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Pennsylvania Ballet - 'Swan Lake'

Part III:  Final Bows and Fond Farewells

by Lori Ibay

June 9, 2004 -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Returning from a two-day break after their opening weekend performances of Christopher Wheeldon's new "Swan Lake," Pennsylvania Ballet picked up right where they left off. One might have surmised that the dancers could be a bit rusty after the adrenaline and momentum of their opening success had worn off, but instead the break seemed to have rejuvenated the company, who proved at Wednesday evening's performance that something as shiny and new as Wheeldon's ballet doesn't rust quickly.

Sure, there was the occasional loud squeaking of shoes, and the brass (who weren't quite as brash as they were on Friday and Saturday evening of the previous week) continued to have problems blending with the rest of the orchestra, conducted by Beatrice Jona Affron. But the men's corps soared majestically through their leaps and partnered with strong, high lifts in the opening scene, and the company's Ballet Master, Jeffrey Gribler was hilariously comical as the Tutor to Siegfried/Ballet Master of the company. Valerie Amiss, Jennifer Smith, and Edward Cieslak danced a solid pas de trois, with Cieslak's quick, easy transitions between the women and long, graceful lines standing out among the trio.

However, what struck me most in this performance was a larger focus on the dramatic moments that had been more subtle previously. In Act I, a hint of light fell on David Krensing, who lurked in the shadows as the dark wealthy patron, dramatically crossed behind the mirror, and emerged on the other side transformed into the crazed bald sorcerer Von Rothbart. At the start of Act III, Alexei Borovik, a sensitive Prince Siegfried, approached the mirror so gradually and deliberately that his own reflection blended with the image of the party-goers that could be seen on the other side of the translucent barrier.

In the final act, after Odette leaves and the walls of the studio close in, Borovik's dash through the back door of the studio and desperate reach to the sky was more effective in indicating that he had seen his Queen take to the skies. And as the dancers re-enter the studio, awakening Siegfried from his reverie before the curtain falls, Krensing returned for a last haunting appearance as the top-hatted Abonné in a flowing dark cloak, lurking in a doorway at the back of the room.

Taking the prize for attention to detail, however, was principal dancer Dede Barfield, who was absolutely stunning as Odette. Emotion dripped from her fingertips with every deliberate movement, and the essence of the Swan Queen seemed to emanate directly from her being and straight to the audience. In Acts II and IV, Barfield seemed to embellish the mime (as compared to Lorenzo and Ochoa's Odettes) – and she did so with remarkable clarity of expression. Simultaneously regal yet humble, elegant yet vulnerable, Barfield's interpretation of the role was simply glorious.

Borovik was an adoring Siegfried to Barfield's Odette, his partnering gracious and affectionate. Although next to his queen, Borovik's Siegfried seemed somewhat understated, his triumphant leaps and pirouettes in the Black Swan Pas de Deux matched his partner's confidence and steady, centered fouettes. The women's ensemble framed Barfield beautifully, looking like a smooth sea of swans, although you could hear them like an oncoming stampede, as the stage seemed to magnify the sounds of heavy steps and clattering pointe shoes.

The Cygnets, danced by Laura Bowman, Charity Eagens (nearly four months pregnant), Jessica Gattinella, and Abigail Mentzer were crisp and tidy, especially in their quick changements and high, uniform passés. In Act III, the lively Pas de Quatre was danced by Martha Chamberlain, Valerie Amiss, Edward Cieslak, and Neil Marshall; Tara Keating was smooth and slinky in the Russian solo; Heidi Cruz, Yosbel Delgado, and Jamar Goodman scorched the spicy Spanish Dance; Czardas Natalia Charova and Alexei Charov danced with heel-clicking, hand-clapping spirit; followed by Tamara Hadley with Jennifer Gall, Jessica Gattinella, Hawley Rowe, and Gabriella Yudenich in the Can-Can.

After the final performances of "Swan Lake" to close their 2003-2004 season, Pennsylvania Ballet will bid a fond farewell to Dede Barfield, after 20 years with the company. Joining Pennsylvania Ballet in 1984, Barfield was promoted to soloist in 1987 and became a principal in 1990. Also retiring are corps member Natalia Charova, after 6 years with PAB, and soloist Edward Cieslak, who has danced with PAB for 11 years.

Edited by Jeff.

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