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American Ballet Theatre

'Swan Lake'

by Kate Snedeker

June 19 & 21, 2003, 8pm -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

One of the most beloved full-length ballets, Swan Lake, is the story of a princess transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer, and the prince whose love has the power to set her free. It’s a story that explores the struggle of good versus evil, starkly represented by the white-clad princess, Odette, and the black-clad sorcerer’s daughter, Odile. Kevin McKenzie’s production of Swan Lake for American Ballet Theatre embraces the original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, maintaining the elaborate mime sequences and keeping the focus of the dancing on the swans and Odette/Odile. With lush sets and costumes by Zack Brown, McKenzie’s Swan Lake is graceful and elegant on the surface. Yet, there are underlying problems in the staging, choreography and costuming that rob this production of some of its potential power.

During the first week of Swan Lake of American Ballet Theatre’s 2003 Met Season, performances by two different casts were notable for superb dancing in principal roles. On Thursday night, Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreno, as Odette-Odile and Prince Siegfried, were a dignified couple. Carreno, with his clean, elegant dancing and clear mime, was a gracious and relatively mild-mannered, though certainly not unemotional, prince. This interpretation was well suited to McKenzie’s production, as the prince should be a sympathetic character so that there is joy in seeing the two lovers reunited in heaven. Kent was stunningly swan-like, her long arms quivering in the air like wings and every step delicately flowing into the next as if she was floating across the surface of a lake. As Odile, she switched to a more powerful persona, her dancing still fluid in motion, but much more emphatic and seductive. After an impressive start, Kent seemed to fade at the end of the Black Swan Pas de Deux. Carreno’s turns en seconde were beautifully executed, and his partnering excellent.

Gillian Murphy and Angel Corella, both known for their extraordinary spinning abilities, were well-matched in the leading roles on Saturday night. Corella always appears to completely immerse himself in each role, so it was no surprise that his Siegfried was a very passionate prince, obviously distressed by the idea of impending marriage, and easily enraptured by Odette’s beauty and Odile’s seductive powers. Murphy was a more earthly Odette, notable for her quick, crisp footwork and solid port de bras. Her Odile was powerfully seductive and full of evil charm. Together, Corella and Murphy combined for a spiningly spectacular Black Swan Pas de Deux, with Murphy liberally sprinkling in triples (quadruples) into her fast fouettes and Corella drawing out his pirouette sequence to a gasp-inducing number of rotations.

On Thursday, Herman Cornejo, Erica Cornejo and Xiomara Reyes were stellar in the pas de trois. In Benno’s solo, Cornejo drew gasps of awe with his breathtakingly high double cabrioles and a grand jete in attitude that seemed like it would propel him off the stage. In her solo, Reyes speeded through crisp pique turns and pirouettes. The much taller David Hallberg was also impressive as Benno on Saturday night, soaring elegantly in the jetes, his every move wonderfully finished. His dancing is limited only by the room he has to dance, for his long limbs propel him great distances across the stage.

Brian Reeder and Sascha Radetsky shared the role of Von Rothbart on Thursday night, with Reeder the green winged creature and Radetsky, the suave, purple-clad nobleman. The green creature, which seems to have stepped out of a science fiction movie, looks out of place in Zack Brown’s lush, elegant sets and does not seem to have much relation to the human Von Rothbart. The great height difference between Reeder and Radetsky made the connection between the two Von Rothbarts even more unbelievable. Radetsky’s short physique -- the princesses all towered over him on pointe -- and surprisingly underpowered dancing made him a rather ineffective Von Rothbart. A much more menacing and convincing Von Rothbart, the tall Ricard Torres was very impressive in his solo. He was also better matched with his creature Von Rothbart, Ethan Brown, but Brown’s elaborate costume came back to haunt him when his hand became hooked on Corella’s tunic in the last scene. The resulting clinch took more than few pained moments to untangle and distracted from the remaining action.

In Act III, the problems with McKenzie’s staging become apparent. The already narrow Met stage is further reduced in width by a decorated “frame,” rendering one side of the stage, including the throne, invisible to part of the audience. McKenzie also places some his dancers at the front of the stage during the entrances of the divertissement dancers, blocking yet more of the audience’s view. The divertissements in Act III can be an opportunity to show of the talents within a company, but with the elaborate, fabric-heavy costumes, McKenzie’s choreographic choices are limited. Thus, though well danced, the Czardas, Spanish Dance and Mazurka seemed restrained and fell short of their potential power. The Neapolitan Dance was excellently performed, especially by Joaquin DeLuz and Danny Tidwell on Saturday night, but there were obvious problems in the timing between the dancers on both nights.

T he performance by the female corps de ballet was uneven, especially on Saturday night. The Act II and Act IV variations by the female corps are among the most recognizable and memorable sections of the ballet and thus, an uneven performance can rob the ballet of much of its power. While the lines were generally straight and the individual dancing solid, as a whole the corps was sometimes scattered and out of synch, with a great variety of hand and head positions. The cygnet pas de quatre was crisp and secure on Thursday, but two days later appeared more strained and lacking in energy. Both casts of lead swans were jarringly mismatched, with the dramatic differences in body type overwhelming the excellent dancing.

On Thursday, the corps was much improved in the final act, but on Saturday the continuing problems were exacerbated by the ABT orchestra’s distressingly poor performance. Errors in playing were so obvious as to detract from the on-stage performance, something that is not fair to either the dancers or the audience. Corella and Murphy are to be applauded for maintaining their composure and high level of technique through a final act that included poor music, a loud crash from something falling backstage and the entanglement of Corella’s and Ethan Brown’s costumes.

Ormsby Wilkins conducted on Thursday, and David LaMarche on Saturday. The lighting was by Duane Schuler.


Another Perspective by Mary Ellen Hunt

A look at American Ballet Theatre’s three-year old "Swan Lake" confirms that the world doesn’t really need any more "fresh" productions of this classical warhorse. What we do need is more stars like Angel Corella, who danced the role of Prince Siegfried on Saturday night, breathing life and vibrancy into ballet.

Choreographer Kevin McKenzie has assembled the right pieces for a solid version of this boy-meets-swan, boy-loses-swan tale. Luxurious costumes and stately sets by Zack Brown set a grand 19th century atmosphere and McKenzie has restored a few sections of music usually cut from Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s score.

But largely uninspired choreography -- particularly for the corps de ballet in the second act -- gaps in dramatic logic, and dancers who look as though they’ve received no dramatic direction at all, muddy an already implausible story. Why, for instance, if the princesses in Act III are vying for Siegfried’s affections, do they each arrive on the arm of a handsome cavalier? The princesses spend more time gazing at their partners than they do at Siegfried.

Gillian Murphy, who also doesn’t look much at Siegfried, indisputably possesses the technical chops for the dual role of the Swan Queen Odette and her evil double Odile. Her fouettés in the Black Swan pas de deux feature dazzling triple turns. However, she has yet to find any special interpretive qualities to distinguish her characterization of either Odette or Odile.

By contrast, Corella uses his prodigious technique to serve the storytelling. In his third act solo, for example, he throws his arms into the air in a double air turn in a manner that suggests his elation. Soft, plush landings from his jumps during the first act convey an easy nobility, but also reflect the musical mood of melancholy. Always the prince in his bearing, and touchingly solicitous of his partner at all times, even in the bows, Corella made this a show worth watching.

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