American Ballet Theatre

"Swan Lake"

Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, CA

February 16, 2002
By Basheva

The swan, the epitome of grace, Swan Lake, the quintessential ballet. As the swan's paddling feet are hidden beneath, so the ballerina's steely strength is also hidden and we see only the serene glide across the lake. But the serenity of this lake also hides the roils of a nether creature. Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie's new production premiered in May 2000 and brings closer to the surface the evil creature's stranglehold on the swan's curved grace. McKenzie does not waste a single moment of Tchaikovsky's wonderful music. What is usually the overture becomes a danced prologue in which we are introduced to the dual personas of Von Rothbart. As a nightmare monster he sees a lovely princess and after changing himself into his human duality he snatches and changes her to a swan. It is swiftly done and the story begins.

This production has some of the most sumptuous costumes and sets I have seen. No detail was overlooked. Full, many petty coated skirts, tassels, decorated boots, and truly lovely headpieces are seen throughout the four acts of the ballet. The sets, though grand and palatial, never descend into gaudy; they are lush but not overwrought. Sets, costumes, and lighting are wonderfully integrated and easily transport us into the fairy tale world of Swan Lake.

McKenzie has taken several of the male roles, Siegfried, Benno and the dual roles of Von Rothbart and enhanced their importance and opportunities to dance. The entire ballet therefore gains balance. Von Rothbart is the fulcrum upon which the story hinges. His ogre shape, danced by Ethan Brown, is as he truly is, but he moves easily into our world in his human shape danced by Carlos Molina. This concept lends interest and cohesion. It explains his existence and his ability to ensnare the princess and later enter the Queen's court.

The first act pas de trois with Benno, danced by Joaquin De Luz, Erica Cornejo and Maria Riccetto was quite superb. Joyful beats, light fulsome jumps together with their youthful panache, brought a ready smile and well deserved applause. But the denouement of the entire act is in the wonderful soulful solo done by Maxim Belotserkovsky as Siegfried. This solo generally happens as the prince travels to the lake to hunt. But McKenzie has changed it. He has Siegfried dance during the birthday festivities on the palace grounds while still surrounded by his friends and celebrants. As each man and woman turns toward one another and become a twosome, Siegfried is left alone in a crowd. So his dance is amongst them but not with them and this accentuates his loneliness. It naturally follows that he wishes to leave it all and divert his mood by hunting. I found this change added emphasis to that beautiful solo. It was an inspired choice. And, Belotserkovsky danced it well.

A pause between acts is used as an opportunity to utilize one of the most beautiful musical themes in all of ballet. Usually this sweeping, soaring melody is played as an overture for Act II, with no one dancing. McKenzie, however, wisely chose to use this theme to send Siegfried on his journey to the lake. Another inspired choice.

Much of the traditional shapes for the corps de ballet have been altered; no longer are there always strictly straight lines or perfect circles. This adds interest and an almost pleasant disorder. The dances for the big swans and for the cygnets remain intact. And, now we meet Irina Dvorovenko's Odette. Here is a strong, secure ballerina with easy quick and enduring balances - some quite breathtaking. She is an imperious Swan Queen. She doesn't melt, she swoops. While she does it all marvellously, it doesn't connect to a love story. Though her lines are long, her view is short. There is little eye contact between Odette and Siegfried. Can there be love with no visual stimulus? It's as though she is dancing with lowered eyelids, seeming never to raise them except to spot a turn or focus a balance. Odette can only connect to the audience through her connection to the prince, and in this viewer's opinion, it never happens. It foreshortens her otherwise beautiful dancing. I never got a feeling of her ethereality, her vulnerability. There was no mystery, no wonderment or surprise in her eyes. She almost seemed to demand Siegfried's promise instead of eliciting it.

In the third act amidst wonderfully detailed costuming and sets, Odile once again never really looks at, and therefore can't mesmerize, the prince. As Von Rothbart's human persona, Carlos Molina, oozed evil charm and attained dominance over the Queen and her court. If Siegfried didn't seem to know what to do with, or didn't want, the four princesses, Von Rothbart had no such problem. He soon had them dancing around him eager to do his will. I liked McKenzie's idea to have each princess bring a group of dancers representing different ethnic cultures. It made sense, gave them a reason to be there. Especially enjoyable were Sean Stewart and Ricardo Torres dancing the Neapolitan variation. The male contingent of American Ballet Theatre is looking great these days.

The Black Swan grand pas de deux was well done, albeit still lacking the essential connecting thread between the two principals. A firestorm of fouettés (though a falter at the finish) brought loud acclamation. Belotserkovsky was a bit less than I expected. What are often done as double cabrioles were kept to singles, and a landing or two included a bouncing arabesque leg, but on the whole it was clean and even.

McKenzie chose to have the lovers accept death and everlasting spiritual life rising before us as the sun came up over the lake. That rising sun was a nice touch - a new day. Altogether I enjoyed the several changes McKenzie has made. The story is clearer; there's more opportunity for the male dancers. The company is looking sharp and clean. This is a beautiful production. It was also good to see the emergence of different shapes, sizes and colors amongst the dancers.

David Lamarche conducted with a fine and sensitive hand, enhancing the dance at a number of places.


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Edited by Marie.

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