In A Flap Over It
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Swan Lake”
Saturday Evening, April 13, 2013
by Dean Speer
“Swan Lake” is nothing if not a monumental ballet. There is a common misconception among the general populace that every ballet company has always done a version of this iconic work – much in the way that symphonic works are perpetuated by orchestras.
The actual reality and history tells a different story and when Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Swan Lake” first appeared in 1981, PNB was the only North American company, outside of American Ballet Theatre, to have presented all four acts. Prior to this, the various Ballets Russes, San Francisco Ballet, Pavlova’s own company, and others presented their own version of primarily the well-known white ballet portion of Act II. Another misconception is that the “Dying Swan” solo is from “Swan Lake” when it’s actually a separate solo premiered for Pavlova with choreography by Fokine.
There were some local rubes who nay-sayed the ability of PNB to not only put on a full-length “Swan Lake” in 1981 but to pull it off successfully. I recall Francia Russell commenting that they’d already done more difficult ballets, but I think in the public’s eye, this was a principal measure of PNB having “arrived.”
And arrive it did – from its opening night with guest artist Gelsey Kirkland to today, I’ve been a mostly silent but enthusiastic observer and am thrilled to report that the re-envisioned production of 2003 [new sets, costumes, and lighting] more than holds its own – it is a world-class production executed by a team of dancers that have depth technically and artistically, supported by a cadre of talented and dedicated staff and its own orchestra that undergirds and carries along PNB’s artistic vision, realized in the “Swan Lake” of Saturday night with a senior cast of principal dancers, led by Kaori Nakamura and Seth Orza, whose Odette/Odile and Siegfried were balletic perfection.
As an acquaintance put it so well – the named characters did what they were supposed to do and met our expectations but the real star of the show was the superb ensemble work of the corps de ballet. Together, moving as one, they really provided the textural backdrop and context that “made” the ballet complete. Their seemingly effortless discipline and how their movement flowed, with each grouping making just the right kaleidoscope of dancing poignant pictures.
As I like to coach my own students, the job of a good performer is first and foremost to relax the audience, because if they’re at all nervous for you, the communication barrier tends to go up and they stop looking fully at the choreography or listening to the music. Whenever Nakamura and Orza are on stage – remarkably well paired – we know we are going to be in for a good time. Orza has strong presence, technique, a calm demeanor and assured partnering; Nakamura has an assured and commanding technique and acting confidence. Nakamura knocked off an easy 31 fouetteés, concluding in a rélevé sous-sus– for those who want to know.
Notable and noteworthy was the Act I Pas de trois of Benjamin Griffiths partnering Leta Biasucci and Liora Neuville in Petipa’s choreographic genius miniature, effused with buoyant steps and exuding great charm. Griffiths’ line and clarity – in his tour jeté for example, are textbook clean and sharp and the ladies are equally sharp.
Character dancing is the third leg of the ballet milking stool and Act III gives us much pleasure with a slow, stretchy then snappy Czardas led by Margaret Mullin and Kiyon Gaines, a Spanish Dance with Chelsea Adomaitis, Steven Loch, Elizabeth Murphy, and Eric Hipolito, Jr.. These were followed by the lively dancing of Rachel Foster and Mr. Griffiths in a Neapolitan Dance, concluding with a soulful Persian Dance executed by the long expressive stems of Laura Gilbreath.
We all know how it turns out – the story line presents no surprises and Act IV presents a denouement of sorts – how Odette very poignantly forgives the prince but acknowledges the sad consequences of his actions as each are “doomed” to live on but separately – she as the half-time swan and he condemned to what will probably be a life of politics and castle intrigues but without that deep life-love.
The might PNB Orchestra was led under the watchful eye and ear of conductor Emil de Cou.
As I frequently like to remind everyone within cyber earshot – we are so fortunate to have a ballet company of PNB’s strength and caliber right here in our own backyard.