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More Than Just Steps: Louise Nadeau and Other Swans

Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'Swan Lake'

by Dean Speer

April 11, 17 and 19 -- Seattle, Washington

Let’s get the fouetté question out of the way first – she did 27, okay?! Carrying a full-length ballet is so much more than just the individual steps or even discrete phrases. It’s shaping the course of an evening, artistically.

On the edge of retiring from dance performing, Louise Nadeau has been a vanguard of artistic betterment and is one who has that wonderful “je ne sais quois.” Her admitted approach is that of being in the moment, based on the superstructure of the music and choreography and undergirded with careful rehearsal and coaching and attention to detail.

This was true during this last outing as the dual Odette/Odile. Her Act III Odile was particularly phrased with punch, attack, and malevolent intent. Very strong. Her Acts II and IV Odette were limpid with a patina of sadness and melancholy. Sometimes she was perhaps a bit too careful, but carry the evening she did.

Choreographer Kent Stowell has shifted the dramatic focus to the Act IV pas de deux...more than a denouement. No happy ending, only the Odette and the hapless (and not very bright) Siegfried being doomed to their separate ways. She as the feathered minion of the wizard Rothbart and he condemned to a life with a bland princess as a future wife and a bland, putty-colored and predictable life.

Karel Cruz was making his debut as Siegfried. With tall, long legs, good technique, and solid partnering skills to boot, Nadeau and he might at first blush seem an unlikely pairing, but it worked very well. Staying in character, Cruz lifted Nadeau SO high on the overhead lifts, I know if I had been she, I would have “wooted” with delight. He was able to truly suspend her in several moments – such as the push up into attitude during the “Black Swan” pas de deux.

Perhaps it’s being from Cuba, but Cruz is not afraid to let his acting go full tilt with his dancing. You could see this so clearly in Act IV when he asks for Odette’s forgiveness [which she grants] and at the bringing down of the final curtain when Siegfried is left alone.

Yet probably the glory of the evening belonged to the corps de ballet – as demonstrated in the two “white” acts. Supremely together; at one in initiating phrases, seeming to breathe in unison, even 24 swans making relevé arabesques and holding the top of the rise together. I heard PNB’s technical director in a public talk say that he felt PNB’s corps de ballet to be the best in the world...and after this show, most would have to concur.

Nadeau is an artist of the first rank and her on stage presence will be sorely missed.

I was very honored and privileged to have attended PNB’s Teachers’ Seminar which coincided with their “Swan Lake” run, and so got to see more than one cast:

Friday Evening, 17 April 2009

Fouetté count: 28

Miranda Weese made her PNB debut in the dual lead role. I first saw her do this role on the now famous New York City Ballet PBS broadcast where she had to step in for an injured Darcey Kistler virtually at the last minute. Weese has excellent control, likes to use it, and deploys this control to great advantage. During the first intermission, while passing on a foyer staircase, we  chatted briefly with Peter Boal and he reported that she was “a nervous wreck.” I think this is part of her process of getting herself prepared for performing – a cathartic experience, getting her nerves and concerns out of the way so she can be calm and fully in control when needed. And come through very nicely she does.

Her Odette has an edge to it – flutters that suggest the faint hope of love and of freedom from a spell, tempered with a backdrop of imminent doom; the heartbreaking beauty of the score you can see so clearly. Her Odile was commanding and in service to her sorcerer father, von Rothbart. This is not someone with whom you want to have a date – she’d sell your kidneys to the higher bidder and smile while she’s at it.

Performing in not a lot of ballets during her PNB tenure, and certainly even more rarely in ones that truly demanded everything she has to give as an artist, Weese was finally given a meaty role that showed us why she was a star in New York and why she is a valued Principal here.

Sunday Evening, 19 April 2009

Fouetté count: 37

Kaori Nakamura is bred to do the canon of classic ballets. She’s one of those unique dancers whose background includes very traditional Russian-based ballet training in her native Japan and additional schooling in alternate techniques and styles at the School of American Ballet, where the godhead is Balanchine.

In observing her rehearse, it’s interesting to note that she, like me in years past, seems to prefer to rehearse critical parts facing the same geographic direction as the stage. While practicing the Act III Pas de deux fouettés, she was not facing the studio mirrors but facing North, as does the opera house stage. I’ve known of other performers who had this need...seeming to ground and center us, perhaps envisioning and “feeling” what it was going to be like when we actually got “there.”

And if this works for us like it works for Nakamura, then I’d advise everyone to give it a whirl, literally, as her turns, balances, and allegro steps were spot on. I don’t know how she personally feels about turns – fouettés, pirouettes and the like, never having asked her – but I get the sense that she enjoys them.

And in this ballet it’s important that Odile, in particular, dazzles the hapless prince, as this is the function of these steps. He’s hypnotized into thinking Odile is actually Odette thereby tripping the snare of the trap that’s been set.

Lest we get the impression that Nakamura is all bravura, her last act “apotheosis” with Lucien Postlewaite is more than worth the price of admission. Head thrust side and back as she’s swept into agitated bourées or a quick promenade in attitude.

Before we conclude, I must note that Postlewaite was excellent and very well matched as her partner. Very accomplished yet still young and upon the start of a major career, I’ve observed how he still pushes himself in class and rehearsal, and it’s easy to see how this work ethic pays off on the stage for him...and for us. His very character is the ethos by which I like to see PNB measured.

Three swans, three dance artists each with their own approach – and ultimately one, whole glorious product of what is perhaps classical ballet’s most iconic work. Right here in our own backyard at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

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