial Theaters to let him mount his own version of Swan Lake, using Tchaikovsky's beautiful score. In his Swan Lake one finds, for the first time, music that has been associated with symphonic works, and there are tonal themes for the different characters, minor tones for the Prince and Odette and major tones for Rothbart and Odile.
       
        Petipa himself choreographed Acts I and III and supervised the overall choreography. He delegated the Czardas and Mazurka of Act III, and the total of Acts II and IV, to Ivanov. It is the two acts done by Ivanov that are now considered among the most beautiful lyrical passages in all ballet. The use of the arms and back, which never stop, suggest not only the movements of swans but all the human emotions--love, fear, pain, and distress. Bowing to the whims of certain ballerinas, however, Petipa replaced several passages in Tchaikovsky's score, which are considered to difficult, with passages by Riccardo Drigo.
       
        Sixty years later, when Bourmeister decided to mount his own version he reinstated the original passages by Tchaikovsky. Bourmeister's version differs from the traditional Petipa-Ivanov version in that he reworked the conception of Acts I and III (the court scenes) and added a prologue. The famous "white" acts (II and IV) have been kept in their original form. Dimitri Bouchene created the costume and décor, and Josette Amiel and Peter Van Dijk starred in the leading roles. This version remained in the repertory of the Paris Opera until 1984. In 1974 the costumes and sets were redone by Maurice Le Nestour for a magnificent series of performances in the Cour Carre of the Louvre, featuring Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova, and Patrice Bart as the Jester.
       
        In 1984 when Nureyev became director of the Paris Opera Ballet, he staged his own, more psychologically complex version of the work, which included a great many more steps in the movements of the corps de ballet in Acts I and III. If more sophisticated, it was less accepted by the dancers and public than Bourmeister's version.
       
        In addition to the restoring of Bourmeister's Swan Lake, July 6 marked the first time the remounted version was danced at Opera Bastille, situated at the Place de la Bastille, since its opening in 1990.
       
        Designed by Carlos Ott, the Opera Bastille seats 2,703 persons, twice
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