It's not just the Kirov Ballet's tradition, schooling and purity of style that have caused ballet fans and the curious public to blanket Wolf Trap's lawns for the past two nights. People sit outside for three hours in 40-degree temperatures because they expect to see something special, and Russian dancers, we like to believe, dance with passion and a sense of danger.
Without such total emotional and physical commitment, classical ballets can seem, at best, old and dry; at worst, stale and silly. Last night's principals in "Swan Lake" took enough risks to bring the ballet to life; better yet, their sympathetic partnership infused the ballet with some of the magic missing opening night.
Olga Tcheytchikova's broad and bravura interpretation of the dual role of Odette/Odile could not have been to everyone's taste, but it was nothing if not daring. From the moment Tcheytchikova stepped onstage, it was clear she had thought through her role technically, intellectually and emotionally, and knew exactly what effects she wanted to make. The technical risks she took -- extraordinarily fast turns, stretched balances, generally dancing at a peak that should have been impossible to maintain -- assured spontaneity.
Her Odette, supposedly the soft, poetic side of woman, was that, but strong and wild as well. This was not a Swan Queen passively lounging by a lake waiting to be rescued, but one who took an active part in her destiny. Her Odette became, particularly in the fourth act, the personification of good, a true White Swan, pitted against Von Rothbart as the personification of evil. In the revisionist happy ending, Siegfried does save her, but not until she has fought to exhaustion, and weakened Von Rothbart enough for Siegfried to finish him off.
Taking Odette at such a pitch is in itself daring; it means Odile, the seductive, dark side of woman, must be even stronger, but without seeming harsh. Tcheytchikova almost pulled this off through technique alone, a technique that was brazen although always -- barely -- within the accepted purity and elegance of Kirov style. She had downplayed her strength in turns during Odette's solos, her dancing emphasizing the huge, free jump and beats with the force of ritual. In Odile's solos, however, the turns had the impact of a machine gun at close range. The famous fouette's were spat out; the finish, double turns with whipping arm changes, was as steady as had been the opening balances with leg stretched impossibly high in develope. Far from looking winded, Tcheytchikova looked disappointed that there wasn't more coda to dance.
As Siegfried, Konstantin Zaklinsky could hardly have been more opposite. Both his dancing and characterization were in the same, very personal, key -- soft, open and pure. Everything about him, his walk, his run, his mere presence onstage, is expansive; he's a true Russian prince. There's an easiness to his dancing that's most appealing. Without trying to compete with Tcheytchikova for dramatic or technical honors, he held his own with soaring jumps, landing as if on foam.
His acting was as simple. More intelligent, if less constant, than many Siegfrieds, he seemed to know that Odile wasn't Odette, but swore to love her forever anyway. It was as much his tender, thoughtful partnering as her tragic swoons that made the White Swan pas de deux a true conversation of lovers.
The rest of the cast was identical to the opening performance. Their dancing, soft and elegant even in the spirited character numbers, provided the expected backdrop to an unexpectedly idiosyncratic performance.