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American Ballet Theatre

'Swan Lake'

by Colleen Boresta

June 27, 2012 (m) -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, NY

I have seen “Swan Lake” live close to 40 times in my 30 plus years of attending the ballet. My non-balletomane friends are amazed at this fact. How can I see the same work over and over? Isn’t it always the same? Don’t I get bored hearing Tchaikovsky’s music so many times? The answer to all these questions is no. Every new cast in “Swan Lake” makes for a whole new ballet. The June 27th matinee of American Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake” was especially exciting, since it features the debuts of soloists Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkin as Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried.

“Swan Lake” is the story of Odette, a princess who is turned into a swan by the evil magician, von Rothbart. She is forced to live as a swan by day and can only be human at night. The only way Odette can become a young woman again is if a man who has never loved before swears his eternal love to her. Prince Siegfried meets the Swan Queen while hunting and falls in love with her. Siegfried swears his undying love to Odette. At the Prince’s 21st birthday ball Odile arrives.
She is von Rothbart’s daughter and her father’s magic makes her look exactly like Odette. Odile seduces Siegfried into declaring his everlasting love to her. Odette, knowing she can never become human again, breaks von Rothbart’s power by throwing herself into Swan Lake. Siegfried dives into the lake after her and Odette and Siegfried are reunited in the next world.

American Ballet Theatre’s current production of “Swan Lake” is staged by Artistic Director, Kevin McKenzie, after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. This version of “Swan Lake” has several serious weaknesses. There are two dancers playing the role of von Rothbart, one handsome, the other made up to look like a monster. The ballet begins with a prologue showing the two von Rothbarts turning Odette into a swan. Seeing Odette as a young princess at the start of the ballet takes away much of the mystery of Odette’s entrance as the Swan Queen in Act II. The sight of the ugly von Rothbart squeezing a toy swan (after Odette’s transformation has taken place) is just ridiculous.

Other flaws include the seductive von Rothbart getting his own solo in Act III. This solo makes no sense dramatically and leaves the audience wishing it would end so the Black Swan pas de deux can begin. The most serious flaw in McKenzie’s “Swan Lake”, however, is that so much of Act IV has been deleted. Without a more complete last act, much of Odette’s sorrow and Siegfried’s devastation at his betrayal of Odette is lost.

Due to the performances of ABT’s wonderful dancers, especially the two young soloists performing the leads, “Swan Lake” still works its magic. Isabella Boylston is a marvelous Odette, with beautiful footwork and complete control of all her movements. She does need to work on the flexibility of her upper body, especially her arms. As Odile Boylston is thrilling, whipping off very secure fouettes including several doubles.

Daniil Simkin (Prince Siegfried) is a slight young man who is the same height as Boylston before she goes on pointe. He partners her very well, though I heard several audience members remark that Boylston is such a strong ballerina that she can basically partner herself. Simkin’s solo work is very exciting, rich with spinning pirouettes and amazingly high leaps with super soft landings. Simkin’s baby-face looks work well with his characterization of Prince Siegfried. He is an impetuous young man who falls totally in love with the Odette, then allows himself to be thoroughly seduced by Odile at the ball. When Siegfried realizes he has betrayed Odette, his devastation is heartbreaking.

Other dancers stand out too. Jared Matthews is not in the same league as Marcello Gomes, but he is a sexily evil handsome von Rothbart. Matthews dances his solo at the ball with ease and precision. Joseph Gorak, Christina Shevchenko and Devon Teuscher perform the best Act I pas de trois I have seen in years. Gorak is a Prince Siegfried in the making, with incredible elevation and a beautiful line. Both Shevchenko and Teuscher have sparkling footwork and dance with crisp musicality. The four cygnets (Maria Riccetto, Cassandra Trenary, Sarah Lane and Yuriko Kajiya) perform in perfect sync with the music and each other.

Tchaikovsky’s transcendent score is wonderfully played. Unlike last year’s “Swan Lake”, the violinist performs the lakeside solo faultlessly.

In spite of the flaws, it was an unforgettable afternoon at the ballet. I hope to see both Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkin shine in many ABT productions for years to come.

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