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American Ballet Theatre - 'Swan Lake'

by Harry Matthews

July 1, 2005 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

ABT is very conscious of its responsibilities as a conservator of ballet history, as it explicitly demonstrated at Friday’s performance of “Swan Lake.” Who should appear in the mime role of “Wolfgang, tutor to the prince” than living legend Frederic Franklin. It was immediately clear that the ageless master (he’s pushing 91) had been a tutor to the entire company, which danced with the technical precision and weightless elegance that characterize the classic Maryinsky style, which Franklin, Danilova, and their Ballets Russes colleagues brought to the West.

The adherence to classical style is quite appropriate to this production, first seen in 2000, which hews closely to traditional lines. When it comes to the most famous ballet in the world, this is a sound artistic strategy. There are a few minor interpolations, like a gratuitous “prelude” and double-casting Rothbart as a bizarre giant toad and a mustachioed villain. But Kevin McKenzie has tried his best to re-create the world of Old St. Petersburg. The banal sets and costumes by Zack Brown, however, and the painfully slow tempi taken by conductor Charles Barker, reminded me of the bad old days of dreary, more routine Swan Lakes.

Fortunately, the rest of the performance more than compensated. In the first act, Xiomara Reyes, Yuriko Kariiya, and Herman Cornejo gave a dazzling reading to the pas de trios, an exquisite demonstration of effortless virtuosity. Marcelo Gomes was commanding as the more mobile version of Rothbart, and the ethnic dances of the Third Act were dispatched with panache.

And the leading roles? Gillian Murphy was a tender, beautifully poised Odette. Her buttery line, gorgeous port de bras, and splendid technique have made her both a star and an ideal Odette. As Odile, she made a point of adding brass, punching up the moves, and completing all of those famous fouettés. (Earlier in her career, Murphy was accused of a lack of stamina.) Her Siegfried was José Manuel Carreño, every inch the danseur noble. He dispatched his variations with glorious insouciance, and partnered Murphy with flawless technique. However, there was precious little chemistry between the two, and the performance lacked an emotional core.

I found it a satisfying performance, on the grounds that no one has ever seen the perfect “Swan Lake” and this one offered many pleasures. The tourist-heavy crowd, however, leaped to its feet and cheered as if it had just seen the second coming. I will ride THAT hobby horse elsewhere!

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