Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Russians Have Landed In Boston - The Kirov's "Swan Lake"

It was a familiar scene on a busy Friday evening in Boston. The crowd was electric with anticipation over what they were about to experience. Men, women and children jostled for a spot near the front so they could be among the first inside when the gates opened to this historic and beloved venue. Those that had been unable to secure tickets to this sold-out event milled around the edge of the crowd, some holding signs. I saw a woman waving a placard that read: "Need 1 Ticket!" I have observed many similar scenes over the years outside of Fenway Park, but this scene unfolded before me last night - weeks after the Red Sox season had ended and blocks away from Kenmore Square. But this crowd had not lined up to see athletes at the top of their profession leap to catch fly balls heading towards the Green Monster on Landsdowne Street. They were lined up outside The Wang Center for the Performing Arts to watch dancers at the top of their profession leap to catch some air and some accolades from the monstrous wall-to-wall crowd that had gathered in the cavernous auditorium on Tremont Strret.

The Kirov Ballet was in town to perform their signature piece, "Swan Lake" - a fairy tale set to Tschaikowsky's lilting music. Boston is clearly a ballet-friendly town. The Christmas season performances of "The Nutcracker" have become de rigeur holiday fare for many New England families. I do not consider myself a serious student or afficionado of "The Dance," but I have had occasional brushes with the world of ballet over the years. In 1968, on the streets of Lisbon, Portgal, I bumped into Rudolph Nureyev and had a conversation with him. In the 1970's, I saw Mikhail Barishnikov at the height of his powers dance "Les Sylphides" at New York's Lincoln Center. In the 1990's, my travels took me to historic St. Petersburg, Russia, home to the two hundred year-old Kirov Ballet, arguably the greatest dance company on the planet. I saw their production of "Giselle" in the company's "home field," the elegant Marinsky Theater.

This was my first opportunity to see the lengendary "Swan Lake," and I was pleased to find a ticket to the event. The Wang Center was chock full of Russians - filling the voluminous stage and occupying many of the seats in the audience. Throughout the evening I heard frequent expressions of delight and approval - in English and in Russian. This particular production features a controversial alternative "happy ending" to the fairy tale, but the buzz about "Swan Lake" over the years has had little to do with the thin plot. It has everything to do with the brilliant blending of many art forms into one kinetic and timeless masterpiece. For a performance of "Swan Lake" to live up to its legendary reputation, a wide variety of art forms must be simultaneously displayed in their highest form of mastery - musical composition, orchestral brilliance, sensitive conducting, dancing that combines grace, athleticism and precision, intricate choreography, costume design, set design and lighting design. Last evening's performance was a showcase of world class talent in all of these categories. It was magical!

I am neither equipped nor inclined to give a detailed technical description of the dancing, but I can state that I have never before seen such consistently flawless dancing - from the Prima Ballerina who danced the dual roles of Odette and Odile to the 32nd swan in the Corps de Ballet. The precision, artistry, grace. athleticism and focus of each dancer was breathtaking. Words do not often fail me, but they do so in this case. It was like watching the Sistine Chapel come to life - like watching an animated Degas painting.

Gentlemen, even if you thought you would never be caught dead at the ballet, you can earn tremendous points with your wife or girlfriend by surprising her with a spontaneous trip to the Wang Center - today at 2:00 and 8:00 or tomorrow afternoon. A little bit of culture won't kill you, and you might even find yoursef impressed with the athleticism on display by the Russians in tights!



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