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The Pick: the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake, a breathtaking production of the quintessential classical ballet

The Pick: the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake, a breathtaking production of the quintessential classical ballet
Maria Alexandrova as Odette in Swan Lake (Image: Damir Yusupov)

Late last year, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre reopened after a seven-year, $760-million renovation. There was a splashy gala, where statesmen, billionaires, grande dames and Mikhail Gorbachev all came to show their support. The company marked the occasion with the signature dance from its signature work: the elegant pas de deux from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which had its world premiere at the Bolshoi 135 years ago. This is a ballet—and a company—that has withstood revolution, totalitarian Communism and censorship, and now the touring company has brought the hallmark show to Toronto for a week of performances.

The production is so classical that it almost seems like a parody of itself, but it’s breathtaking all the same. Tchaikovsky’s score, known for its shiver-inducing leitmotif, is haunting; the costumes are sumptuous; and the dancing is sublime. The whole thing is anchored by Maria Alexandrova, who dances the roles of the swan princess Odette and her diabolical doppelganger, Odile. The dual role is the ultimate achievement for a ballerina, but Alexandrova elevates it beyond its usual limitations. She matches technical precision with nobility, fragility, stubborn pride and, when necessary, coy sexuality. She draws from the savage brutality and betrayal suffered by her character, making Odette more than just the virgin to Odile’s whore.

Just as Odette/Odile is the ultimate role, the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake itself is the apotheosis of classical ballet. It’s refined, majestic, desperately tragic and irresistibly romantic—it’s a heightened version of everything that makes the art form what it is. If you see one ballet in your life, it should be this one.

The details: To May 19, $71-$255. Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front St. E., 1-855-985-5000, ticketmaster.ca.

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