Israel Ballet Offers a Thrilling Black and White Take on 'Swan Lake'

In its new program, the Israel Ballet danced two versions of ‘Swan Lake,’ and choreography and performance were marvelous in both. But the real stars were the ensemble dancers

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The Israel Ballet in 'White Swan.' Like watching a top-tier Russian ballet troupe.
The Israel Ballet in 'White Swan.' Like watching a top-tier Russian ballet troupe. Credit: Ira Tashlitsky
Ruth Eshel
Ruth Eshel

The Israel Ballet’s “White Swan” program is excellent. The first half is a traditional version of the second scene of “Swan Lake,” followed by a contemporary version of the same scene in the second part. In both works, the choreography as well as the performances are terrific.

It has been a long time since I found the Israel Ballet as thrilling as this. Usually, in reviewing performances of the great classic ballets, which revolve around a story and its main characters, I devote much of the review to the individual stars. In this case, though, the real stars of the evening are the ensemble dancers. The clasped hands, tilts of the head, gentle twists of the shoulder and, of course, the footwork – all is precise, stylish and perfectly uniform. There were moments, as the stage brimmed with incredible beauty, when I felt like I was watching a top-tier Russian ballet troupe. Tomoko Takahashi danced the role of Odette, and she is a technically strong ballerina. I was particularly impressed by her balance on one foot as she stretched it out until the last moment, and the way she completes her turns and glides into the continuation of the movements. Her upper body is beautifully expressive, but her legwork lacked a certain lyricism, which kept the dance from being quite as moving as it could have been. Her partner, Ludwig Ispirian, doesn’t have the look of a prince, and the part also gave him no real opportunity to show off his talents. The traditional set design by Anna Chruscheva is quite lovely. And the whiteness of the tutus was especially bright and fresh.

The Israel Ballet in 'White Swan.'Credit: Ira Tashlitsky

A dark world

Contrary to the norm, there was no intermission. Marking the transition to the contemporary section, the screen at the rear changed color to an intense, acidic red. The white world of the triumph of good over the evil sorcerer dissolved to make way for a version of the dark side, created especially for the Israel Ballet by Andonis Foniadakis. At first, small groups of male dancers, who looked like mutant offspring of the sorcerer, burst onto the stage. They were soon joined by the entire ensemble.

The beauty of this dark work is enthralling and recalls certain motifs of the original version, while its enigmatic nature is endlessly fascinating. The most surprising element is the movement language, which is at least twice the usual speed. The “breaths” within this fast-paced movement are accomplished by the clever use of the different groups of dancers in the space, from small clusters to a wide scattering. The language might possibly be described as neoclassical, within which elements of modern dance, such as interrupted movements and shifts of direction, have been crowded in by force.

The density and rapidity of the movements are part of the language that characterizes the dark world. It flows with great vitality, with its own natural ease, without hindrance. The entire ensemble gamely throws itself into the challenge, and the result is captivating. In this section, too, Takahashi and Ispirian were at their best. And Vladimir Dorohin, a very captivating dancer, stood out in his solo segments. Avi-Yona Bueno (Bambi)’s lighting design created boundless, imaginary worlds. Within the dark world lay many deep and colorful layers of fantasy and mystery that are more intriguing in some ways than the good, all-white world.