Founded in 2004, the Los Angeles Ballet has become recognized as a world-class ballet company, and rightly so. It is LA’s first classical ballet company to reach this level of professionalism and excellence. The company, run by Co-Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, is best known for its strong repertory of ballets choreographed by George Balanchine. Ms. Neary is a member of the George Balanchine Trust and apparently among the few authorized to carry on the Balanchine legacy.

After performing in venues around LA, the Los Angeles Ballet brought to UCLA’s Royce Hall a very strong version of the revered and ageless white ballet, Swan Lake. Choreographed by Christensen and Neary after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, the company’s performance was mostly stellar. The sets were gorgeous; the corps de ballet, outstanding; the Jester and Benno were wonderful, but the principle dancers lacked chemistry. Conti, especially, seemed to be having difficulties during Act II but she came alive as Odile in Act III.

Petra Conti an Kenta Shimizu in Los Angeles Ballet’s Swan Lake – Photo by Reed Hutchinson

Hiring a full orchestra is costly and it is understandable that this Swan Lake was performed to a recording. I greatly missed, however, hearing Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music played live and observing how it affects the dancers. LA Ballet’s Swan Lake was strong overall, but it lacked a certain technical edge by the principals during very important and familiar scenes. For this Thursday performance, the corps de ballet out performed them.

In Act I we meet Prince Siegfried (Tigran Sargsyan) and his best friend Benno (Jeongkon Kim). It is the Prince’s birthday and the townspeople are there to celebrate. The highlights were the opening solo by Akimitsu Yahata as the Jester and the pas de trois with Laura Chachich, Jasmine Perry and Jeongkon Kim.  Perry is extremely musical and dances with a wonderful ease. Kim’s elevation is stunning as are his extensions at the end of his jetes. Chachich is also quite stunning. Everyone danced extremely well in front of a large set that left a greatly reduced area for them to dance in. I have performed on that stage, and these dancers managed to make it appear that they were in a much larger theater.

Act II is where Prince Siegfried meets and falls in love with the Swan Queen, Odette. The romantic pas de deux were beautifully executed but Conti’s performance was inconsistent. Her energy felt low and she was unable to sustain all the many required balances. Her interpretation of Odette as a willowy and frail figure begs the question, why she is queen? The corps de ballet (the Swans) performed the many unison movements and intricate patterns with professional brilliance. The dance of the Cygnettes is one of my favorite moments in Act II and Benita Bünger, Alyssa Harrington, Hannah Keene, and Shelby Whallon did not disappoint.

Act III is set inside the castle. Queen Mother has decided that it is time for her son to marry and arranged for him to meet six princesses to choose from. The prince has fallen in love with Odette, so is not interested in any of them. Each princess: Madeline Houk, Hannah Keene, Madison McDonough, Brittany Rand, Helena Thordal-Christensen, and Shelby Whallon, gave charming performances.

Entertainment for the ball is provided by dances from four regions. Of the four, I was most impressed with the Spanish dancers (Laura Chachich, Leah McCall, Joshua Brown and Jeongkon Kim) and the Russian duet performed by Bianca Bulle and Jasmine Perry. The other dances involved strong performances, especially SarahAnne Perel and Robert Mulvey in the Neapolitan dance. Chelsea Paige Johnston and Magnus Christoffersen stood out in the Hungarian dance, but the choreography for the ensemble lacked a certain briskness often associated with dances from that country.

Petra Conti and Kenta Shimitzu in Act III of Los Angeles Ballet’s Swan Lake – Photo by Reed Hutchinson

Conti’s performance as Odile was much stronger and she managed to bring to it the required fire and shift in persona from that of Odette. She also executed with excellence the 32 fouettés.

Again, it was the swans that shone during Act IV. The pas de deux with Conti and Sargsyan were lovely, and their solos well executed, but neither rose to the level of excellence usually demonstrated in these roles. The staging for the death of Von Rothbart, performed by Zheng Hua Li, was also unconvincing. What did Prince Siegfried use to destroy Von Rothbart? All I saw was the two struggling, a push from the prince and then Von Rothbart on lying dead on the ground.

Los Angeles Ballet in final scene of Swan Lake – Photo by Reed Hutchinson

Christensen and Neary’s version for the end of Swan Lake was more optimistic than some. Odette and the Prince did not die by leaping into the lake; nor did they sail away in an imaginary swan-shaped chariot. Here, the couple survived to live happily ever once Von Rothbart’s curse had was lifted.

Ben Pilat’s lighting as executed by Tyler Lambert-Perkins was beautiful as were the costumes and sets, and the special effects for Von Rothbart’s magic were quite exhilarating.

The company is sold out for the remaining performances of Swan Lake at Royce Hall, but for more information on the Los Angeles Ballet, its school and upcoming performances, click here.

To view the LA Dance Chronicle Calendar of Performances, click here.