PostHeaderIcon Swan Lake Shows True ABT

Swan Lake - Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes_ Photo by Gene SchiavoneWhen I returned last Sunday to see “Swan Lake”, I was no longer in America but Tsarist Russia. The opening night performance, however fine, had merely been the crowd-pleasing appetizer portion. As soon as the curtain rose on “Swan Lake”, I immediately knew that this staple of the ballet world was the main entrée. And, keeping the dining metaphor, the performance was a delectable four-star feast.

ABT’s engagement here was an appetizer in another sense as well since the company will open its annual 6-week residency at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in late May. During its stay at The Met, ABT will perform its signature story ballets—Swan Lake, Romeo & Juliet, La Bayadere—in rotation with the All-American selections and tributes to other choreographers.

I must confess that I didn’t expect to enjoy “Swan Lake” as much as I did. My dance viewing has consisted mainly of going to see modern dance company performances featuring three or four selections. Could I be as captivated by a two-hour single work? Well yes, I discovered, proving it’s not a classic for nothing (“Swan Lake” premiered in March, 1877. The Petipa/Ivanov version had its first full-length production in January, 1895 and ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie’s updating debuted at the Kennedy Center in March, 2000). I just let the whole dreamy story unfold and felt a long-lost sense of enchantment roll over me.

The ballet opens at Prince Siegfried’s “coming of age” birthday party (Was that 16, 18 or 21 in those fairy-tale days?). The royal court set and the sumptuous costumes evoked the right ambiance of luxury, beauty and splendor that was carried through the evening, particularly in the Great Ball scenery of Act III.

ABT’s principal dancers in the lead roles of Prince Siegfried, Princess Odette and Odile and Rothbart, the evil sorcerer, all gave technically winning performances.  At the performance I attended, the Prince was danced by Marcelo Gomes and Odette was played by Veronika Part.  This final Chicago performance held a fascinating twist.

Ms. Part was to dance the role of both Princesses as usual. Yet, she gave way to Gillian Murphy as Odile in Act III and IV. Ms. Part may have been overly tired after performing the dual parts the previous night. This created an unintended competition of choosing the stronger portrayal. For me, the winner was Ms. Murphy. Each time she stepped on stage, she brought a greater sense of electricity to the choreography and the audience accorded her a rousing ovation at the end.

If you are in New York between May 27 and July 10, make a date to catch this timeless fairy tale and at least another program in ABT’s extensive dance stable.

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