Friday, January 05, 2007

A swirl of pastels

...greeted the packed audience in tonight's performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet 'Sleeping Beauty' at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre in Vilnius - the premiere had taken place on New Year's Eve. This was totally a fairytale world in a strictly traditional production - a very rare event indeed these days.

Everything was perfect - the old-style stage sets of a fairy tale castle and a scary forest (a Russian designed this - it figures), the costumes - a fluff of white and pastel-coloured tutus, all ages dancing from the ballet school pupils to rather more advanced ages (the King and Queen - not dancing), the music swirling and rushing us along..... Not a step was younger than 117 years (Petipa's choreography).

It was surprising how pleasant it was to sit back and let yourself be taken back into a long-ago world when theatre and ballet just entertained and did not challenge. I bet the tourists will really love it! The audience certainly did.

The dancing went pretty well; there was much floating and drifting across the stage in pale green or white clouds; there were some Swan Lake quotes (the four little swans became 4 groups of 8 dancers), and the soloists did mostly very well, too. I will not comment on the weight of some of the dancers. The Lithuanian dancers generally are not the most athletic, partly because some of them are so tall, so it would be quite rare to get those flying pictures that one sees in the media (but I wonder how these are taken). Earth seems to have a greater attraction to Lithuanian dancers than, say, those in Moscow or Kiev. And synchronicity is a always a little problem - if the dancers were an orchestra, every simultaneous entry would be a hailshower. However, this would only be noticeable to the very critical eye, and the average balletgoer, especially those who do not go often in their home countries, would be delighted with the performance.

The main stars - Jerijus Juska as the prince, Miki Hamanaka as the princess and Egle Spokaite as the good fairy danced beautifully, as always. I get the impression that Ms Spokaite's star is beginning to fade a little (maybe down to 99%...) - she has for a long time been the Prima Ballerina of the Lithuanian Ballet Theatre, and performed exquisitely in all productions she was in. But today I thought I detected a little stiffness, and some of her movements were not quite as fluid as they might once have been. This was particularly noticeable when she and Ms Hamanaka danced the same movements and the shorter Ms Hamanaka got her leg up higher than tall Ms Spokaite (you did ask!). And of course in the past Ms Spokaite would have had the main part. But that's ballet dancer's life, I suppose. Miki Hamanaka, a Japanese dancer married to a Lithuanian (dancer?) danced wonderfully. She is an elegant, and very athletic dancer and had some delicious pas de deux with the delightful Nerijus Juska - who very pointedly insisted on marrying his princess seeing he had kissed her back to life. They, and Ms Spokaite, are well loved by the Lithuanian audience.

Aaah, yes, and then there was a lovely moment with the children where they danced together in a village fair kind of scene, and it all worked very nicely. Those children have considerable stage experience - I remember seeing some of them in Don Giovanni (Should children be in Don Giovanni? You might well ask - but they were. I wonder how their parents explained the plot to them). The boys, all 7 of them, also did very well with their seven dwarves roles.

In terms of the plot I thought that there was rather a lot of padding, giving lots of little dances to groups, individuals and so on. Once the princess was awake again, the ballet could have stopped - but then all those quotes from different Grimm's fairytales appeared.

It was a great evening out, though - totally relaxing and enjoyable, and probably as good as we can get it here. Very recommendable to anyone coming to Vilnius.

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