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
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
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
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
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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