ABT’s Swan Lake, in under 2000 words

You guys, it was awesome.
Ok, so I bought my ticket online. Never been to the Metropolitan Opera House before!. Went for a dress circle box, a $40 seat with an “obstructed view”. Figured there might be a column in the way? Or something? Decided to risk it, as the un-obstructed Dress Circle Balcony was sold out, the $20 seats were in another county, and the $85 seats were, you know, $85.
So imagine my qu’el surpríse when I crowded through the lobby, up the red stairs, up more red stairs, then down some red stairs, through a red curtain, then through a little door into this tiny little arc of a four-person box, with a little two person box popped up behind with it’s own special door. Fucking magical. Would not have traded it for a regular balcony seat for all the world. From this little velvet nest the Adult Beginner could scope the crowd, admire jewelry and hairdos, spy on the other boxes! Seriously, where was my lorgnette?
And no column! Ok, there may have been a few times when I had to lean out to see things at extreme stage left, but all the main action was super visible, no prob there. And leaning was kind of fun. I was in a box! Like T pain, I was in a box, muthafuka, never thought I’d be in a box.
Things started to start, and, Gentle Reader, I almost cried. Right off the get-go. When those crazy exploding-asteroid chandeliers floated up and away and the orchestra swelled into that music- that music that I know but have never heard live- oh man, big ol’ welling-up in my chest and things got a little misty and it was like, KIT, Adult Beginner, Keep It Together. Do not bawl before the thing has even started, you are ridiculous.
Maybe I’m a sucker for big swelling chords. Maybe I’m just a sucker.
So the ballet starts with a little “lemme ‘splain” scene behind a scrim.
This is how we know that what we’re seeing happened Long Ago, because scrim equals the past. Lady in white runs around looking freaked out, Scary Swamp Thing appears, then she runs off, and Scary Swamp Thing re-appears holding, like, this giant prop swan, like a big stuffed toy, and Gentle Reader, I almost laughed out loud. I mean, really? Really? A big swan toy with dangly legs? Does no one else find this Hi-Larious?! Maybe it’s tradition? Maybe there’s got to be a big goofy swan prop or else?
Ok and also, why does Rothbart look like Scary Swamp Thing? Isn’t he supposed to be an owl? But maybe this makes more sense because he lives in the lake, which is swampy? I guess???
Ok, cut to big party for Siegfried. He is the main character, but we don’t really care about him. We want swans. Anyway, it’s his birthday, everybody’s getting their groove on, especially Sieg’s buddy Benno who is a total lady-killer. Seriously, Benno spends the entire show with at least one lady on each arm. One really great part, clearly rehearsed to the song “Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta,” where a couple ladies have a dance-off to impress Benno, and then he’s like, “Ladies, ladies! No need to fight! There’s enough Benno to go around!”
I mean, that wasn’t exactly what the playbill says, but it was pretty obvious.
Sieg’s mom shows up and nags him about getting married, Sieg ducks out of the party.
Totally hot scene change to the forest. It’s really beautiful. Sort of a hanging curtain of mysterious dark trees, and a lake, and a ruin, and moonlight sparkling off the water…
Siegfried sees Odette and almost shoots her with his new gun- I mean crossbow- she mimes at him, he falls in love with her.
Um, Dudes in the house, does that work? Is mime hot? Should I advise my single girlfriends to take up mime?
Whatever, the mime mojo was not working on me because I only had eyes for the corps dancers. Hot damn. There is something so enthralling about watching people dance in unison. The way the tutus would flash white as the swans bent low and then their hair would shine dark as they rose, these amazing shifting color patterns, and the sound!
As the swans bourré in a row, their pointe shoes knock the floor in a continuous patpatapatapatpat like rain on the roof, like I’m sitting on a porch swing during an afternoon storm and the day is finally cooling down and the smell of ozone and wet earth… Wow, chills you guys, seriously.
And the four cygnets! That soft bouncing puff puff puff of their tutus contrasting with their angular, locked arms, their feet solving complex math problems and the kind of unthinking, animal head movements, responding in unison to whatever it is birds respond to- loved it.
Ok, so then Scary Swamp Rothbart shows up and Siegfried tries to shoot him too, but Odette is like, “No, don’t tase him, bro,” and then there is a really cool moment where Rothbart summons Odette, and she freezes and turns and her body changes and you understand that he’s turned her back into a swan and she flies away. So cool. I was like,(punches fist in air) “boo-yeah Michele Wiles! That’s what I’m talking ’bout! Yeah girl, get it! You a swan, baby!”
Then bam! Intermission!
