Will marriage solve Siegfried's drinking problem? That seems to be the key question in Act I of Festival Ballet's new Production of Swan Lake (also at the Festival Hall, 27 July to 7 August). Every modern Swan Lake has to have a fresh gloss on the fantastical plot: Siegfried as drug addict, homosexual, cycneophiliac and now alcoholic. The scenario demands that the Queen Mother (who could well be the cause of Siegfried's problems) interrupts the Merrymaking of Act I to insist that he get Married almost immediately. Sometimes she has a 21st birthday present for him; sometimes not. In John Field's production for Festival Ballet, she has come to put a stop to the drinking. 'Who gave him a goblet?' she mimes crossly. 'Not me,' responds the Court Chamberlain, pointing; 1-11trn, over there.' The villain turns out to
ue the Man in Black with the owl emblazon- ed on his cloak; von Rothbart. He is banished the court, thus provoking the rest of the drama.
It is a new twist to a venerable tale that is recounted on hundreds of stages all over the World. Curiously enough, the Russians, whom one would imagine adhering closely ' the original 19th-century pantomime elements (as they do in La Bayadere, for ex- ample) have pared away the mime sequen- ces until the ballet is virtually plotless. In- stead, it is the British tradition that has Preserved such detailed niceties of the story as Odette's explanation to Siegfried how she came to be Swan Queen. What is now Britain's Royal Ballet ac- quired its Swan Lake from the Russian
ballet defector, Nicholas Sergeyev, in the 1930s. This version is believed to be in true
apostolic succession from the 1895 produc- tion by Petipa and Ivanov, with embellish- ments by those truly British saints, de.
Valois and Ashton. John Field, who grew up as a dancer within that tradition, is now
trying to wrench Festival Ballet's Swan Lake back into the orthodoxy from which it had strayed in previous productions. His
only major departure from the received text is to downgrade von Rothbart's role as a wicked sorcerer. It is a misplaced touch of realism that makes nonsense of the last Act: Good is supposed to triumph over Evil, true love over malevolence. It is impossible to tell what happens in Festival's Act IV other than that the lovers end up at the top of the lake and the swans apparently at the bottom.
Russian productions have no such pro- blems with Act IV. It was decided back in 1937 that what the Soviet people wanted was a happy ending. Siegfried should kill von Rothbart, the swans should turn back into girls and the lovers be united forever after. The Kirov's latest production by Oleg Vinogradov is simply a reworking of its 1950 version, with new designs by 1.
Ivanov. In many respects, it looks surpris- ingly similar to Carl Tom's setting for Festi- val's new production. Both designers have drawn on the vaguely defined Middle Ages for their inspiration; both have provided satisfactorily mysterious lakes. Toms has a liking for large staircases in Acts I and III that occupy an inordinate amount of poten- tial dancing space. The Kirov Ivanov does not dare intrude his set too far, beyond im- posing a very curious ceiling for the Act III ballroom made of swan/dolphin gargoyles.
He leaves the vast stage uncluttered and the dancers make the most of it. The Palais des Congres stage can easily accommodate 32 swans, compared with Festival's 24 at the Coliseum.
Swans, after all, are what the ballet is about. The real question is: is Act II any good? First of all, the corps de ballet: Festival's swans have long skirts, which soften the geometrical patterns they form and reform, so that they look more like sylphs or wilis than birds. Yet they tend to move both arms together, suggesting the beating of wings. They stand at rest in a windswept position, arms bent over to one side above their heads. The Kirov's corps de ballet wear short tutus, whose hideous workmanship is more than compensated for by the beautiful taut legs they reveal. En masse, the swans move a single wing at a time; they come to rest with one arm raised above the head, the wrist curved outwards; swans' necks, rather than wings.
Festival's Odette/Odile for the opening night was the French-trained Evelyne Desutter. Fair and incredibly slight, she has an appealing, bird-like quality, enhanced by the rather exaggerated preparation step she takes before each arabesque (an idiosyncracy that the conductor, Charles Vanderzand, chose to ignore). She uses the Russian serpentine arms, though on her they look more like tendrils than snakes. She has not yet found Odette's emotional range, though her Odile is excellently steely. Desutter is a Swan Queen in the making, if Festival can find the time, with its incessant cast changes, to give her the attention she deserves.
The two Kirov Swan Queens that I saw, Tatiana Terekhova and Olga Tchent- chikova, gave two such different interpreta- tions that it was hard to believe they were appearing in the same production. Terekhova clearly comes from the same swan breeding-ground as Natalia Makarova. Another blonde, she has the same snake-like arms, supple back and neck and immaculate technique. Unlike Makarova, she is cold and invulnerable: breath-taking, but so alien that she stirs no human emotions. Tchentchikova is the one who hurts you, if you are at all susceptible to Swan Queens. Suddenly, the ballet starts telling her story. It is dreadful for her to be a swan: Siegfried is her one chance of reprieve, so he must love her. The choreography stops being steps and becomes communication between Odette and the Prince, between the swan and the audience.
In the end, Swan Lakes rise and fall on the strength of the central couple. Details of a production matter little if the Swan Queen and the Prince can convince you that the old story is still alive. Unfortunately, there are very few great Odette/Odiles in any generation. The Kirov has always tended to have more than its fair share.