In 1895 Lev Ivanov and Maurius Petipa brought a new version of “Swan Lake” to the Bolshoi Ballet and that production remained the classical standard until 1995 when Kent Stowell and Francia Russell revised and updated it for The Frankfurt Ballet. In 2003 they again brought new insight to this gem of the dance world when they remounted it for Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). It was this glorious production that streamed this past weekend May 12th through the 16th and which I was lucky enough to see. Sumptuously produced this is a fairy tale come to life.
The opening strains of the orchestra reminds us that the iconic score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky will guide us through the story with clear intent and indelible melodies. The Pacific Northwest Orchestra conducted by Emil de Cou is up to the task playing with nuance and verve, supporting the action and the dancers.
Act One opens on a party in the palace gardens for Prince Siegfried’s birthday. Tall columns surrounded by huge leafless trees makes it clear we are in a garden while also giving us a sense of endless space and time. It’s as if we are watching a dream come to life and this “sense” holds true throughout. The gifted Ming Cho Lee created the Set Design. Not to be upstaged, the Costume Design by Paul Tazewell is exceptional. Each dancer is resplendent in their party clothes. The color schemes are eye-catching and there is a feeling that no expense was spared.
The choreography within the party is light hearted and gay and very well executed by the company dancers. The story is well told and soon it becomes clear that the Queen, Louise Nadeau, has organized this party to find Siegfried a wife. Siegfried as danced by James Kirby Rogers is elegant and princely. His line is precise and he carries the role perfectly. The six eligible princesses dance beautifully in their spring hued dresses but none are to Siegfried’s liking and the party comes to an end with Siegfried and his friends leaving to go hunting in the forest.
Act Two brings us Odette. Trapped by evil sorcerer, Baron von Rothbart, Odette must live her life as a swan awaiting an oath of undying love to escape her fate. Siegfried spies her while hunting and they fall deeply in love. In the dual role of Odette and Odile ballerina Lesley Rausch, brings her sensitivity and delicacy to Odette and later her flirtatious sassiness to Odile. Rausch is a lovely dancer who ably brings her characters to life with her superb acting skill. Rausch and Rogers have the necessary chemistry to maintain the love story. They work beautifully together and when accompanied by the forlornly romantic theme we are transported.
The exceptional swan Corp de Ballet must be mentioned for their tremendous precision while still capturing the quaking wings and fluttering hands of the swan choreography. The staging here is mostly true to the original Ivanov and Petipa work which easily stands the test of time. The adagio has been updated to its benefit. Tazewell has costumed the swans in the customary tutus but has added blue highlights and sequins so that the darkened stage glitters above the foggy forest floor. With expert lighting by Randall G. Chiareli, the palace garden set now looks like a menacing night forest with a full moon hovering above.
Act Three brings us to the magnificent grand palace ballroom with its high windows and dominating chandelier. The opulent costumes dazzle as the guests arrive. The Jester, danced by Kuu Saguragi steals every scene he’s in with his exuberance, technical skill and whimsical humor. The full company expertly executes all that is required including the presentation dances of Russia, Spain, Italy and a sensually provocative Elle Macy as the Persian dancer.
Uninvited von Rothbart intrudes on the festivities with his beautiful daughter Odile. Siegfried mistakes her for Odette and announces his engagement to her before realizing he has been deceived. Thus his oath of love to Odette is broken and she must remain a captive swan of von Rothbart. Rausch is technically most competent as the more serene Odette but her acting skills bring Odile to life as a calculating vixen and it’s easy to see why Siegfried is beguiled. Von Rothbart played by Otto Neuberg, seems to have little to do but overuse his winged cape. This character is under developed leaving us with the feeling that he is more of a nuisance than a powerful sorcerer.
Act Four finds a despairing Siegfried with the sad but forgiving Odette. Carried by Tchaikovsky’s poignantly moving theme, Rausch and Rogers, dance together with such loving tenderness we feel their heartache. Not all “Swan Lake” stories end with an act of forgiveness and I found this sentiment to be a profoundly moving end to the story.
PNB has become a company to be reckoned with. They excel in every category including diversity. In turn they are attracting dancers, designers, musicians and other artists of the highest caliber and these collaborations are evident on the stage. PNB has a large repertoire, which includes contemporary works but if beautifully rendered classical ballet is what inspires you then this is the production to see.
Highlights abounded and credit must be given to several that stood out particularly. Dancing the Pas de Trios in Act One were, Leta Biasucci, Kyle Davis and Angelica Generosa. The six princesses from Act One and Three were, Sarah Pasch, Juliet Prine, Genevieve Waldorf, Abby Jayne DeAngelo, Madison Rayn Abeo and Yuki Takahashi. And of course, Madison Rayn Abeo, Abby Jayne DeAngelo, Clara Ruf Maldonando and Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan, who danced the precise, crowd pleasing Swan Pas de Quatre in Act Two.
For full company credits please click HERE.
To learn more about the Pacific Northwest Ballet, please visit their WEBSITE.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Pacific Northwest Ballet in Kent Stowell’s “Swan Lake” – Photo © Angela Sterling
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