Girl beside me complains about Michele Wiles’s arabesque. I feel weirdly defensive and consider sternly reminding my box-mate that a less than 180% extension requires more strength to hold and besides isn’t it neat to see someone that’s not yet a ballet household name let’s not rush to judge and besides maybe she’s saving it for Odile but then figure no one likes a bore so I change the subject to the cygnets.
Box-mate learned the cygnet pas de quatre when she was studying to be a ballerina.
Incidentally, I’m guessing everyone in the audience has some ballet connection. Funny, I mean, you go to a baseball game, you don’t look around the stadium wondering who had ten years of baseball training and was going to be a star but then the bunions got too painful and they had to quit, and who is fulfilling their lifelong dream by starting baseball as an adult.
Asked Box-mate which is hardest: end-cygnets or middle cygnets? Always wondered, I mean, the ends are more visible and they have to kind of steer the group, but no, the middle is more difficult, according to Box-mate, because they have a girl on each side to keep pace with.
Then bam! Intermission over!
Big party, Siegfried’s mom is like, No, for realz, you have to get married. I invited some girls over. Pick one.
And then we get one of my favorite ballet memes: the Parade of Exotic Foreign Countries! Ballet is full of these things, and they bring up some interesting questions, like, is it ok to love the spicy music, the bright colors, and the folk-ish dances? Or are they exploitative? Or is it overly self-conscious political-correctitude to even question the Parade of Exotic Foreign Countries?
Anyway, Siegfried is not impressed. Then Odile shows up, with Rothbart who is no longer a swamp thing. Now he is Hot Sexy Rothbart! And seriously, well done, Jared Matthews. It can not be easy to look like a bad ass in thigh-high purple suede boots, but sir, you did it.
Odile and Sieg run off stage. Where do they go? Probably to make out. Hot Sexy Rothbart charms the pantaloons off all the ladies, including Sieg’s ma, who lets him sit in Sieg’s chair. Gasp!
One of the ladies from an exotic foreign country does this heart wrenching bourré in parallel from all the way across the stage, arms dangling behind, she is drawn to Hot Sexy Rothbart, she is powerless, you feel the pull in your own chest, Gentle Reader.
So then Odile and Siegfried come back, and do their solos and pas de deux.
Started thinking about Odile. Why is this considered the sexy bad girl role? The music is not giving me any evil cues like it does for Rothbart. It’s fun lively music. Perky. Maybe this is an issue of how old the music is? Like maybe it’s kinda dated? Like when you watch Jaws and you expect heavy horror movie music but other than the dahDuh shark music it’s kinda bouncy like, hey! Two dudes on a boat! It’s a fishin’ movie!
It feels more like Odile is the confident, triumphant counterpart to Odette’s downtrodden earnestness. Odile is a sassy-sassafras. Love it when she burns Siegfried, pulls her hand away before he can kiss it. Seems like the music and choreography and performance were all in agreement that she’s not the sensual dark creature a post Black Swan audience has come to expect.
And for that matter, what is Odile? Is she Rothbart’s daughter? If so, why is she beautiful while he’s a swamp monster? And does she live with him in the lake? Or does she live with her mom in Long Island City?
Did Rothbart call and say, “hello my Princess! I have a job for you, sweetie!”
Or did he create her? Is she like The Flesh from Doctor Who? Did he make this sassy, full, real person, just to fulfill this one purpose and then throw away?
Found myself really feeling for Odile.
Ok so Sieg believes Odile is Odette, promises to marry her, and everything goes to hell.
Castle blows up.
Siegfried in despair.
This is the first time I really care about Siegfried as a character: he has fucked up in the worst possible way, he knows it, nothing will ever be good again in the world. Well done Cory Stearns.
Music is swelling, I’m totally white-knuckling the balcony rail, the lovers jump, Rothbart is freaking out, and I’m not sure why, I mean, is he a sore looser? Or was Odette somehow in control of his power? Did she know that?
But whatever, I’m too busy like, ‘But what about the Swans??!!!?!?!?! Is the spell broken by love???? Do they get to be girls again??!!?!!’ and then the most devastating moment in the ballet: the swans sink to the floor, fold, rise one last time, fold, fog rushes in and covers them, curtain closes, music thundering and the Adult Beginner is grabbing the girl beside her by the shoulders, sobbing into her cardigan, yelling , “nooooooooooooooooo! Why can’t they be girls again???? Whyyyyyyyyyy?!?”
And then a million curtain calls, wild applause, and I was thrilled to see that special bouquet thing I’ve read about in books: tiny ballerina reaches out from the mountain of flowers she’s barely holding to present one pink rose to her man.

