Following in the tradition of the great opera companies of Europe, the Wichita Grand Opera on Wednesday acknowledged the long-standing connection between opera and ballet: it presented a single, spectacular performance of the ballet “Swan Lake” (with music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov) produced by the Russian National Ballet Theatre. Based on the fact that the house was packed, it is sad that there was only one performance, because this was Russian ballet as only the Russians can perform it.
In spite of the fact that three of the major principals were performed by dancers other than those listed in the program, the production did not suffer one bit. The four major characters were all terrific dancers. Replacing Ekaterina Egorova as Odette/Odile (the Queen of the Swans) was the dazzling Maria Sokolnikova, who even bowed as a swan. In place of Aydos Zakan as Prince Siegfried was the equally impressive Mikhail Mikhailov. And instead of Alexander Daev, the athletic and menacing Samat Abdrakhmanov played the sorcerer Von Rothbart. The jester, who at times nearly stole the show, was danced by the youthful and radiant Dmitry Shchemelinin.
Make no mistake: Every member of this company was a highly skilled dancer, capable of not only great precision, but also refined and beautiful movement. The four brides (Spanish, Hungarian, Italian and Polish) were beautifully danced by Maria Kluyeva, Nadezhda Illarionova, Viktoria Krakhmalyova and Elena Khorosheva, respectively.
Even the corps de ballet was composed of men and women who clearly had spent years in disciplined Russian training. The group scenes were gracefully and skillfully executed with the care of those who clearly intend to be the faithful representatives of the best of Russian culture.
Even the set (mostly made up of beautifully painted drops) was brought from Russia. Also, the costumes were richly detailed and elegant.
The only criticism one could make was that the music — while excellently performed, especially the violin and harp solos — was canned, a pre-recorded performance by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. To be fair, it is completely understandable that it would be cost-prohibitive for a touring ballet company to bring along its own orchestra, and also that dancing to the same musical performance every night would likely give the dancers the comfort of familiarity. Nonetheless, our own Wichita Grand Opera orchestra surely has the skill to play this music and to provide the audience with an even greater sense of the immediacy of live performance. This, in turn, would keep the dancers fresh by making conditions just a little bit different each time.