Friday, March 11, 2005

American Ballet Theatre's 'Swan Lake' (Playhouse Square Center)

Americam Ballet Theatre pereforms 'SWAN LAKE' at State Theatre

‘SWAN LAKE,’ now on stage at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre, is among the most revered of classical ballets. Interestingly, the score and balletic components did not appear in a blaze of glory. Early recorded critical comments called the choreography “weak in the extreme” and “is this not torture?” The music was credited with being ‘undanceable’.

Even the exact origins of the ballet are uncertain. What has been gleaned reveals that ‘SWAN LAKE’ was Tchaikovsky’s first attempt at a composition for the art form. He was commissioned by the Russian Imperial Theatre in Moscow to write the score in 1875 for the sum of 800 rubles.

It is also known that the ‘SWAN LAKE’ most balletophiles have seen is not that which was originally performed. For example, The Petipa/Ivanov version of the ballet, which is considered the "standard" for its staging, was not created until after Tchaikovsky’s death. And, even many traditional features of the choreography, such as the beautiful White Swan pas de deux, are revisions of the Petipa/Ivanov version.

The story itself is of a prince finding his true love in the forest, finding out that she is cursed to remain a swan until a virginal prince saves her, how seduction and fate makes it impossible for the prince to break the spell, which leads to the lovers self-imposed death.

The swan connection centers on many legends about women who are turned into birds. The graceful swan was particularly favored as it is considered womanhood at its purest.

Tchaikovsky was not alone in picking a legend as the basis for his creation. According to modern psychologists the popularity of “love gone astray” legends may be based on the concept that when we are not loved as we need to be loved, we often survive the deprivation through fantasy, our own making or perhaps a more universal fantasy we share with other persons searching for acceptance and love. Tchaikovsky's "SWAN LAKE" fits this theory through a story of love searched for, love unrequited, and love's redeeming power.

The version of ‘SWAN LAKE’ being performed by ABT is that of its Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie based on the work of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. McKenzie’s conception incorporates much walking, posing and posturing encased in grandeur. It does not have the creativity or psychological impact of Matthew Bourne’s recent Broadway production, but it does satisfy those interested in seeing a “close to the original” version.

This is a stunning production. The costumes, the sets and the special effects are grandiose, all the way from the Monet-like lake scene on the front curtain, to the sun rising at the end of the production.

The first and second acts dragged. Though proficiently performed, the initial segments lacked passion and spark. But the orchestra and the company seemed to adopt to the stage and the third and fourth acts were excellent.

Julie Kent as Odette-Odile, the swan, after a less than inspired start, blossomed. She has wonderful body control, her point is strong, her fluttering swan-like moves accented her long, thin body. The only missing factor was facial expression to help us feel her angst, and the final frustration that led to her leap to death.

Jose Manuel Carreno failed to convey any true feelings as Prince Siegried. He spends too much time posing and posturing and feigning emotion. There were no signs of emotional connection between the Prince and Odette. He is handsome and a proficient dancer, but lacks the extra quality to make him a great dancer. In fact, he was outshone by Herman Cornejo portraying Benno, the prince’s friend. Cornejo’s leaps, which carried him well above the stage floor and his rapid flying leaps, were much superior to Carreno’s. Cornejo showed emotional involvement and joy in his dancing, traits missing from Carreno.

The Pas de Trois danced by Erica Cornejo, Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo was charming. The Act III dances of nations was a show highlight. Especially strong were the Czardas and the duet of Carlos Lopez and Craig Salstein.

Jesus Pastor was properly sensual and evil as von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer.

Note: The lead dancers in the various productions will change, so Kent and Carreno may not be the principles seen at other stagings.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: After a slow start on opening night the ABT staging of ‘SWAN LAKE’ proved why the company has its strong reputation. For those who are uninitiated in the ballet this is a good production to cut your eye teeth on. For the seasoned ballet attender it gives the opportunity to see a modification of the Petipa/Ivanov choreography.