From Russia, with love

From Russia, with love

A folk tale that was first performed well over a century ago. Timeless music composed by one of the greats of the world. An eternal love story of a prince and a girl cursed to be a swan. All wrapped together in the delicate form of ballet.

Swan Lake made its much-anticipated India debut last week in New Delhi, where the city’s art connoisseurs flocked to the performance that has held sway over audience the world over. Of course, its debut 122 years ago didn’t go down too well with the audience, as history points out, as it was way ahead of its time.

Several production houses have performed this classic since, over decades, with very little variation from the stupendous original. The 2010 English movie Black Swan brought audience’s attention back to the classic in a contemporary take on the psychological struggle between the black and the white in us. Performed now by the Moscow-based Royal Russian Ballet, headed by ballet director Anatoliy Kazatskiy, the ballet was brought to India by Dinesh Singh, the founder of Navrasa Duende, an organisation that conceives, creates, designs, manages and promotes unique productions across the world in a wholesome way, blending multiple genres. This production of the 19th century Swan Lake is based on the original choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, renewed by Konstantin Sergeyev.

Second comeback

Setting the context of Swan Lake and its glorified place today in the world of art, Anatoliy points out how it was only after Tchaikovsky’s death that the ballet made its comeback to the stage, and was soon recognised as the classic it is today. All aspects of the ballet, its grandiose symphony, complex choreography and disciplined performance, have made it a benchmark for all the performing art-forms in the world.

The technical perfection that a production of Swan Lake requires makes it an absolute visual treat.

This is why the ballet enjoys a cult classic status the world over, says Anatoliy. In a world that is driven by all things fast and loud, where does something as delicate as ballet stand, one wonders. “Not everyone has a penchant for ballet,” admits Anatoliy.

“However, there are people drawn to its mysteries and meaning, whether as an audience member or a practising dancer, and this doesn’t happen until a person has the chance to witness the power of this dance in its truest form. Ballet expresses a nobility, an aspiration of the human spirit that no other dance form seems to be able to do,” he says.

Themes like love and the battle between good and evil are still relevant, points out Anatoliy. Swan Lake might be an old ballet, but its key message — that love conquers all ­— is as true today as it was 122 years ago, he continues. It is a fantasy tale based on human emotions, and that is why audiences still relate to it. “Swan Lake is a ballet where the protagonist is the music,” Anatoliy puts his finger very graciously on the driving factor. “Tchaikovsky’s symphonic, complex and dramatic narrative is simply timeless.” Another reason for its universal appeal is the mellifluous blend of multiple musical and dance forms within a single ballet, he adds.

A shift in views

Dinesh Singh, a connoisseur himself, counters the argument that we are a cinema-obsessed nation with probably very little patience for a ballet, saying, “Although cinema may be a dominating art in India, other forms of performing arts like music, dance and drama also have a significant audience. Ballet, which combines all the three into one single, thrilling performance, is no less engaging than a film, often dealing with the mess and emotions that even contemporary viewers can relate to.”

Anatoliy asserts that a country with as diverse a cultural and artistic legacy as India is always a great place for an artiste to perform. “Indian sensibilities towards dance are very evolved thanks to this cultural legacy where many forms are either inspired by ballet or have inspired several international ballets. In fact, many Swan Lake productions are an adaptation of the original, and we firmly believe that such performances can also encourage new fusion forms in the future.”

Delhi was the natural choice for the ballet since it is a city with a thriving performing-arts scene, says Dinesh Singh. Moreover, both young as well as older audiences in the capital possess the artistic sensibilities to enjoy this intricate dance form. “Delhi also has a good mix of people from all over India, diplomats, expatriates for the purpose of validation of Indian taste,” he insists.

“We are optimistic that Swan Lake will not only catch the fancy of the elite and sophisticated, but will also attract the younger generation, especially those who appreciate popular or contemporary arts,” he says. Navrasa Duende has two more co-productions lined up with the Royal Russian Ballet — The Nutcracker & Romeo and Juliet.

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