New York City Ballet

'Swan Lake'

by Kate Snedeker

May 2, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

On Friday night, Peter Martins’ "Swan Lake" returned to the New York City Ballet repertory in a powerful and passionate performance, led by Wendy Whelan and Damian Woetzel.

Martins’ production, based on Balanchine, Ivanov and Petipa’s versions of the classic tragedy, is a pare- down version, with much of the mime excised. Without the long passages of mime, the production has a refreshing simplicity, and is well suited to the strength of the NYCB dancers, that is, pure dance. Yet, the simplicity of Per Kirkeby’s abstract sets and costumes leave something to be desired, especially in the jarring shift from the simple, brightly colored costumes in the first act to the ornate, out of place Elizabethan costumes of the second act. However, when danced with such energy and beauty as it was on Friday, this "Swan Lake" more than overcomes the limitations of its set.

The superb dancing in the first act hinted at what was yet to come. Tom Gold’s jester was gleefully impish, entertaining with his airy leaps and speedy turns, playful with the children and not above wheedling an extra glass or two of drink from the courtiers. As Benno, Sebastian Marcovici handled the tricky solo with impressive ease and power, and was notable for his secure landings from tours down to the knee. Janie Taylor and Abi Stafford, his partners in the pas de trois, were both crisp and powerful in their dancing, Stafford with a endearing youthfulness, and Taylor with breathtaking abandon.

The well rehearsed corps danced with enthusiasm, with Seth Orza, Ask laCour, Kyle Froman and Jonathan Stafford, in particular, standing out. The young children from the School of American Ballet were utterly delightful, with nary a wrong step in the intricate drinking dance, involving both students and corps.

Siegfried has little dancing in the first scene, but Woetzel’s brief solo demonstrated that he has indeed recovered from the injury that kept him out for most of the winter season. A powerful dancer, Woetzel’s dancing was crisp, but lyrical and flowing. He continues to impress with his incredible spinning abilities: his double tours rotated with impressive ease.

The evening however really belonged to Wendy Whelan, who was simply exquisite, her dancing as smooth as silk, mixing commanding power and fluid delicacy, her arms seemingly jointless as they fluttered in the air. In her initial solo, despite an overly ambitious tempo set by Andrea Quinn that forced Whelan to be more frenetic than fluttery, she appeared utterly unruffled. Spectacular in the final ultra-quick series of entrechats that were perfectly timed to Tchaikovsky's driving music, Whelan’s dancing was only enhanced by her smooth, confident partnership with Woetzel. Whelan and Woetzel have danced together many times, and this experience was clearly illustrated in the polished, nuanced, near flawless quality of their pas de deux.

Whelan’s bevy of swans supported her with aplomb, looking encouragingly well-rehearsed and dancing as a cohesive group. Arms were fluid and uniform, and patterns organized, if not rigidly straight. Much credit should go to this corps, who are not often faced with the long lines and large group work of ballets like "Swan Lake." Carrie Lee Riggins, Amanda Edge, Melissa Barak and Elizabeth Walker, as the four cygnets, were notable for their breezy speed and crispness. Cool chicks these baby swans were!

The level of Whelan and Woetzel’s dancing only increased in the Black Swan pas de deux, the centerpiece of the second act. Whelan let her true power seep through in her seductive solo, cranking out 28 evenly-timed fouettes, and an impressive manége of turns on point. In the coda, Woetzel’s sequence of turns in second was stunning not only for its distinctive change of tempo and perfectly centered rotations, but also for the impeccable extension and unwavering, horizontal position of his working leg, and controlled finished in passé. Woetzel was also notable in the double tours finishing in grand plie in fifth, with tightly and easily rotated tours and soft, controlled pliés.

Some of the second act divertissements had rough edges, but all were danced with energy and enthusiasm. Of particular joy, was the return of Nikolaj Hubbe from a serious knee injury, who danced a solid, quirky Russian dance with Yvonne Hubbe. In the pas de quatre, led by Philip Neal, Alexandra Ansanelli made an early debut, replacing Jennifer Ringer in the principal solo. Ansanelli was good, but she fell off of pointe once, and slid into her final pose.

