Thursday, February 26, 2009

Swan Lake

Last night my friend Victoria took me to see Swan Lake at the San Francisco Ballet for my birthday. I don't think I've ever seen a full ballet before, except The Nutcracker and the wonderful Dance Brigade's Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie. This was a brand new production choreographed by Helgi Tomasson, with sets and costumes by British designer Jonathan Fensom. We had good dress circle seats and she brought opera glasses. I was able to see the whole stage and look closely when I wanted to.

My experience was enhanced by the fact that balletomane Victoria explained lots of things and gave me back stories on dancers, other productions, ballet in general -- although I do have a basic ballet vocabulary from dance lessons nearly 60 years ago -- and this ballet in particular.

Both of us were blown away by the corps de ballet of swans. More than 30 dancers swept the lake surface with grace and precision never missing a step or formation. Plus, sometimes they had to hold what looked like difficult poses for prolonged lengths of time when other dancers were being featured. Victoria said Tomasson's choreographic vocabulary was limited, but that it was superbly executed, and he kept in the best of this ballet's traditional choreography. (She'll correct me if I misstate her.)

Most of the costuming was cool, except that Odile in her close-fitting black feather headdress looked like Liza Minelli in Cabaret.

We both liked the 'social' sets, especially the stunning ballroom set, which reminded me of the best of Hollywood's Busby Berkeley, Mitzi Gaynor (trained by acclaimed ballerina Madame Kathryn Etienne), Fred Astaire, and tap geniuses (genii?) such as the Nicholas Brothers. But the lakeside set was pretty corny. It consisted of a big black plastic rock and a dry-ice-enhanced lake. (I'm assuming high culture folks who follow ballet won't be offended by my comparisons to pop dancers. I think they're all amazing.)

I guess I should mention that Odette/Odile was danced by Tina LeBlanc, soon to retire from performing, and Prince Siegfried by Cuban-born Joan Boada.