There’s nothing like watching two masters at work. In this clip from 1985, two of American Ballet Theatre’s most legendary stars, Cynthia Gregory and the late Fernando Bujones, make sparks fly in the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake. Bujones can’t help but be mesmerized by Gregory’s deliciously seductive allure. Watch how she doesn’t let him escape her spell at 3:23, effortlessly sailing out of her attitude promenade to zero back in on her prey. We can all take a lesson from their expert musical phrasing, as well as Bujones' clean simplicity during his variation's bravura moments.
Odette/Odile was considered Gregory’s signature role; this month, she’s passing on her expertise at Nevada Ballet Theatre, where she's staging the full-length Swan Lake. Those sure are some lucky dancers.
Swan Lake’s Black Swan pas de deux may be a chance for stars’ technique to shine, but it’s the acting—Odile’s wicked seduction of the blindly loving Siegfried—that gives me chills. In this clip from a 2004 recording of La Scala Ballet, Svetlana Zakharova finds fresh moments in Vladimir Bourmeister’s 1953 choreography to bewitch Roberto Bolle—and her audience. She undulates her arms and unfurls her legs delicately, mimicking Odette’s graceful wings, then entices him by crisply rebuffing her prince’s offered attentions. Did you shiver when she flicked her wrists and widened her eyes piercingly in her variation preparation? Bolle, meanwhile, dances with incredible fluidity. His open, easy carriage reveals both the dancer’s seasoned strength and his character’s vulnerability.
Bourmeister’s Swan Lake is less popular than the classic Petipa/Ivanov staging, but it actually uses Tchaikovsky’s original composition. Music sound familiar? Balanchine used sections cut from the classical version for his Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (1960).
Swan Lake’s steps and structure may be altered in different versions for years to come, but the fascinating white swan/black swan dichotomy, which has inspired choreographers and even Hollywood directors, is likely to endure. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!