Friday, May 05, 2006

Stella of Swan Lake

Stella had been on me for months to go see Swan Lake at the Milwaukee Ballet, and so we went. She was so excited she was doing piorettes in the lobbly and slammed into another little girl who gave her a grown up glare. But she was spotted by our usherette who exclaimed encouragingly "We have a ballerina!" as she seated us.

Standard, classic stuff, with standard, classic bittersweet ending with our protaganists both dead, but blissfully in each other's arms in the afterlife. Act one admittedly dragged on for Stella. Lots of your standard Tchaikovsky everybody-gets-a-dance in the beginning, and to a child, that's almost deadly: get to the plot already. "Where's Rothbart?" Stella kept asking, because let's face it, Rothbart's the most interesting character of the story, and is danced by Douglas McCubbin, who was Dracula last fall. McCubbin's really getting this evil thing down to a science. Plus, the only other version Stella had seen of Swan Lake was Barbie's -- which has dialouge and a few happy little subplots. (The "Barbie of Swan Lake" version also ends happier, and as much as it bastardizes the original, its worth seeing for Kelsey Grammer's voicing of Rothbart alone -- he uses his most fiendish Sideshow Bob voice for it). Still, any time you get a chance to watch the amazing Tatiana Jouravel (last night as Odette) dance, it’s a treat. The scenes of the flock of swans were especially effective -- the tapping of the toe shoes evokes the sound of a flock of birds preparing to take off all at once. Like Stella, I generally get bored in all the meanwhile-back-at-the-house/castle party scenes that seem to be a required part of Tchaikovsky ballets. OK, you're all whooping it up and everybody gets a turn and we're setting the scene. Get on with the plot already! Act II was the meat of the story, and it's done wonderfully: and when Rothbart murders Odette, Stella cuddled next to me and said "I don't like this feeling," which meant she understood what was going on. "Yes, it a sad story, I warned you it wasn't going to be like Barbie." Plus, let's face it, every time you hear that theme from Swan Lake in any other context, it means something intense, and probably sad (or at least disappointing) is happening. They should just rename it "Theme For Melancholy Beauty."

Nice contrast between Odette and Odile. Odile, danced by Luz San Miguel, is beautiful, but unlike Odette she never smiles. She's beautiful, but devoid of joy, which is the the true contrast between Odette and Odile, more so than the obvious black vs. white swan costomes. Odile is more attention-getting than Odette, and she's out for herself. Evil isn't always ugly, that's for sure. But goodness is downright beautiful, and Jouravel is it. Three years back I remember Jouravel was one of the teachers at the Milwaukee Ballet school, where Stella was a student in the 4-year olds class. Jourvel wasn't HER teacher, but she helped out on the night of the big student showcase, getting the girls all ready to pose for their class picture. Her love of dancing and ballet just oozed out of her as she encouraged the kids to hold up their arms and smile for the camera, and it oozes out of her onstage-- we could feel it all the way up in the side loge (which, BTW, is a GREAT place to see the ballet from). (This isn't at all a diss on Stella's teacher that -- or any year -- Miss Becky, Miss Sarah and her current teacher have been perfect for her.)

The effectiveness of the faster pace of Act II was evidenced by Stella's assessment of the whole night: "It was fabulous." I'd read in the paper this morning that this whole thing is normally longer. Naw, this was the right length.

To me, I just always get stuck on the idea that being "cursed" to spend my days as a swan and nights as a human being is all that bad of a lot. Its not like Rothbart is turning me into a warthog or something like that. (But I'll have to admit that "Warthog Mudhole" isn't going to sell as many ballet tickets as "Swan Lake" nor will it encourage as many little girls to suit up in tutus.) I mean, you have a nice clean lake to live on. At night, you can be human and whoop it up with your lovah. Sun rises, and you're headed to the lake again, to soak up some rays, chill or splash out, and hang with your girlfriends. Only problem here is that boyfriend's mom is really on his back to get married. What's the big rush, lady? You're looking for grandchildren already? Either way, it doesn't seem like a bad life at all. I'll take it.

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