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Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake / Makarova, Dowell, Royal Ballet Covent Garden
Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake / Makarova Dowell Royal Ballet Covent Garden
Actors: Natalia Makarova, Anthony Dowell
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2003     2hr 17min

Studio: Kultur Release Date: 02/04/2003 Run time: 137 minutes


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Movie Details

Actors: Natalia Makarova, Anthony Dowell
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Dance, Educational, Classical, Ballet & Dance
Studio: Kultur Video
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 04/15/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/1982
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1982
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 2hr 17min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Rick | Detroit, MI | 01/28/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)

"I've been meaning to review this tape for quite some time, because I cannot account for what my fellow reviewers have written about it. "Swan Lake" is my very favorite ballet, and my video dance collection includes 12 complete performances, 2 abridged versions, plus numerous excerpts. Over a period of time, I've found that I rarely watch this one, as it hasn't held my interest.This performance of the Royal Ballet was filmed live in 1980 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London for an invited audience. Odette-Odile is performed by Natalia Markarova; Prince Siegfried is danced by Anthony Dowell. Choreography is by Frederick Ashton (after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov). The tape is clearly filmed and has nice production values.The waltz in the first act is Ashton's own choreography. I don't care for it because the steps are too loosely related to the well-known social dance for my personal tastes. In a typical Kirov performance, the waltz is an opportunity to show just how graceful the dancers are, but in Ashton's version, it evolves into a spectacle of big jumps and intricate footwork that, unfortunately, doesn't fit the character of the music very well. The highlight of the first act is Anthony Dowell's variation, which is beautifully performed.The ballerina makes her appearance in the second act. Makarova certainly has a lovely quality to her adage, featuring nice leg extensions and graceful movements, however, there are other areas of her dance that are not nearly as polished. Makarova isn't an accomplished jumper; for instance, her sissonnes in Odette's solo near the end of the second act are the most lethargic I've ever seen on videotape. Furthermore, she's not a prodigious turner, and her supported pirouettes are often a bit rough.One of my favorite moments in "Swan Lake" is the supported adagio from the second act. But, I don't value Makarova's performance of it, as some might, because she tends to prefer slow tempos. The music just doesn't sound as good when played that way. Because I have a busy schedule, I often like to watch the supported adagio as an excerpt, instead of watching the whole ballet. More often than not, I find myself choosing to watch the supported adagio from the 1969 Kirov film of "Swan Lake," starring Yelena Yevteyeva. I prefer Yelena, because she's so excellent at portraying her emotions and because she's an all-around accomplished ballerina. For those of you who know Makarova's history, you know that she was a member of the Kirov in 1969, but those in charge selected a different ballerina for the lead role in the film production.Act three begins with a pas de quatre that was adapted from the rarely-used pas de six. It's more of a curiosity than anything else. Out of all of the national divertissements that come next, the Hungarian was probably the best, whereas the Spanish could have used more swooshy backbends and greater flair. The Neapolitan dance is one of Ashton's own creations. It's designed as a footwork extravaganza, but I think that it's on the circus-y side.The highlight of the third act is the pas de deux (pdd). Normally, it's a showcase for dazzling technical feats, but Ashton has reworked much of the choreography to hide Makarova's deficiencies as a turner and a jumper. You'll notice that the introduction of the pdd begins with a lot of lifts, whereas normally those would be jumps by the ballerina. The highlight of the pdd is the variation by Dowell. He's excellent. Makarova's variation has been reworked, and one change is that the sissonnes were removed. For an example of outstanding sissonnes, see Maya Plisetskaya in the 1957 Bolshoi "Swan Lake." You'll notice in both Odette's variation and the coda of the pdd that Makarova can only do single pique turns, whereas her contemporaries usually work some doubles in. Only a few chaine turns are performed, those being slow and overly deliberate looking. Her weakness as a turner makes the pdd lack bravura, and the pdd ends weakly with Makarova hopping backward in arabesque. Plisetskaya's Odile can dance circles around Markarova's. In fact, I like Plisetskaya's Odette better too, because Maya has a super-flexible back that allows her to hit unique positions, and she makes the role her own with her fluid swan arms.The corps de ballet work in the final act is nice, but it's certainly not up to Kirov standards. Although there's some interesting choreography to be found here, I cannot understand why Ashton took the leads off the stage for almost 2 minutes at the very climax of the ballet. In my video collection, this is one of my least favorite endings.The best dancer in the entire production is Anthony Dowell, and it's too bad that he gets so few opportunities to solo. Makarova has a beautiful quality to her adage, but her Odile is in the bottom quartile in comparison to her peers on video--if not rock bottom. So, let me leave you with a few alternate recommendations. Either of the two contemporary Kirov productions (starring Galina Mezentseva and Yulia Makhalina as Odette-Odile) are very solid from top to bottom. My favorite commercially-available "Swan Lake" is the Plisetskaya version mentioned earlier, and I've included it on my Ballet Favorites listmania list. Do yourself a favor and check out those other tapes before purchasing this one, as this performance is highly overrated."
Still the definitive "Swan Lake" - on video
Avesraggiana | San Diego, CA | 11/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I have watched many live and video performances of this ballet and this is the one version I find myself returning to time and time again. There is something so dramatically compelling about the way Makarova and Dowell interpret their roles that my attention is held in a way that perhaps more technically proficient renderings of the roles could not. Makarova and Dowell in the leads are ultimately the most satisfying interpretations I have yet witnessed.

