Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Russian dancers superb at Weidner

'Swan Lake'

GREEN BAY, Wis. - America is master of jazz and musical theater. Russia is master of classical ballet.

An example of the latter was on display Wednesday night in Cofrin Family Hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. The well-honed Russian Grand Ballet did “Swan Lake.”

“Did” covers a whole lot of acreage in this case. It’s a feeble excuse for a word when it comes to the artistic athletic precision compounded by steely stamina that the Russian Grand Ballet dancers launch.

The company is on a grueling coast-to-coast tour. The first two months have been devoted to “Swan Lake,” and the final month will be the turn for another musical masterpiece by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “The Nutcracker.”

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Alert: The Russian Grand Ballet will return to this area to present two performances of “The Nutcracker” at 7 p.m. Nov. 28 and 29 at the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh. Info: thegrandoshkosh.org. That should be excellent-plus, too.

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Wednesday’s performance was well attended, and the curtain calls generated electricity that goes with thorough appreciation. Much admiration went to prima ballerina Olga Kifyak, a dynamo.

In the “Swan Lake” story, Kifyak plays two characters. The story is far-out folk tale/myth: Young Siegfried is to marry. During pondering down by the lake, he spots Odette, who by day is an elegant swan and by night takes human form. It’s night, and love blooms. Come time for Siegfried to tell his mother of his choice in marriage, the evil sorcerer who messed up Odette tricks Siegfried into believing his (the sorcerer’s) daughter, Odile, is his true love. Gulled by the black swan Odile, Siegfried appears to be unfaithful to the white swan Odette. Realization and a battle with the evil sorcerer set things right.

As Odette, Kifyak (in white) is a graceful, loving/adoring figure. Her body seems like pliable wire. In one instance, she is able to do a “split” upright – one foot on the floor and the other perfectly straight above. Kifyak’s arms and hands seem to float as she moves, as if she is swan-lithe. In a key bit, Kifyak is on pointe and tip-toes backward 20 or so feet without looking and flows into the hands of Siegfried.

As Odile, Kifyak (now in black) is an energized figure up to conniving/no good. Odile is a whirlwind. In a series of interchanges with Siegfried, Kifyak first reels off two dozen or so spins. After a brief break, she tosses off another dozen spins.

Odette and Odile are super-demanding double duty. Kifyak is in command of both roles. Thus, on Wednesday, the curtain-call response as Kifyak bowed and smiled radiantly on different parts of the stage.

Tchaikovsky’s music plays a dominant role, with the main theme appearing many times but most importantly in three degrees. First, the theme has a yearning and haunting flow as an expression of Siegfried’s soul at a turning point in his life. When evil sorcerer Von Rothbart appears, the theme takes on darker, edgier colors. In its third degree, the theme extends the dark in different shadows to flesh out the character of Odile. The finesse in that music is one of the reasons “Swan Lake” has been around for 140 years.

One knock on the production: The recorded music was played too loudly Wednesday. Perhaps the company is not accustomed to the kind of acoustics that Cofrin Family Hall delivers, so the sound came across as too “hot.”

Excellence in artistic discipline is all around in the dancers.

Eugeny Svetlitsa is chiseled strength as Prince Siegfried.

Vasily Bogdan is springy nastiness as the evil sorcerer.

For pure showiness, there’s Denis Chernyak as the Jester. He unleashes varietal leaps with flair, and in one burst spins on one foot through 32 (or so) turns and comes out beaming.

Get this, there are 19 white swans in the corps (20 counting Odette), and they move as a unit or in small-ensemble maneuvers. The bit I liked best was four swans in arms interlocked in precision motion back and forth on the stage with legs pumping like pistons in unison.

Like “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” has an international sequence, with knots of dancers caught up in wonderful Tchaikovsky variations on folk and cultural dances.

All is played out with large-scale backdrops – wing to wing, floor to ceiling – of an interior of a columned palace or a moonlit lake with a towered castle on a hill. The costuming is as splashy and colorful as the dancing.

Today, the company’s schedule says, the production is in Elyria, Ohio. Next nights: Columbus, Ohio; Flint, Mich.; Chicago, Ill.; Richmond, Ky.; Dearborn Mich. Whew.

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The basics

Russian Grand Ballet: “Swan Lake”

Creative: Artistic director – Constantine Pinchuk; music – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; choreography – Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, with adaptations by Andrey Litvinov; libretto – Vladimir Begichev, Vasily Getzer

Cast: Odette/Odile – Olga Kifak; Prince Siegfried – Eugeny Svetlitsa; Von Rothbart, Evil Sorcerer – Vasily Bogdan; The Queen, Prince Siegfried’s Mother – Maria Vorobey; Wolfgang, Prince’s Tutor – Andrey Litvinov; Pas de Trois – Victoria Velasquez, Natalia Ivasenko, Dmitry Vasilyev; Jester – Denis Chernyak; Brides – Valeriya Bakus, Irina Skrynnik, Maria Lolenko, Nina Andreeva; Little Swans – Miku Suzuky, Nadezhda Vishniuk, Karina Romanova, Natalia Ivansenko; Swans – Ilona Topchy, Yuilia Belan, Irina Skrynnik; Danse Espagnole – Valeriya Bakus, Darya Dubrovina, Aleksandr Litvinov, Pavel Berdilo; Danse Napolitaine – Aleksandra Rakovskaya, Olesya Shpota, Nina Andreeva, Marina Altuhova, Dmitry Vasilyev; Hungarian Dance – Anastasiya Ievleva, Khristina Kozitckaya, Gabriela Kondratenko, Vladislav Zhurov, Oleksey Cherich, Roman Zakurakin; Mazurka – Inna Rozhenceva, Maria Lolenko, Ruslana Lopatina, Artem Krupitsky, Oleksei Belan, Evgeny Banari; Swans, Dames, Guests at the Ball – Ensemble.

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Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.


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