A refreshingly youthful approach to an iconic classical ballet

Tchaikovsky’s musical score to “Swan Lake”, the world’s favourite ballet, is one of the finest in the repertoire with much loved melodies and superb orchestration. Audiences at The Royal Opera House Muscat were doubly fortunate last weekend to hear the 70-strong world-class Orchestra of Teatro Carlo Felice of Genoa, under the Italian guest conductor, Giuseppe Acquaviva, accompanying the Astana Opera Ballet Company’s original production. The traditional Mariinsky Theatre production of 1895 by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov was given refreshingly youthful choreographic version by the Artistic Director of the Astana Ballet Company, Altynai Asylmuratova, People’s Artist of Russia, in the Premiere on Thursday night.
This wonderful new version was heralded with great acclaim as a sensitive re-working of the classical Russian masterpiece by this young company, founded only in 2013 by the first President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. All the dancers are from Kazakhstan and being part of the former Soviet Union, The Astana Ballet Company retains strong ties with Russian and Italian Ballet Schools.
To add to its fine credentials, the atmospheric sets were designed by the renowned Italian stage designer, Ezio Frigerio and the evocative period costumes in lush fabrics by his partner, Academy-Award-winning costume-designer, Franca Squarciapino. In the famous second scene of Act 1, the Lake of Swans, filmic projections of moving water, gliding swans and sinister black wings flapping were used effectively as a backdrop to which Siegfried, the protagonist, arrives to glimpse the Swan Maidens.
The story is about an evil enchantment, a handsome young prince who comes of age, and in falling in love with Odette, Queen of Swans, becomes part of a quest to prove that love can conquer the forces of evil, even if that leads to the ultimate sacrifice – Siegfried and Odette will die rather than be separated.
The curtain rose to reveal a noble scene of celebration in the Royal Castle Park. Guests dancing in Siegfried’s honour provided a vehicle for other members of the company to perform, such as the ‘Pas de Trois’, performed delightfully by Anel Rustemova, Assel Shaikenova and Tair Gatauov on opening night. But the character of Court Jester stole the hearts of all. His role in this production was augmented by continuous teasing and cajoling throughout the scene. On Thursday night the Jester was danced with superb energy and athletic agility by the much feted Principal Dancer, Bakhtiyar Adamzhan. Praises for his fine performance were overheard throughout the interval.
In Scene Two, Principal Dancer and Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan, Aigerim Beketayeva, made her appearance as an astoundingly fluid and impossibly flexible Odette, destined to fall in love with young Siegfried. In this idyllic lakeside setting the musicians in the pit did more than justice to Tchaikovsky’s masterful instrumentation.
The woodwind section, with Laura Papeschi on harp, provided a watery soundscape equal to the finesse of the ballerinas. The Prince was stunningly performed by the tall and lithe Principal Dancer, Olzhas Tarlanov. Trained in Munich and honoured by numerous awards and accolades, Tarlanov is a growing figure on the world stage and a solo dancer to look out for.
Act Two contrasts the joyous Ballroom of its opening scene with the dark, sinister appearance of the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart as a noble knight, and the encroaching doom of the final scene by the lake. The opening ball at the castle presents various beauties as suitors for Prince Siegfried’s hand, but he has given his heart to Odette. Again it allows for some indulgent solo displays of various ethnic dance styles such as Spanish Jota, a Hungarian Dance, a Neapolitan Dance and a Russian Mazurka.
After this light-hearted sequence the mood darkens with the arrival of Zhanibek Imankulov as the larger-than-life malicious force of Von Rothbart, whose cunning plan is to present his daughter Odile – an exact likeness of Odette and performed by the same ballerina as Odette, but in black attire – so that Siegfried accepts her hand in marriage and thus betrays his true love, Odette.
Concert master Giovanni Battista Fabris played some exquisitely delicate and poignant violin solos for Odile’s seduction of the Prince, in contrast to the booming brass fanfares during her father’s flamboyant gestures.
The vow is broken and nothing can save the swans from the evil curse of the Sorcerer. But Siegfried cannot part from Odette. Their love, for which they are willing die, unites them. Overwhelmed by the power of such love, Von Rothbart dies and his reign of terror comes to an end.
The Ballet Company of the Astana Opera House set themselves the challenging task of bringing “true pleasure and inspiration to Muscat audiences, so that they feel emotionally fulfilled and spiritually uplifted”. Slight imperfections in synchronisation from the Corps de Ballet can easily be overlooked, given the fresh energy and enthusiasm of this young company in bringing us Tchaikovsky’s treasure, “Swan Lake”, from the heart of world culture.

Text by Georgina benison
Photos by Khalid Al Busaidi