Makarova's dancing is a wonder to behold; her magisterial, liquid adagio dancing in the Act II grand pas deux was of course, a given. Makarova's dancing was possessed of a unique physicality, a way of moving that made it seem as though her arms and legs were radiating a plush and limitless stretch. One could almost see an energy field originating from the centre of her body and pulsing out through her arms and legs and emanating far beyond her head, hands and feet. There seemed to be a mysterious and boundless stretch to Makarova. Baryshnikov too, had this "mysterious stretch" in his dancing. And Makarova's hands, what magical and bewitching worlds can be conjured from a pair expressive arms and hands! Watch, at the coda of Act II when Makarova's Odette runs towards Dowell's Siegfried, and is caught in his arms and lifted high above his head. With a ripple of her arms, the well-timed arch of her back, neck and head, one could almost believe Odette would take flight right then. The moment is breathtaking and for that moment, time might as well have stopped.

What has continued to surprise me is Makarova's Odile. In this act Makarova, physically, becomes a whole other creature. The same lambent grace is still there, the same palpable and mysterious stretch, but now her edges have sharpened and her dancing has taken on a hard, cold, obdurate quality. I will never forget her baleful expression when she first turns towards Prince Siegfried to present her hand for the very first time. This moment marks the beginning of the Act III "Black Swan" grand pas de deux, and what a spellbinding moment it is. The whole ballroom now shines with a hectic glitter and now begins the ultimate dance of deception.

Unshakable bravura was never a hallmark of Makarova's dancing and I could quibble about her indifferent fouettes. I prefer instead to revel in the splendour of her dramatic interpretation. From start to finish, Makarova's Odile is a textbook example of how to enchant a Prince and an audience into believing completely, an evil magician's deception. Even as Makarova negotiates Odile's treacherous choreography, her conviction and her hold on her dramatic portrayal is so unwavering that by the end, the Prince is utterly destroyed. Makarova's Odile is so convincing that at the end of the pas de deux, the audience finds itself on its feet applauding not a ballerina, but for the total triumph of von Rothbart's diabolical creation. As an aside, Makarova's pique/chaine turns at the end of her solo are so fleet and so delicious that I never again want to see another dancer stumping her way through this same variation.

I make special mention of Sir Fredrick Ashton's choreography in Act IV. There's a particularly lovely and effective sequence where in small groups, Odette ushers away her swan sisters and returns to a kneeling Siegfried, bends down slowly and deeply into an arabesque penche and bestows her forgiveness for Siegfried's unwitting betrayal. Almost no one does this "forgiveness and reconciliation" scene anymore.

The overall production values of the Royal Ballet's "Swan Lake" are somewhat inconsistent, the stage sets and costumes look like they were taken out of cold storage and the dancing of the corps de ballet could benefit from a more pliant use of the back and arms.

Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell's dancing are of a kind that informs an age. I search in vain for a young Makarova or a young Baryshnikov that would bring the same magic and transcendent artistry from which their legends were made."
Total is significantly less than the sum of the parts
I. Martinez-Ybor | Miami, FL USA | 06/14/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Makarova was, obviously arguably.... given some of the reviews below, the Odette/Odile of her generation. I have not seen a "better" one since. Therefore, this DVD is a must: it's the only visual record we have of her performance. And, notwithstanding criticisms by other reviewers below, I think her performance is a pretty eloquent one, in technique and style. I have seen her quite a few times in the role, and though this is a bit short of the magic I know she could generate, it is fairly representative. I consider myself lucky to have it.Now, as to the rest and why I think, in general, this performance is disappointing. Dowell was a very fine dancer: crisp, clean lines, elegant and satisfactory virtuosity, all in evidence here, as is his natural reticence which is out of place in this piece....... There is no chemistry between him and Makarova. He might as well have been reading the phonebook as he danced. In some ways he struck me as the all-purpose, highly skilled partner doing his job for the visiting ballerina of the evening. Makarova had great partners in this role throughout her career, most notably Ivan Nagy. Together they could make the second act pas-de-deux a truly moving experience. It's a pity such wasn't the case here. Another drawback to this performance was the Royal Ballet itself. I think it was in a rather fallow period at the time. The swans sleepwalk through their part and are off-and-on sloppy. The various dances in the third act are a bore, the Spanish Dance is particularly ludicrous. Though Wayne Sleep does a very good job in the Italian number, everybody else in all the other dances reek of mediocrity, particularly the women. There's no virtuosity, no command of line or technique.... Where's the zest? It didn't help that the conducting was somewhat feeble.In short...... if you are interested in having a record of Makarova's Odette/Odile, get it.....It's a pity she wasn't helped by the framework she was given but c'est la vie. With that very restricted goal in mind, you will not be disappointed. If you are interested in Swan Lake proper and plan in having only one version, stick with the Kirov.DVD quality is quite fine .... the sound is ok but not much more than ok."
Beautiful Makarova, a chilly Dowell
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 09/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Natalia Makarova defected to the West in 1970, and for ten years or so Western audiences were enchanted with her distinctly Russian style of ballet. It's become pretty familiar now, the "Russian" school -- boneless arms, a very fluid, arched back, hyperextensions, an emphasis on upper body movement.
Makarova's Odette/Odile was legendary, and I feel lucky that it's now preserved on dvd, although she was 41 when this Swan Lake was filmed at the Royal Ballet. That's certainly "up there" for a ballerina (the famously ruthless Paris Ballet's system demands that all etoiles retire at 40).
Overall, Makarova's portrayal is enchanting, and for once the legendary status is justified. Not that it's perfect. For one, not to be shallow, but she looks her age in this video. The harsh lighting does her no favors, and she was never classically beautiful anyway. Makarova is also weak at fouettes -- as Odile she actually does the 32 fouettes, but theyre slow, they travel a lot, she doesnt throw in any triples or doubles, and they lacked momentum and excitement. She IS 41, and I noticed that often her leaps, spins and turns are done with a shade of hesitation.
On the other hand, one of the pleasures of this video is Makarova's obviously disciplined, classical training. She has excellent form, never bending her legs or flailing her arms. She has a wonderful ability to hold balances -- the Act II adagio is taken almost at a snail's pace, in part I think to showcase the way Makarova can keep a balance and hold it. She also never wobbles on pointe, and I like her determination -- although traveling quite a bit during her fouettes she finishes the 32 anyway. Makarova is better as Odette -- her arms flap bonelessly like real wings, and she brings such a soulfulness and pathos to Odette. I've seen wonderful Odette/Odile's, but Makarova is certainly one of the most beautiful portrayals I've seen.
I'm not so nuts about Anthony Dowell. To me, he has great technique, but brings so little joy and romance to Siegfried that great romantic moments (like the White Swan Adagio or Act IV) fall flat. His face is unexpressive and stern throughout.
The general production values are good. The Royal Ballet production is simple and classical, without the tacked-on happy ending of the Soviet productions or the fanciness of many modern versions. I was disappointed that in Act II there was no mime -- a great ballerina can make the mime heartrending. The corps was excellent, although not at the standards of the robotically perfect and uniform Paris Opera Ballet corps. I also like how unlike a lot of historical Swan Lakes this one isnt hideously cut.
I'm very glad I have this dvd in my growing ballet collection. Makarova's Odette/Odile isnt perfect (which ballerina is, in this notoriously demanding role?) but she is enchanting."