About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
This entry was posted in Bark! Bark! Bark!, Movies, tv, and live stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to ABT’s Swan Lake, in under 2000 words

  1. Andre says:

    Two comments;

    1. I like that Swamp Thing has a six-pack. Do you think he does crunches when he’s waiting in the swamp for hapless princesses to come along?

    2. No good can come from any prince in any ballet that promises his eternal love. This is like ballet law.

    Glad you enjoyed the show!

  2. roriroars says:

    This is quite possibly the Best. Ballet. Review. Ever.

    Oh, and I’m totally taking up mime now. ;)

  3. Nina W says:

    Fantastic post. The funniest review of swan lake ever!! The Royal Ballet’s Rothbart is also not very scary. He looks like Ziggy Stardust => http://bit.ly/j3GwDy

    And I have always thought Odile was more like an apparition than a real person. Rothbart conjures up a spirit that looks just like Odette, but is seductive and controlled by his power…

    Great post :D

  4. amy says:

    Love love your synopsis! Describes the feeling and atmosphere of Swan Lake at the Met Opera House so well! Hey did you know there’s a version with a Happy Ending? Only the Russians do it, I think. I’ve only seen it once, and it’s beautiful – but I love both versions. Next to Giselle, Swan Lake is my fave story ballet.

    • Would love to see Giselle! ABT did it earlier this season, too bad I missed it.
      It’s funny, in the playbill synopsis the last bit is:
      Apotheosis: The lovers are united in life after death.
      Now, I didn’t see that happen on stage, so either I was too busy blubbering into a starnger’s sweater or it didn’t happen, it’s just for us to know. Like, PS, they’re happy now.
      Just in case I looked up the word apotheosis, and the definition is ‘to be elevated to a devine level’
      So that’s, like, not super helpful.
      But anyway, I like the tragical ending, I liked being sad!

  5. chrisgo says:

    I’m assuming since Natalie Portman died Mila Kunis is now dancing her roll. Oh wait, that’s a movie, never mind.

  6. I’ve never been so interested in the Swan Lake storyline as while I was reading your review– not even while watching Black Swan.

    Also, I looked up Michele Wiles, and I am pleased to see she’s not a twig but makes wonderful lines! Yay! That’s more along the lines of how my body looks (no pun originally intended, but I like it so let’s call it a pun) and it’s kind of nice to see.

    Could you tell onstage that she looked un-twiglike?

  7. Lya says:

    It’s S i e gfr i e d. Not Seigfreid! Jeez! It made me cringe every time I read it and ruined an otherwise really great review.

  8. Lya says:

    Thanks, there is now nothing left to cringe at. ;)

  9. papershaker says:

    Loved this review! Made me wish I could somehow go out to New York and see it!
    I love Benno. I was one of his ‘Gangsta’ ladies. In the choreography I was in I tried to flirt my way into Siegfried’s heart too, but he was much more interesting in hunting with Benno. “No time for the ladies!” was his frequent mime action.

  10. PBG says:

    I loved this review. Most of the time dance reviews are about the audacity of the lines and the frame of the pas de deux and I wonder whether we even saw the same show, because I was wondering who decided the eggbeater-above-the-head meant “dance” in mime.

