The ballet draws a rather specific audience, and it can be hard to persuade the unfamiliar to give it a chance.
But not when that ballet is titled “Swan Lake.”
The ballet, said Wichita Grand Opera’s president and CEO Parvan Bakardiev, is one of the world’s most recognizable and popular, second only to another Tchaikovsky creation: “The Nutcracker.”
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The familiar story follows the script of many classic folktales: A beautiful maiden is turned into a swan by an evil magician, and only the love of her prince can save her. The plot makes it accessible, Bakardiev said, but the ballet’s enduring pop culture presence makes it a draw. Its story, costumes, music and choreography have been referenced in a long list of television shows, cartoons and movies – most recently the thriller “Black Swan,” in which Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her portrayal of a dancer desperate for the ballet’s lead role.
That’s one of the reasons Wichita Grand Opera decided to include the show, which will be performed by the Russian National Ballet Theatre on May 3, in its season even though the same company was in Wichita just two years ago performing the same ballet.
“Swan Lake is one of the most beloved ballets people like to see again and again,” said Bakardiev, an admitted fan of the movie “Black Swan.” “‘Swan Lake’ always does well at the box office.”
Even those who don’t know they know “Swan Lake” would recognize its haunting soundtrack if they heard it. And they’ve at some point likely seen some version of the most parodied scene – where four swan ballerinas intertwine their arms, hold hands and dance in perfect formation.
Even without its pop culture presence, though, the ballet is a treat, said Bakardiev, and seeing it performed by the 40 Russian dancers in the company (which was in Wichita performing another famous ballet, “Cinderella,” this weekend) is extra special.
In Russia, ballet is mainstream and an integral part of the artistic culture, he said. The dancers have been training their whole lives, and their athleticism is breathtaking. Dancing en pointe for two and a half hours is grueling, Bakardiev said, but these dancers make it seem easy.
“It is part of their culture,” Bakardiev said. “What is jazz for Americans is ballet for Russians. Their dancers are comparable to our Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.”
Bakardiev has a long-standing relationship with the Russian National Ballet Theatre, and the dancers – despite their limited English – are generous to Wichita audiences, always coming out in costume during intermission and after the show to meet people.
The company’s artistic director, Alexander Daev, said he’s always appreciated the gracious Wichita audiences he and his dancers encounter on their trips. And thanks to the pop culture resurgence of “Swan Lake,” those audiences are including more, and younger, ballet fans.
“After the movie ‘Black Swan,’ it was wonderful,” he said. “It made the ballet much more popular among young people. It definitely put it on the map for younger people.”
If you go
What: Wichita Grand Opera presents the Russian National Ballet Theatre in Tchaikovsky’s ballet
When: 7 p.m. May 3
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $40, $60 and $95 or $20 for students, available through Select-A-Seat outlets, by calling 316-755-7328 or online at www.selectaseat.com. Also available through the opera’s Century II box office, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, by calling 316-262-8054 or by e-mailing email@example.com.
Online: Read a review of “Cinderella” at www.kansas.com/entertainment on Sunday.