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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 17 MAY 2015 — Rudolph Nureyev’s 1984 final version of Swan Lake for the Paris Opera Ballet tells the story of a prince who takes refuge from his responsibilities in an imaginary world. He wants to escape from his entourage and the closed stifling world of the palace; the swan princess is a figment of his imagination and it is less a love story than an obsession and fascination for an untouchable creature, a woman who is out of reach. Nureyev reevaluated the male roles and gave greater psychological depth to all the characters. Reflecting the idea of Siegfried’s imprisonment within the palace, the legendary Russian dancer asked Ezio Frigerio to construct sobre scenery which resulted in a set with high, white walls, a stark contrast to the luscious, dreamlike costumes of Franca Squarciapino. With the étoiles of the Paris Company in the central roles and the sublime corps de ballet, one of the finest in the world, in the white acts, the work is one of the jewels of the company’s repertoire.

The ballet opens with Siegfried asleep in an armchair dreaming of the Princess Odette being captured by a bird of prey. His spirit takes off and the ballet begins to unfold. Siegfried is the pivot around which the ballet revolves and étoile Mathias Heymann, a superb virtuoso dancer, not normally associated with the roles of princes, rose magnificently to the occasion. Noted for his brilliant technique as well as an intelligent artistic sense, Heymann was a gentle, boyish prince, less melancholic and less tortured by the latent homosexuality inherent in the role. He greeted his guests with a courtly charm at his birthday party and was warm-hearted and attentive until faced by his mother and tutor to choose a bride from the six princesses presented to him. His heart is elsewhere. Melancholy stole slowly upon him,, and his interpretation of the famous slow variation towards the end of Act 1 was totally relaxed and accomplished with elegance.

Mathias Heymann in Swan Lake
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Ann Ray

He is bewitched by the mysterious swan princess, on this occasion Sae Eun Park, an exquisite young dancer, currently holding the rank of ‘sujet’ in the company. She was ethereal rather than human; at their first lakeside meeting her pretty face was more impassive than sad and she appeared more lost waif than regal princess. There was little wonder in their first meeting, for whereas Heymann is totally captivated by her, Park appears to see him more as an escape route from her plight. It is hard to believe there will ever be a happy end for them, neither in this life nor the next. Light, delicate and precise, with lovely arms, her technical brilliance surpasses her artistic interpretation and she pleases without touching your heart, and unsurprisingly her interpretation as Odile was far superior to her Odette. Her double fouettés as the black swan were spectacular in the showy solo which gained her first prize in the most important international competitions. Park, the first Korean ballerina to join the company*, holds an impressive curriculum vitae; she gained a silver medal at Jackson, a silver medal at Pekin, gained a first prize at Lausanne, and obtained a gold at Varna.**

Sae Eun Park in Swan Lake
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Ann Ray

Heymann’s supple, sweeping leaps as he soared through the air with rock-sure landings full of grace had the audience cheering, but as a couple they didn’t really work. The chemistry was absent. Although Heymann partnered with care and with tact, this was not a true partnership. There were no ecstatic lakeside scenes despite his anguished search for Odette after his betrayal by the false black Swan, perhaps explicable by the fact that they were not initially programmed to dance together and had not had enough time beforehand.

The corps de ballet, well-rehearsed by Clothilde Vayer danced with beauty and precision, as did the four big swans, the white act being only slightly marred by four mechanical baby swans, under-cast. Nevertheless, the national dances were well danced as was the pas de trois.

Paris Opera Ballet in Swan Lake
Photo: Ann Ray

This series of Swan Lake, the quintessential ballet of the classical repertoire set to Tchaikovski’s sublime score, brought to the fore a new generation of "Millepied dancers", for subsequent casts programmed several young hopefuls from the corps de ballet who had never interpreted the role of the Swan Princess before. This is seemingly part of Millepied’s policy to deviate from the hierarchy system by casting unknown dancers in main roles as soon as he considers them ready and should, he believes, encourage a more acute sense of competition comparable to that prevalent in American companies. But while one can applaud this policy to a certain extent, one can only deplore the absence of all the étoiles, the accomplished ballerinas one expected to see.  Park replaced an injured Ludmila Pagliero, but were they ALL injured? Were they all dancing elsewhere?  Where were Aurélie Dupont, Emilie Cozette, Myriam Ould-Brahim, Amandine Albisson, Laetitia Pujol and Dorothée Gilbert? Rudolf Nureyev was all for giving chances to the next generation, but not entirely at the expense of those who have already proved their worth. Technical brilliance is well and good, but not without artistic interpretation.

*Sae Eun Park joined the company in 2012
** Winning prizes does not guarantee a post as étoile.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe and is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev.

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