A Swan Lake with two of the Bolshoi Ballet Company principals who left the company after Russia invaded Ukraine – Olga Smirnova, one of Russia's brightest stars, and the Italian Jacopo Tissi who was promoted to the top echelon during his time in Moscow. She was snapped up almost instantly by Het Nationale Ballet and Tissi will now be joining her from this season. Smirnova was due to dance at La Scala so soon after arriving in Amsterdam that she felt it best to postpone her engagement, and Tissi has been guesting on and off at La Scala since he returned to Italy. So the two performances they gave in Milan felt as though loose ends were being tied and old partnerships revived.
The performance I saw was less exciting than the previous paragraph may lead you to believe. She is a wonderful dancer and when the Bolshoi brought The Taming of the Shrew to Milan, was seen to be a convincing actress too. Yet for this Swan Lake at La Scala, she was superb, yes, but not magical. She didn't light up the stage. Her Odile was cunning without resorting to melodramatics, and her arms as Odette were wispily soft and expressive, but there were few suspensions and little dramatic phrasing of her movements, and even as the black swan she didn't play with the steps.
Tissi, though, was a surprise. After 18 months of guesting, I was expecting to find his technique a little ragged. Was I wrong! He danced Rudolf Nureyev's challenging second-act solo skilfully, and the impressive elevations of his jetés, with legs open at a quarter to three and shoulders relaxed, prompted applause during his variation and in the closing of the final act. His arms were beautifully soft as he caressed Odette, and his hands as he folded her arms around her like a reflection of hers. If he does not have the biggest personality in the world, he certainly has much else to offer.
Nureyev's production is placed in Ezio Frigerio's stark set, which many find chic, though it lacks atmosphere except for the shaft of light from the direction of the lake that grabs a distracted Seigfried's attention before he goes off hunting. This was intended because Nureyev wanted the feeling of a prison for his ‘Freudian' Prince. Franca Squarciapino's costumes, which seemed to have been dipped in bleach during recent outings, have either been remade, are differently lit, or my new contacts are rose-tinted. The ensembles during the first act and the black swan scene were gorgeous, colourful whirls, and Nureyev's intricate and occasionally quirky choreography was expertly danced by the corps de ballet who know “Rudi's” style intimately. Nureyev's Swan Lake is often read as being about a sexually repressed Siegfried falling for an impossible love – a swan – to avoid confronting his homosexuality. The polonaise reinforces this at the end of the first act as it is danced by the prince and only the male corps de ballet. However, since the two acts are joined – there's pleasingly just one interval – the female corps can't join the men they were happily dancing with only minutes before as they are busy getting into their white tutus for the first white act.
As Tissi is so tall – and there was an unintentionally comic moment when some Lilliputian courtiers lifted him aloft – the imposing Gabriele Corrado was Rothbart. Thankfully he was wearing a redesigned costume, eliminating the crotch-slicing affair which must have challenged dancers on how to… ahem… arrange themselves. Francesca Podini as a tall, willowy Queen looked more like Siegfried's younger sister.
Agnese di Clemente, Benedetta Montefiore, and Alessandro Paoloni sparkled in the pas de trois and Daniela Cavalleri and Valerio Lunadei thrilled in the tarantella, even though, for me, the Ashton version always intrudes at that moment. Koen Kessels in the pit whipped along the folk dances at a breathtaking pace.
In this production, Rothbart literally pulls Odette away from Siegfried during a lift, forces her back into the lake, and as Siegfried lies broken on the shore, Odette is carried into the sky by Rothbart, his wings beating menacingly. It's a spine-tingling moment.
Photo Album: Swan Lake at La Scala
with Olga Smirnova, Jacopo Tissi and Gabriele Corrado
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.