    Was Ms. Uphoff (member of the corps) performing in this one? I was, once upon a time when we were all very wee, in the same ballet class as her and I love seeing her make it as professional.

    • Ohmygosh! Yes, Karen Uphoff played the Queen Mother!
      Dang, small world.
      Ha! Eggbeater-above-the-head! That must be the historical basis for raise-the-roof.

      • PBG says:

        It is a small world! I love it when she shows up in reviews because I get to say, “Hey, I know her!” Of course, she wouldn’t recognize me on the street, but I know her!

        My other favorite is the dramatic crossing of the wrists to mean death instead of “Ya got me, copper, I did it.”

  11. Janet says:

    Love your review, and your blog. I have always wondered why the cross bow is the gift, and why “our hero” needs to run off and shoot something when Mom tells him it is time to get married. He must have had a clue before his birthday? Another question is why can’t “our hero” figure out that Odile’s black costume and the music in Act II indicate “beware.” Oh, and he is in love with a bird? Have you read the NY Times review? Apparently ABT has cut out most of Act IV. But, nothing can beat a live performance and a good seat.

    I love seeing ballet live. It is so great when the audience understands what is going on (everything is not a Bravo moment); there is a really good live orchestra that specializes in Ballet; and a well rehearshed Swan Corps.

    The first (recent) version of Swan Lake that SF Ballet danced premiered in the late 1980s, shortly after Helgi Tommasson became Artistic Director. The sets looked like a Watteau Painting. There was no prologue in this version, and certainly no stuffed swans. The dancing was fabulous. You can see Act II of this version (performed outdoors, no sets) on You Tube if you look up SF Ballet at Stern Grove. No close ups, because it was filmed from the audience on the lawn.

    A couple of years ago, Tommasson and SFB premiered a new version. The dancing is still fabulous. There is a brief prologue, but Odette’s transformtion to a swan is shown via a projection of real flying swans (in silhouette). I believe the “countries dances” in Act III are part of the “tradition” of Petipa ballets. You will see similar dances in Sleeping Beauty, for example. Thank goodness Tommasson preserved Act IV. It really does complete the story, and you get to see the Swan corps again. The first act looks like it fell out of the early 1800s. You can see some of the highlights of this version on SFBallet’s website and You Tube Channel.

    Anyway, I am no dancer, but I have been in the audience for about 30 years at SF Ballet. It can be pricey, but live ballet is worth it. A lot of companies come on tour to the Los Angeles/Orange County area. Some companies have pre-performance talks and interviews. I have learned a lot from these. I hope you get to see more live ballet soon.

    • Found the NYTimes review, here is my favorite part:

      The lighting has been bad all season, but perhaps there is cause for gratitude that it now blurs the staging’s most foolish moment- when, in the prolougue, Von Rothbart fondles a toy swan. How seriously does Ballet Theater, America’s national ballet company, take “Swan Lake”?

      Alastair Macaulay from NYTimes article “The Enduring Mysteries of a Swan Queen and the Maidens Who Share Her Fate” published June 28, 2011

      He said fondles! Fondles a toy swan! Hahahaha! Love that Mr. Macaulay was just as appalled by the big swan toy. And he’s probably seen it before.
      Seriously though, like, did Rothbart win that thing playing Skeeball at the fair?!
      The crossbow thing is interesting, makes me wonder if it used to have more symbolism. We never see a father, maybe Siegfried’s ma is telling him in several ways to grow up already- marry, start bringing home the bacon. Or, the wild swan.
      A projection of swans flying sounds very elegant.
      I do hope to see more, I loved it, and as far as expense- here’s a crazy comparison- for the price of just two of my regular classes, which are $20 a class, I got an orchestra and an amazing performance. In contrast, I have a friend in a broadway show right now, and I literally cannot afford to see her perform.

