March 7, 2014, the Monte Carlo Ballet performed an exciting modern and quite entertaining version of Swan Lake, at the Segestrom Center for the Arts in Orange County, California.
Swan Lake in its original version is a classic, only a few choreographers have dared to veer off the original libretto in order to guard any academic suspicion and keep an old tradition.
Jean-Christophe Maillot presents a very personal vision of Swan Lake or “ Lac” as he calls it and assembles a group of high-level artists such as writer Jean Rouad, visual artist and set designer Ernest Pignon-Ernest and costume creator Philippe Guillotel to tackle this legendary piece.
Backed by the grand dame of the South of France Rosella Hightower and the fabulous John Neumeier, artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet, Maillot proves his confidence by making even the most traditional and conservative Ballet connoisseurs comfortable watching the first act of “ Lac” turn into a very entertaining court scene. The rule is that there are no rules. Much of the dancing happens merely as a side effect. It is the emotional content and his dancers expressive faces and body language that keep the audience engaged.
The gestures are sharp and sometimes maybe a tad exaggerated. One feels much like in a black and white silent movie except there are the wonderful bright costumes and animated dancers.
In the first act Queen mother, Mimoza Koike, all in gold with beautiful extensions impresses the audience and the prince, Stephan Bourgond; lyrical on top and modern on the bottom seems to fit every bit of the physique and character of a prince Siegfried.
The first Waltz has a lot going on stage much like the original Ballet, except there is a lot more playful necking between the dancers. The big surprise happens when Von Rothbart appears as her Majesty the Night, a female dancer called Maude Sabourin, carried in by two strong men, posing as her Archangels.
Miss Sabourin’s presence, with her expressive face, very lean and muscular body excites the audience with her impeccable technique, gorgeous pors de bras (arm movements), beautiful lines and high arches. Sabourin has a black swan daughter, April Ball, who tries to seduce not only the prince but also the king, Alvaro Prieto, suggesting the idea that the king may have had an affaire with her Majesty of the Night. The white swan, Anja Behrend, is introduced as their captive; only this swan has eccentric feather gloves and a comfortable feathery dress instead of just a white tutu.
The first black swan theme is now a full floor with colorful couples dancing. Some of the lifts, dips and twirls remind of ballroom moves. The prince is not being seduced by brides like in the original but by Maillot’s fantasies of what a woman can be: the vain one, Lisa Hamalainen, the false, indifferent one, Noelani Pantastico and the voracious woman, Gaelle Riou. Charming are the libertines, Anjara Ballesteros and Anne-Laure Seillan, seducing the prince with their variation. Hand gestures are very untraditional. Dancers are pointing fingers, grabbing, pas de trois are suddenly 2 gentlemen and one lady, male dancers are partnering each other and one may even spot a gentleman grabbing a ladies chest playfully. Is it scandalous and provocative for Swan Lake? Yes, but it is all part of Maillot’s choreography and grand plan.
Act two, usually the blue act and on the shores of a lake where white swans fill the stage in geometric fashion is now a mix of black and white swans in the forest trying to. The movements, although very modern are in sink and every bit swan-like. The costumes here no longer white tutus. The ladies of the corps de ballet are reduced to feathers around their waists seemingly like out of a Las Vegas show.
The loving pas de deux between the prince, Stephan Bourgond and the white swan, Anja Behrend in Maillot’s version is the most gorgeous grand pas one has seen in a long time. The way the two soloists explore the first lover’s touch and settle into their romance is magnetic and electrifying. Interesting too is that Maillot’s white swan turns into a woman at night, symbolizing the duality of a woman.
Act three reveals a lover’s haste. The drama unravels as the prince joyfully marries who he thinks is the white swan. As her majesty of the night appears with the real white woman-bird, one can sense the mistake and heartache about to happen as the black swan is being revealed as the bride.
As usual the ballet has a dramatic and beautiful ending and Maillot ends his ballet by dropping a beautiful black piece of fabric into the center of his scenery which lets the audience know that this ballet may be all but a creator’s fantasy but that there is hope for joy and love not only in fairytales but also in real life.