David Hallberg’s reception at La Scala was rapturous. He is making his house début in Milan as well as tackling Rudolf Nureyev’s tricky choreography for Swan Lake for the first time. Loud cries of ‘bravo’ greeted the end of his first act solo, and the applause for him, and his partner Svetlana Zakharova, was ecstatic throughout the evening, with a standing ovation at the final curtain.
Hallberg proved himself an excellent actor, imbuing Nureyev’s bewildered Prince with pathos. The melancholic Siegfried is found dreaming on his throne as the curtain rises and, in this Freudian approach to the story, he continually finds refuge in his imagination as he tries to escape the responsibilities of manhood that his mother and his tutor – who in his mind becomes Rothbart – try to thrust upon him. Odette and Odile are part of his dream, and his nightmare, and when the imagined Rothbart takes away Odette forever the dream is brutally ended. Whether in an unwritten fifth act he ascends the throne with his queen, or finishes up in a loony bin, is anyone’s guess.
Hallberg is excellent at projecting Siegfried’s confusion and earnestness, while always remaining regal, and the elegance of his dancing leaves no doubt that there is royal blood on stage. Zakharova is, as always, refined in her rather aloof way, which is why this version of Swan Lake – which she doesn’t care for – suits her so well: she is a vision, and her suffering at the hands of Rothbart only an illusion. Dreams, of course, can seem more vivid than real life, but that interpretation is for another ballerina.
Hallberg and Zakharova are made for each other, willowy and white; a classy and majestic pair. Hallberg is an excellent partner too, attentive and strong, and their white swan adage was mesmerising, as they found and exploited every nuance of movement. However, rather disappointingly, if not surprisingly, while Hallberg confronted all of Nureyev’s fiendish steps, Zakharova decided to, if not simplify, change some of his choreography. No doubt she felt more secure with a version she has under her belt, but Nureyev must be spinning under Frigerio’s mosaic rug. Kudos then to Hallberg who, if not yet comfortable with this choreography, decided to face Nureyev’s challenge head-on.
Resident dancer Mick Zeni was splendid as Rothbart, attacking his third act variation with arrogant verve. Less convincing was Marco Agostino in the pas de trois who struggled throughout, though his two girls, Virna Toppi and, above all, Vittoria Valerio, were splendid. As always at La Scala, the folk dances failed to alight the auditorium, and came across as being danced half-heartedly, though surely they were not. They need to be brasher, bolder… more Russian… even if they’re being Spanish! The swan corps was fine throughout.
Hallberg would make a perfect regular guest for this company. The La Scala audience are looking forward to welcoming him back.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.