The Russian National Ballet Theatre returns to Wichita on Wednesday for a staging of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” The classic tale about a beautiful maiden trapped in swan form by a nefarious magician and the prince whose love is determined to save her is fashioned after many popular folktales and legends.
The story has inspired numerous adaptations, including the recent Academy Award-winning film “Black Swan.” The latest offering by Wichita Grand Opera continues the historic association between ballet and opera, bringing in talent that organizers say is audibly pleasing and visually striking.
“ ‘Swan Lake’ is the most famous of all classical ballets,” said Alexander Daev, Russian National Ballet Theatre’s associate artistic director. “It is well-known throughout the world because all of its parts are masterpieces in and of themselves. Tchaikovsky’s music is emotional and beautiful. The story is timeless. It gives the audience a chance to leave this world and go into another very beautiful place.”
Ballet meets opera
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This is the second time Wichita Grand Opera has offered the production and the first time in four years that the Russian National Ballet Theatre has performed here, said Parvan Bakardiev, Wichita Grand Opera’s president and general director.
There also is more interest in this year’s show, he said, thanks to the caliber of the ballet company and amplified interest in the story following the “Black Swan” film.
“I think our audiences will enjoy the visual look of the dancers, their aesthetics coupled with their technical abilities,” he said. “They will also enjoy the music because it’s a staple not only in ballet, but also popularized by adaptations of this production, including the ‘Black Swan’ Academy Award movie.”
The Russian National Ballet Theatre, directed by former Bolshoi Ballet prima ballerina Elena Radchenko, is a company of 50 people that performs classical Russian ballet around the globe. Classical ballet is difficult and expensive to maintain, Bakardiev said, in part because of the rigorous grooming of the dancers. He said most start training for their roles at age 6 or 7. Physically, they have to possess a certain aesthetic as well as have the right elevation of arm, neck and leg length, etc. He lauded the company for its commitment to classical ballet.
“Ballet has always been an integral part of opera,” he said. “Ballet and opera audiences cross over.”
The story of ‘Swan Lake’
“Swan Lake’s” tale begins at Prince Siegfried’s coming-of-age ceremony, with his subjects and castle residents swearing allegiance to his reign. His mother, the queen, says the time has come for him to choose a bride, a decision he has to make at the ball the following night. Anticipating the changes, he notices a flight of elegant white swans in a nearby lake and follows them into the night. He notices that the swans have stepped out from the lake and taken human form. Odette, the swan queen, tells him that they have been cursed by wizard Von Rothbart. Only when she finds true love can the spell be broken. The prince is taken by her and swears his everlasting love, promising to break the curse.
Competing interests await the prince’s return to the castle, where he is pressured to choose a princess bride from a nearby country to amass greater political power. Von Rothbart appears in the guise of a noble knight with a daughter who looks mysteriously like the swan queen but is bewitching temptress Odile. She tricks him into confessing his love for her, jeopardizing the future of the swans. Their fate rests on the outcome of the contrived love triangle.
“ ‘Swan Lake’ is a classic love story. The elements of good and evil are strong in all humans and are clearly seen in this story,” said Daev, who portrays Von Rothbart. “The love triangle, where good triumphs over evil, is a theme that all people can relate to. Yet, at the same time, it takes us to another world, another place, another time, while the emotions are totally real and present in today’s society.”
The story plays out in four acts. True to ballet, there is no dialogue. The music and motions of the dancers tell the story. Bakardiev said it’s a bit like silent film. The sets and costumes are being imported in with the talent from the ballet company.
“The costumes are classical and traditional,” Daev said. “They are made from beautiful, sumptuous fabrics in rich colors with full attention to every detail. They set the stage for the period in which the ballet was first created.”
Daev and Bakardiev said the music is among the production’s strongest elements.
“It’s Tchaikovsky’s music at its most brilliant,” Daev said. “What can I say about the great composer Tchaikovsky that hasn’t already been said? His music is melodic, emotional, magnificent.”
The technical prowess of the dancers makes this a stand-out production, Bakardiev said. Ekaterina Egorova dances the dual roles of the White and Black Swans. She is a graduate of the Moscow State Academy of Choreography. The Russian National Ballet Theatre hired her as a member after her 2006 graduation. She now is the company’s prima ballerina. She has built a world-renowned reputation for her title roles of “Sleeping Beauty,” “Swan Lake” and “Giselle,” as well as Maria in “The Nutcracker” and Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet.”
Opposite her is Aydos Zakan, who dances Siegfried. He has been principal soloist at St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre and Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko theaters in Moscow. He has won more than a dozen international competitions and is famous for roles in productions including “Giselle,” “Don Quixote” and “Le Corsaire.”
Yulia Ruchay is the queen mother, and Dmitry Shchemelinin is the jester.
“My favorite scene is the Swan Lake itself,” Daev said. “When the white swans appear in the middle of the blue lagoon, it takes your breath away because it is so beautiful. Such a big transformation takes place on the stage from the Court to Swan Lake, it is spectacular. The scenery, the lights, the costumes, the music and the choreography of the swans is beautiful.”