Swan Lake
The Bolshoi Ballet
Carolina Performing Arts
Memorial Hall, UNC Campus
Closed June 14

The Bolshoi Ballet presented its version of the world’s most famous ballet, Swan Lake, to a packed house in UNC’s Memorial Hall on June 13, the first of two performances crowning Carolina Performing Arts’ achievement in luring the grand Russian company to Chapel Hill. The Bolshoi was accompanied by the North Carolina Symphony under the baton of Bolshoi conductor Pavel Sorokin, and the orchestra performed the lush music with verve. It was an unforgettable evening, but not exactly in the way I had thought it would be.

Maybe I brought too many expectations with me. I fell in love with ballet as a 5-year-old in northwest Arkansas when I saw a local recital and promptly began plaguing my parents for all things ballet. As it happened, my new obsession coincided with the Bolshoi’s first U.S. tour in 1959, and although the company came from Communist Russia, “behind the iron curtain,” it was universally lauded as it revived the passion for Russian classical dance among American culturati. So as I danced around the living room to a scratchy LP recording of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music, it was the Bolshoi prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya I dreamed of seeing as the White Swan/ Black Swan; more recently, I had hoped to see Nina Ananiashvili perform the role. Now, 50 years later, I have finally seen the Bolshoi perform Swan Lake, andanother personal joyin the very theater where I first heard, as a grade-schooler, a live symphony orchestra.

So it is with sadness that I must report that even so great a company as the Bolshoi can have an off night. Oh, they were beautiful, stunningly skilled; and some of the lesser dances were excellent. But the big magic didn’t quite happen the way it had from the first instant of Don Quixote three days earlier, although Denis Medvedev as the delightful Fool did his best to conjure it. He was wonderful, as was Pavel Dmitrichenko as the Evil Genius, and Anna Leonova stood out as the Spanish Bride. Much of the other dancing was a little mechanical, rote, even that of the elegant Ekaterina Shipulina as Odette/ Odile, and that of Alexander Volchkov as Prince Siegfried, who just didn’t seem like someone for her to break her heart over. It is not possible that every performance of a standard like Swan Lake should be inspired, so it is fortunate that its core imagery is so lovely.

The only time you are likely to see more swans in one place in North Carolina is down at Lake Mattamuskeet in Decemberand they won’t be nearly so well arranged for your viewing pleasure as the 32 sleek bird-women of this dance. I was a little disappointed by the muted emotionality of this performance, but the ineffable beauty of the large ensemble swan dances will grace my heart as long as memory serves.