Russians just do some things best – like synchronizing swans.
The Mariinsky Ballet & Orchestra’s “Swan Lake,” onstage at Zellerbach Hall in a Cal Performances presentation, has moments that rival any Busby Berkeley film.
When the swans hit the stage en masse, arms, arabesques and tilted heads move together like a well-oiled machine, creating a powerful spectacle in Zellerbach’s tight space.
Young Ekaterina Kondaurova, plucked from the corps de ballet when William Forsythe saw the Mariinsky in Frankfurt in 2003, was a fetching Odette/Odile at Wednesday’s opening, the first of six performances featuring different casts.
Noticed for her contemporary capabilities, Kondaurova is still building her classical repertoire (she has yet to be cast as Giselle), but was more than competent as the achingly tragic Odette and arrow-sharp, demonic Odile.
Her musicality was almost supernatural, her body responding to Tchaikovsky’s score with heartfelt precision, her back arching into a seemingly infinite curve.
Konstantin Zverev as Rothbart, the evil sorcerer who tries to keep Odette under his spell of “swan by day, woman by night,” matched her drama. His line was lean and elegant, his movement clean and never superfluous.
Rothbart often wears feathered cloaks that fan across the stage like rippling waves, but here, except for the ball in Act 2, his costume was abbreviated, with short, black wings and a silver plumed helmet. The effect was hawkish, wry and cunning, and Zverev came off as penetrating rather than campy, which often happens with the sensational role.
When Rudolf Nureyev was on “The Muppet Show” in 1977, he parodied “Swan Lake” for a reason. Not only is the ballet familiar, the story – of a prince who falls in love with a woman who spends most of her life as a swan – is an easy jest.
The current production by the troupe (formerly known as the Kirov Ballet) with choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and 1950 revisions by Konstantin Sergeyev, was largely successful.
But there were a few snafus, such as male corps’ second act “Borat-meets-Santa Claus” costumes. The tall, thin dancers, wearing fake mustaches and red mortarboards with snowy white pompoms, looked silly-a shame given they were charming performers.
Danila Korsuntsev was an underwhelming Prince Siegfried, due more to wooden theatrics than technical failing. Karen Ionnisyan, a corps member who set the stage alight in Act 2’s Spanish Dance, or Zverev, might be more interesting dramatic choices for the part. On the whole, the female corps was more in sync and gave warmer performances than the men, many of whom seemed stiff.
Though "Swan Lake" would benefit from being staged in a larger space, the Mariinsky Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky's iconic score to rousing, subliminal heights made up for Zellerbach’s cramped atmosphere.
Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra
Presented by Cal Performances
Where: Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley campus, Bancroft Way at Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $30 to $175
Contact: (510) 642-9988, www.calperformances.org