New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
May 2, 2003
On Friday night, Peter Martins’ Swan Lake returned to the New York City Ballet repertory in a powerful and passionate performance, led by Wendy Whelan and Damian Woetzel. Martins’ production, based on Balanchine, Ivanov and Petipa’s versions of the classic tragedy, is a pared down version, with much of the mime excised. Without the long passages of mime, the production has a refreshing simplicity, and is well suited to the strength of the NYCB dancers-pure dance. Yet, the simplicity of Per Kirkeby’s abstract sets and costumes leave something to be desired, especially in the jarring shift from the simple, brightly colored costumes in the first act to the ornate, out of place Elizabethan costumes of the second act. However, when danced with such energy and beauty as it was on Friday, this Swan Lake more than overcomes the limitations of its set.
The superb dancing in the first act hinted at what was yet to come. Tom Gold’s jester was gleefully impish, entertaining with his airy leaps and speedy turns, playful with the children and not above wheedling an extra glass or two of drink from the courtiers. As Benno, Sebastian Marcovici handled the tricky solo with impressive ease and power, and was notable for his secure landings from tours down to the knee. Janie Taylor and Abi Stafford, his partners in the pas de trois, were both crisp and powerful in their dancing, Stafford with a endearing youthfulness, and Taylor with breathtaking abandon. The well rehearsed corps danced with enthusiasm, with Seth Orza, Ask laCour, Kyle Froman and Jonathan Stafford, in particular, standing out. The young children from the School of American Ballet were utterly delightful, with nary a wrong step in the intricate drinking dance, involving both students and corps. Siegfried has little dancing in the first scene, but Woetzel’s brief solo demonstrated that he has indeed recovered from the injury that kept him out for most of the winter season. A powerful dancer, Woetzel’s dancing was crisp, but lyrical and flowing. He continues to impress with his incredible spinning abilities, his double tours rotated with impressive ease.
The evening however really belonged to Wendy Whelan, who was simply exquisite, her dancing as smooth as silk, mixing commanding power and fluid delicacy, her arms seemingly jointless as they fluttered in the air. In her initial solo, despite an overly ambitious tempo set by Andrea Quinn that forced Whelan to be more frenetic than fluttery, she appeared utterly unruffled. Spectacular in the final ultra-quick series of steps (entrechats?) that were perfectly timed to Tchaikovsky's driving music, Whelan’s dancing was only enhanced by her smooth, confident partnership with Woetzel. Whelan and Woetzel have danced together many times, and this experience was clearly illustrated in the polished, nuanced, near flawless quality of their pas de deuxs.
Whelan’s bevy of swans supported her with aplomb, looking encouragingly well rehearsed and dancing as a cohesive group. Arms were fluid and uniform, and patterns organized, if not rigidly straight. Much credit should go to this corps, not often faced with the long lines and large group work of ballets like Swan Lake. Carrie Lee Riggins, Amanda Edge, Melissa Barak and Elizabeth Walker, as the four cygnets, were notable for their breezy speed and crispness. Cool chicks these baby swans were!
The level of Whelan and Woetzel’s dancing only increased in the black swan pas de deux, the centerpiece of the second act. Whelan let her true power seep through in her seductive solo, cranking out 28 evenly timed fouettes, and an impressive ménage of turns on point. In the coda, Woetzel’s sequence of turns in second was stunning not only for it’s distinctive change of tempo and perfectly centered rotations, but also for the impeccable extension and unwavering, horizontal position of his working leg, and controlled finished in passé. Woetzel was also notable in the double tours finishing in grand plie in fifth, with tightly and easily rotated tours and soft, controlled plies.
Some of the second act divertissements had some rough edges, but all were danced with energy and enthusiasm. Of particular joy, was the return of Nikolaj Hubbe from a serious knee injury, who danced a solid, quirky Russian Dance with Yvonne Hubbe. In the pas de quatre, led by Philip Neal, Alexandra Ansanelli made an early debut, replacing Jennifer Ringer in the principal solo. Ansanelli was good, but she fell off of point once, and slid into her final pose. Jennie Somogyi and Pascale van Kipnis were a bit more polished, and the finale included a series of perfectly synchronized fouettes from the three women. Antonio Carmena, partnered by Amanda Edge, was enthusiastic in his debut in the Neapolitan dance. The Spanish and Hungarian dances were both well performed, with Rachel Rutherford & Jason Fowler a powerful lead Russian Couple, and Aesha Ash, Ellen Bar, Stephen Hanna and Amar Ramasar all worth noting in the Spanish dance.
In the final scene, Whelan evoked powerful emotions as her Odette was torn from Siegfried by his pledge to Odile. She desperately tried to save him from James Fayette’s sinister, mysterious Von Rotbart, despite his betrayal of her love. The final image of Woetzel on his knees, his back acutely arched back in agony and grief was a moving end to a wonderful night.