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Image Entertainment presents
Swan Lake (Natalia Makarova's Swan Lake) (1988)

"Suddenly, before his eyes the swan is transformed into a beautiful maiden, Odette."
- Natalia Makarova

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: December 31, 2000

Stars: Evelyn Hart, Peter Schaufuss
Other Stars: Martin James, Elizabeth Anderton, Johnny Eliasen
Director: Thomas Grimm

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:55m:51s
Release Date: December 26, 2000
UPC: 014381580921
Genre: classical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's classic ballet, Swan Lake, is considered one of the highlights of the dancer's craft. In particular, the extremely demanding dual role of Odette and Odile combines a requirement of incredible athleticism with phenomenal stamina, yet must appear effortless in order to carry off the necessary grace of the parts.

The story is based on an old folk tale. Prince Siegfried (Peter Schaufuss) is commanded by the Queen Mother (Elizabeth Anderton) to choose one of the noblewomen attending his birthday party as his wife. When none of them strikes his fancy, his friend Benno (Martin Johnson) takes him hunting. There they find a lake with swans, one of whom turns into the maiden Odette (Evelyn Hart). The sorceror Rothbert (Johnny Eliasen) has placed a curse on her and the other maidens, causing them to be swans during the day, but they revert to being women at night. Siegfried immediately falls in love and swears to be faithful to Odette, which can break Rothbert's spell. Upon Siegfried's return to the castle, the Queen is growing impatient. The noblewomen are brought forth again, but this time, a black knight (Eliasen, Rothbert in disguise) has a young woman, Odile (Hart) with him, and causes her to appear to be Odette, attempting to lure Siegfried to break his oath.

The production on this disc, by the London Festival Ballet, carries off the difficulties of the program with ease and character. Choreographed by Natalia Marakova (who also gives the narration before each act), based on the traditional choreography of Marius Petipa, this program is a delight to watch. The settings and costumes designed by Guenther Schneider-Siemssen are spectacular and suggestive at once; the black knight's costume is a terrifying variation on the Commendatore of Mozart's Don Giovanni (best known as the promotional image for Amadeus). Rothbert, seen only in back projections, has a stylized black swan costume which is equally disturbing. The palace sets with the swan candelabras are emotive as well, and the forest settings appropriately eerie and magical at once. The one quibble I have with the production is that part of the finale is lost in a haze of light effects, losing the well-known choreography, which will be a disappointment to those wanting to see how this production handles the old warhorse.

But in the end it is the dancing which must carry the day, and Evelyn Hart makes a wonderful Odette/Odile. Although to this reviewer she appears painfully thin, she has a nimbleness, flexibility and grace which permits her to carry off the role splendidly. Her difficult leaps, pirouettes and other figures seem completely effortless as does the seemingly endless point work. Even though she has an incredibly demanding part, Hart is more than up to the task. More than once, her rising leg is bent in a grand battement, making it appear that it will never straighten, but it does in a seamless and delicate gesture that is shiver-inducing. Her hand work is in particular endlessly graceful and pleasurable to watch. Peter Schaufuss is a stable contrast to Hart, but when given the opportunity also can display a good deal of energy. Together, they provide a thoroughly emotional performance which reduced the woman I was watching it with to tears.

The Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Graham Bond does a nice job of presenting Tchaikovsky's music, alternating the innocent with the horrific and bombastic. The ensemble work is quite serviceable and the balances between strings and winds are excellent. This orchestra makes this familiar music sound quite fresh, which is no mean feat.

This acclaimed production deserves its plaudits and will be a welcome addition to the collections of any fan of ballet or classical music.

Thanks to Nancy J. Malone for her invaluable assistance with this review.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Though shot on stage, this production was not filmed before a live audience, which gives the camera a good deal of flexibility. Large portions of the ballet are shot in an intentionally soft focus (especially when the swans are on stage). Other scenes provide at least a decent clarity. Color is good though a little subdued. Blacks are very good for a stage production.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The sound reproduction on both DD tracks is quite good indeed. Obviously, the 5.1 presentation has a wider soundstage and slightly more depth, but both are more than satisfactory. Bass extension is quite good, and the range of sound from the plaintive solo oboe with the swan theme to the thunderous crashes of cymbals and timpani during the climactic storm sequence are brought through without distortion, hiss or noise. The sound emanates from all speakers, giving one the feeling of being among the orchestra; while some will dislike this effect, it gives an immediacy to the music which I rather preferred over a front-stage only presentation.

The one feature of the sound which I found irritating (but my companion found interesting) was that oftentimes the thump of the leaping dancers descending to the stage was audible. This was a rather unusual and surprising sound to hear on disc, but it certainly lends a you-are-there presence to the proceedings. Between chapters 29 and 30, the sound of people talking backstage is plainly audible, which is definitely unacceptable. These oddities reduce the grade from what would otherwise be an A.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 39 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 36 cues and remote access
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than generous chaptering (and the chaptering on the case is incorrect; four acts are listed instead of two), there's nothing here at all. Not even music on the menu, which I've always found odd on a classical music disc.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A splendid production of the pinnacle of ballet, given a fine presentation here (although there are occasional distracting noises). Highly recommended.


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