      • Janet says:

        Yes, some shows are just too expensive. This is why I have not been out to “Wicked” and shows like that.
        Some ballet companies have “cheap seats” up in the balcony. Bring your opera glasses. Some organizations have discount group prices. Sometimes there are Facebook half price promos at the ballet co fan page. Subscriptions (not always the full season) are usually cheaper than single seats.
        Hope you get to see another live performance soon

  12. Acacia says:

    Fantastic review! I saw the Marriage of Figero at the Met (not a big fan of opera, but didn’t miss the opportunity.) It’s amazing how baroque the stories of operas and ballets can be!

  13. jas says:


  14. Jen says:

    This is the BEST show report I have ever read, I loled all the way through it! Love your blog, love love love, please never stop dancing and blogging <3

  15. Juliet says:

    this post is GOOD.

  16. Fabulous review!

    Another thing about that ridiculous toy swan in the prologue. Rothbart’s “arm” that you see wrapped around the front of the toy swan is actually a prosthetic that’s part of the swan itself. (My guess is that the dancer uses his real left arm up into the swan, like a puppet, to create the swan seizure. He really is fondling the poor thing!) Anyway, they must have used someone really tiny to model the prosthetic arm, because the fake arm/hand is actually a little undersized for most Rothbarts. Now after realizing that the around-the-swan arm is fake, and a little too small, I can’t watch the end of the prologue without thinking of Kristen Wiig’s SNL character with the “baby hands” (http://www.hulu.com/watch/37752/saturday-night-live-the-lawrence-welk-show). I try to suppress my giggles.

    • What what what?!?!
      It’s a Fake Arm?!?!?!?!
      O.M.G. That is the weirdest and most hilarious thing I’ve heard all day. My mind is blown with weirdness and hilarity!
      I mean why do that?
      Why go to the expense of casting or purchasing a fake arm to build onto the swan, for an effect that looks goofy at best, and then put it behind a scrim and light it dimly? Wonder if they thought it would be easier for dancer to carry it puppet style? But seems like a fake arm would just add weight! And weirdness! Gah!
      Oh man, thanks for sharing, gonna go see if I can find some images so I can point at them and laugh.

  17. kaija24 says:

    Loved your review and so glad you got to see a performance and were so taken by it. I saw the Marinsky (Kirov)’s Swan Lake this past winter and like you, I was all misty-eyed just from the music and the experience…so gorgeous. Makes me appreciate the arts and the artists who make those moments of transcendence possible for us mere mortals :)

  18. Sarah says:

    There totally was a happily ever after at the end, but I guess you missed it. When the sun rises and the swans sink to the floor, you can see S&O in the sun waving royally. It’s good you missed it, because it was too much of a Will & Kate moment for me and a little odd. Who the hell were they waving to? The dead swans?? That’s in bad taste.

  19. Margaret says:

    Loved this! Great review!

    And go on with your doctor who reference! *geeky high five*

  20. Oh dear… i was there too….. just got back from New York. Was there for holiday for 3 weeks. Little Ballerina (www.mylilballerina.blospot.com) could have meet up with AdultBeginner….. =) well, next time….

  21. March Hare says:

    Loved this review, really made me laugh, definitely an interesting way of summing up Swan Lake. Love the idea of “Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta” dance and Scary Swamp Thing Rothbart. I always thought Odile was his daughter and he used magic to make her look like Odette to trick Siegfried.

  22. Pingback: Audience, Behave Yourselves! | Adult Beginner

  23. Ted says:

    The balcony boxes suck. Neck hurts after a while. The parterre boxes have a much better view, probably why they cost double. Plus they lock — which I like. What happens in the parterre boxes stays in the parterre boxes….

  24. Pingback: Swan Lake Groundhog Day | Adult Beginner

  25. This is one of the most awesome blog posts I have ever read!!! Keep up the great work AB. I’ve been slowly making my way through your blog from the beginning (Hence my stalker-like “likes” throughout) and this is hands-down my favorite…in addition to when your were given the green light to go en pointe. :)

    • Ha! Yes I noticed the likes. Got a little notification that the likes were Blowing Up, Whuuut so then I went and looked and they were all coming from you, Miss Thang.
      Glad you liked the post!

  26. Pingback: The Cranes Dance. Read it, for reals. | Adult Beginner

  27. Pingback: Ballet Squid Chronicles: A Case of the Wilis* | my beautiful machine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s