Jennie Somogyi and Pascale van Kipnis were a bit more polished, and the finale included a series of perfectly synchronized fouettés from the three women. Antonio Carmena, partnered by Amanda Edge, was enthusiastic in his debut in the Neapolitan dance. The Spanish and Hungarian dances were both well performed, with Rachel Rutherford and Jason Fowler a powerful lead Hungarian couple, and Aesha Ash, Ellen Bar, Stephen Hanna and Amar Ramasar all worth noting in the Spanish dance.

In the final scene, Whelan evoked powerful emotions as her Odette was torn from Siegfried by his pledge to Odile. She desperately tried to save him from James Fayette’s sinister, mysterious Von Rothbart, despite his betrayal of her love. The final image of Woetzel on his knees, his back acutely arched back in agony and grief was a moving end to a wonderful night.

May 7-8, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

Last week, New York City Ballet continued its run of Peter Martins’ Swan Lake with new casts and stunning debuts. On Wednesday night, Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard moved into the lead roles, their exceptional heights bringing a new regality and elegance to the tragic lovers. Kowroski was a coolly regal Odette, notable for her remarkable extensions, and solid technique. Moving in his emotional portrayal of the conflicted and unhappy Prince, Askegard was exceptional in his solos, with beautifully balanced pirouettes and soaring, softly landed jetes. Together, Kowroski and Askegard were solid, the tricky shoulder lifts performed with smooth assurance. Both were impressive, if not spectacular in the Black Swan Pas de Deux.

Jennie Somogyi made her debut as Odette/Odile the following night, with Askegard a late substitution for Nilas Martins in the role of Siegfried. As both Odette and Odile, Somogyi was gripping, imbuing her dancing with fiery alertness and determination. This was an Odette deeply in love with Siegfried, and not afraid to stand up to her magical captor in order to see that love freely realized. Somogyi’s Black Swan Pas de Deux was stunning, marked by the breathtaking triple fouettes interlaced into the grand fouette sequence. The height difference between Somogyi and Askegard was marked, giving the high lifts a particularly soaring appearance. Askegard was particularly attentive in his partnering, smoothing over a few potentially rough moments in a rather last moment partnership.

A number of dancers made notable debuts during the two performances. On Wednesday, Daniel Ulbricht soared to new heights in his first performance as the jester. Barely taller than some of his boy jesters, Ulbricht was a hyperkinetic and giddy jester. Among his impressive display of bravura skills was a pirouette in which he proceeded to bend his knees until he slowed to a stop in a perfectly balanced, just barely off the floor cross legged position. Ulbricht’s dancing still is rough around the edges, with a tendency to get a bit wild, and his mime is not as nuanced as Adam Hendrickson and Tom Gold, but he’s a joy to watch and full of talent!

Thursday night, Ask laCour debuted as a highly theatrical and imposing Von Rotbart. A tall, lanky dancer, laCour with his heeled shoes, towered over even the 6ft 4 Askegard. The only Von Rotbart with this exceptional height advantage, laCour was truly imposing with the deep orange cape swirling behind him. In the final scene, he brought unique theatricality to his defeat, his face contorting as Odette’s love overpowered his magic. As the newest male corps member, laCour has just started to make his mark at New York City Ballet, and his future looks bright indeed. A new Thesius or Bottom perhaps?

Jonathan Stafford stepped into the Spanish Dance on Wednesday and into the Pas de Quatre the next day. Solid in both roles, Stafford was able to display his considerable classical skills in the pas de quatre. An elegant, long limbed dancer with beautiful carriage, he was smooth with nice ballon in his solos-a prince well in the making! Carrie Lee Riggins was in new in the pas de quatre Thursday, and though her solo ended off balance, her crisp, assured dancing was pleasing to watch. The same night, Lindy Mandradjieff and Megan Fairchild made wonderfully fresh debuts in the pas de trois, a youthfully energetic duo. They were a great match for Stephen Hanna, new this season as Benno, who dances with wonderful ease and technique-and a wonderful smile!

Also of note on Thursday were James Fayette and Alexandra Ansanelli is a stunningly sultry Russian Dance, with Ansanelli dancing with her trademark breathtaking abandon. Finally, kudos to Jason Fowler, for his refreshingly powerful and outgoing performance in the Hungarian Dance!!

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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