November 12, 2013

My first Swan Lake

After spending hours mooning over videos of Swan Lake, I finally went to watch it live at the Staatsballett Berlin yesterday, with Iana Salenko playing Odette/ Odile. When you see something in one form and are then bombarded with it in the flesh, it can be rather disconcerting. However, it is also amusing.

  • Swan Lake or Horse Lake? Watching ballet videos, you have no clue how noisy pointe shoes can actually be. So the swans are at it, making these fluid, beautiful movements, making you feel sorry for them - but that requires some suspension of disbelief, because they sound like a traffic jam of horse-drawn carriages. 
  • For the first ten minutes, I kept expecting dancers to trip on their nightgown like-dresses. Thankfully, they didn't. In general, there were some conflicting costume ideas - men and women were dressed to fit into different centuries.
  • Talking of dress, Siegfried's tutor (if I correctly identified the hulking/sulking man who dances a duet with Konigin) looked like he had escaped from the bank that's across the road from the Deutsche Oper. And stolen someone's pants on his way to the theatre. I have never seen such ill-fitting pants on stage in a long time. He danced beautifully but the pants were his undoing.
  • I liked the scenes between ill-fitting pants and Siegfried, where they fought while dancing something that I'd like to call a pas de deux (but I'm not sure if it'd actually qualify as one). 
  • Till the very end, Von Rothbart was a random man behind a screen, waving obviously fake cloth wings. Initially, I thought this was a surprise Matthew Bourne-esque male Odette/ Odile, but turns out it wasn't! His wavy arms reminded me of the drill we performed on sports day, back in school.
  • I've been watching staid versions where Odile just laughs when Siegfried promises her eternal love. But, in this one, Odile and Von Rothbart come back to Siegfried to say aye popat! before they disappear. In the background, Odette is fluttering so madly - I'm not sure if she was trying to lose feathers or was just really upset.
  • We all know that everyone dies (in life and in Swan Lake). But why die so thanda? Odette just dances her sad duet with Siegfried, says chalo ji main chalti hoon and flutters away with her swans. She doesn't even give Siegfried time to run after her. Then, Von Rothbart appears, in the flesh, finally, and discards his wings before fighting Siegfriend. He dies like Gulshan Grover. Siegfried looks at Von Rothbart's body with such yearning, that I began to wonder if the two of them were in love. Then he also says, "Fuck it. What's the point? The party is over. I'm going to go lie down in this white smoke too." (lots of white smoke from wings) Konigin comes and shakes his dead body with such vigour, she should take over from Raakhee in Bollywood.

November 01, 2013

How I met Alina Cojocaru

 Yesterday, I watched Alina Cojocaru in Romeo and Juliet, dancing with the Hamburg Ballett at the Hamburgische Staatsoper. I'm too swayed by emotion to be objective about her performance. I want to talk about what happened after that. When I emerged from the theatre, I saw people waiting by the stage door. I assumed that they were waiting for the principal dancers to emerge, so I joined them. Initially there was a crowd, which dwindled after most of the other dancers left the building. By this point, it was 11 pm – the performance had ended an hour ago. Romeo had left. There were seven of us still waiting.

I was not sure what to expect and didn't know if she'd be interested in being nice to people after a long day. So I was more than a little taken aback when she finally emerged, apologising for making us wait. Most of the others were her groupies, who seem to follow her around from country to country, so she knew them. She spoke to all of us individually; she was thrilled that someone from India was watching her and even posed for a photograph (okay, I stop gushing here). The woman photographing us was not sure if my camera had taken the picture, and it was super cute when Alina Cojocaru told her which button she should hold down and for how long. (I know I'm objectifying her here by expecting her to be an ethereal being. Sorry, cannot help it.)

I expected her to pose for photographs, sign people's programmes and go away. But someone commented on her performance and she was very eager to talk about it. She favours John Neumeier's Romeo and Juliet over Kenneth MacMillan's version ever so slightly. She feels that Neumeier makes the story more dramatic by starkly distinguishing the periods of happiness and sadness in the characters' lives. “You can't be silly and mature,” she said, explaining that being a rough-around-the-edges Juliet in Neumeier's choreography lets her react to the story in a more visceral way. Juliet is a young girl who is still unsure of herself and uncomfortable with the idea of the woman she is expected to become. Her inability to fit in is portrayed through a series of steps that her mother teaches her, which she executes imperfectly and reluctantly. However, even Cojocaru's imperfect, faltering steps are an act of perfection.

In MacMillan's choreography, Juliet must react in a mature manner when she is forced to marry Count Paris. Cojocaru feels that the MacMillan version characterises Juliet by dwelling on how the family reacts to her, whereas Neumeier tries to bring out what Juliet must really feel. Someone asks her if she has ever considered doing Romeo and Juliet to another composer's music (this one was by Profokiev). She says that she identifies most with his music, having performed it for so many years.

I don't remember this part of the conversation well, but I think she said something (addressing nerves, or Profokiev, or both) on the lines of - This was my first role at the Royal (Ballet) when I was 19; I feel that if I could dance it at 19, I could definitely go on stage and perform it now.

Of course, she said that her Juliet changes every evening – and a couple laughed in delight because they've watched every single Juliet she danced this season (I am jealous). In the end, she picked up her own bags and struggled with two flower bouquets, and thanked the woman who offered to help carry one of the bouquets profusely. I am utterly charmed by the Alina Cojocaru I met.