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Pennsylvania Ballet

'Swan Lake'

by Sigrid Payne DaVeiga

October 1, 2005, 8pm -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Ballet’s performance of “Swan Lake” on Saturday evening was rather disappointing.  The cast’s depiction of this now world-renowned production indicated that they may have performed this ballet too many times, or at least too many times on the same weekend.

The ballet opened with the beautiful backdrop of a ballet studio with shadows of light on the wall, like sunshine through an open window.  The corps ballerinas entered and were frozen in various postures capturing the ballerinas of Edgar Degas’ paintings.  The rehearsal scene in Act I was executed precisely by the corps; their costumes were pretty and elegant but did not distract from the choreography and technique.

Jermel Johnson’s solo in the Pas de Trois was extremely precise with seamless transitions.  His power as a dancer was clear in this piece.  His jumps were high, graceful and strong yet seemingly effortless.

The interactions between the dancers and the wealthy patron were rather sterile in Act I; their meaning likely lost on an audience that may or may not have a sophisticated knowledge of the culture of dance.  Zachary Hench’s Siegfried lacked the capacity to draw the audience into his disapproval of the patron’s influence on the ballet studio.  Some of the best storytelling in this performance of “Swan Lake” occurred between the Ballet Master and the “injured dancer” in this rehearsal scene.  This interaction truly captured the image of the ballerina as a working person as Wheeldon likely intended.

Acts I and II seemed to last forever and the story of “Swan Lake” was lost before Alexei Charov’s Von Rothbart even appeared.  Once the dancers left the studio and Siegfried returned alone, the audience could clearly make out a mysterious figure behind the large mirror in the ballet studio; unfortunately, this figure had nothing to do with the story and was likely a stage crew member.  Charov’s Von Rothbart was appropriately dark and mysterious and still had the potential to draw the audience into this classic tale, if not for the inability of the other principal dancers to do the same.

Although technically precise, Riolama Lorenzo’s Odette lacked the passion and fragility that typically beguiles the audience and defines this timeless character.  When she and Siegfried are supposed to be falling in love in Act II, her movements are frantic and stressed.  Her feet and legs capture the technique of this character’s choreography, but her arms are not smooth and lack the soft appearance of truer portrayals of Odette.

Lorenzo and Hench’s first pas de deux was well controlled and they did dance well together.  Lorenzo’s Odile in Act III was more believable than her Odette.  When she fell out of the last of her twenty-nine pirouettes, though, one had to wonder if her mind and heart were somewhere else on the night of this performance. When Hench danced alone in this Act, he demonstrated his true strength and prowess.  He attained great height on each jump and landed with a matched precision.

The first time the audience saw the actual swans in Act II, the corps seemed unable to create lines that were symmetrical or even made sense. The corps’s arms, also, had too much variability; few of the corps’s arms were consistent with what defined Petipa’s swans.

There was an addition to the swans’ costumes, also: a piece of dark green fabric that lay around their shoulders.  This addition distracted from the white of the swan costume and gave an impression of weight on the dancers’ arms. These factors, coupled with the noise of their pointe shoes and the sound of their skirts swishing past each other made the initial presentation of the swans difficult to follow.  Notably, Heidi Cruz’s arms were quite graceful and moved in swan-like shapes.

The entrance of Von Rothbart’s troupe of cabaret dancers in Act III titillated the audience, in a manner reminiscent of the Moulin Rouge.  Amy Aldridge’s Russian was true to form, sensual yet playful.   The most unfortunate performance of the evening, though, was delivered by the Can-Can dancers.  This group always has enormous potential for capturing the audience; on this evening however, the delivery was anticlimactic.  The group was not in unison and their presentation of the variation was quite sloppy and disappointing.

The ballet closed with the usual dramatic movement back into the ballet studio where Siegfried wakes to find this was all a dream.  The final performance by the corps was drastically improved from Act II and Odette and Siegfried had more of a connection than in their first dances together.  Even as Odette left the stage in her final moments, though, there was still a clear emotional detachment from this story of unrequited love.  One can only hope that this cast and others can continue to capture the emotional depth of “Swan Lake” in its final productions this season for Pennsylvania Ballet.

 

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