Swan Lake performance reactions
Posted 01 February 2007 - 04:51 PM
Of course a rehearsal tends to lack the sparkle and power of a true performance, but I was thrilled to see Carla Korbes in what I assume is her first time in the starring role of a full length (certainly as a Principal of a major company). I had expected to see Nadeau since she is doing opening nite, but I guess the powers that be use the dress rehearsal to give whomever has not done it before the experience. I was disappointed on the one hand because I had already planned to see Korbes on 2/8.; but one millisecond later I was excited as hell as I realized I would be seeing Carla in her first time in this pivotal role before an audience.
Her performance was exquisite. Altho I felt many of the dancers were dialed back just a bit in "rehearsal mode", not so with Carla (nor with Porretta as the Jester in my estimation). I'm not well enough versed in ballet to give particulars, but not only was her movements fluid and exact, but her sense of drama is remarkable. She was all that is pure and good as Odette, but equally seductive and wicked as Odile. Her looks to Siegfried in both roles carried amazingly clear emotion. Perhaps Carla could have been an equally great actress as she is a dancer.
I was gratified to see Leslie Rausch everywhere. If there was the possibility of a soloist swan, she was there, not to mention the Pas de Trois. As I have waxed on before in this forum, she captivates me with her combination of power and gentle gracefulness. No one is as sexy and exotic as Arianna, so the Persian Girl riveted my male attention.
One thing I got a kick out of was the circumstance of some of the audience being from a construction firm. Pete Boal welcomed members of the Sellen (??) Construction company, and a relatively large number of people cheered (so I suspect there were quite a few there). Well I soon realized that the 2 couples sitting in front of me were from Sellen. There was no program per se so at the 1st intermission they happened to ask me what the story was, and I formed that "construction" impression. I was interested in the men's reaction to such a powder puff story-ballet. One couple seemed unmoved, but the man of the other couple was fascinated. Forgive my stereotyping, but this guy was clearly a construction worker. When I spoke briefly with him afterward he was amazed he had enjoyed it so much. He and I spoke briefly about my finding a similarity between two of my loves: ballet and NBA basketball. His face lit up. I suggested he attend a program again of more modern ballets -- I thnk he'd have his mind blown. Anyway, I got a big kick out of thinking about all those construction workers last night seeing beauty and power where, perhaps, they never expected to find it.
P.S. I stayed to the bitter end (last of the audience to leave I think) just to see what happens on stage after a rehearsal. I've been going to ballet for 40 years but never realized until last nite that ballet dancers remove those God awful point shoes just as soon as they can. Of course they do you say, but I had just never considered that. It was a kick to see all those ladies running around in bare feet carrying their shoes. Carla even winced as she came down the rough metal stairs to the orchestra seating area to hug her boyfriend. But clearly sharp metal under her bare feet was preferable to leaving those damned toe shoes on .
Posted 02 February 2007 - 09:40 AM
(my partner used to work in construction, and is now a city plans reviewer for construction projects for the Fire Marshall, so I've been around that world for a long time)
In my experience, first-time audiences are gobsmacked by ballet, particularly the physical challenge of it. All those floaty-fairy stereotypes get wiped by the actual thing.
I saw Körbes do a smidge of the ballet in the gala last September, but am really looking forward to seeing her perform the whole thing in context -- there's something odd about the 2nd act pas de deux without the rest of the corps there.
Oftentimes, someone doing a program-length work won't rehearse the day before they perform -- it's very draining, and they're shepherding their best energy for the performance. But you've also caught another element that goes into these decisions, the person with the least amount of experience in the role will get the most stage rehearsal time and this time around that would be Körbes.
I saw Louise Nadeau last night, and will have more to say later, but the short report is that her arms are as amazing as ever.
Posted 03 February 2007 - 12:40 PM
Part of that standing ovation -- a big part I imagine -- was for Le Yin. I think Siegfried a rather boring role (except the pyrotechnics of course). But Yin gave it substance. For the first time I cared about Siegfried. Yin gave Siegfried's almost silly concerns depth, subtlety, and nuisance. Casey Herd was powerful as always, but he could learn a thing or two about drama from his more senior principal comrade.
I found Benjamin Griffiths convincing as the Jester......frankly, surprisingly so. He has to share that role with its master, Porretta, so even coming close is quite an achievement IMHO. I have only started noticing Griffiths lately; I will take notice more often.
I must say something about Chalnessa Eames. Her dancing excites me. She managed not to be up-staged by Porretta in the Pas de Trois in the Act I -- no mean feat. She has power and directness that connects with the audience (ironically much in the same way that Porretta does). She looks like she is having the time of her life.....and as they say in basketball circles: she leaves it all on the court.
I've saved the biggest compliment for last. I give it not to the superb dancing of the principals and soloists, but to those swans -- all 24 of them. Here we are living way out in the upper west corner of the country, far from the sophistication of the east, but what other ballet company, anywhere, can deliver up 24 swans of such talent and preciseness? They were a flock of swans of such synchronization that they might well be doing an aquacade (pun intended). The Pas de Quatre in Act II was perfection and brought the house down. Every time I see those 4 ladies with locked arms I marvel, but to see them do so with seeming effortlessness, with total confidence, last nite was inspiring.
How can I be so lucky as to live in a part of the world that has a ballet company of this quality while allowing me access to superb ski slopes within 2 hours of the opera house -- not to mention getting a glimpse of a ferry gliding over the blueness of the sound while the sun sets behind the Olympics as I drive on the 99 viaduct to see our treasured PNB (OK....so I have to wait till May for that). I'm a happy man.
Posted 03 February 2007 - 10:02 PM
sshh -- you don't want everyone moving here, or the viaduct will be even more crowded than it already is.
I think you've made some very cogent observations about Pantastico's dancing -- she is indeed more an Aurora than an O/O (I thought she was a super Aurora last spring), but she's made a great deal of headway in the role since she first performed it in 2003. And Yin was very convincing -- he worked the relationship with his mother extremely well.
I saw the matinee today (Nakamura and Postelwaite) and was gobsmacked -- Nakamura has really developed her Odette since I saw her in 03, and Postelwaite made a fabulous Siegfried (this is, I think, his debut in the role)
And Kiyon Gaines was dynamite in the czardas. He pounced on every downbeat.
It's very interesting to see this production again -- I've changed my mind about some of my first impressions, and noticed things that I think I overlooked before. I've seen Nadeau, Pantastico and Nakamura so far, and will see Korbes and Barker next week -- by that time I expect to be humming the score in my sleep!
Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:57 AM
I "reviewed" the dress rehearsal with Carla from last week at the start of this thread so I won't say much this time except to take back my words "Altho I felt many of the dancers were dialed back just a bit in "rehearsal mode", not so with Carla......." Looking back on it, my opinion is that she was dialed back at the dress rehearsal. I don't mean this as a criticism -- just the opposite in fact. I thought her dancing at the rehearsal of this challenging part to be so good that clearly she was performing at her best. Well, I sold her short. She was positively brilliant last nite -- certainly surpassing that dress rehearsal performance. How wonderful it was for me to have gone in with very high expectations only to have them blown away. The only flaw these "not so well trained" eyes saw was a modest OOPS as she came out of the 32 fouettes. She executed the fouettes with power and confidence, but I guess she was so focused on the twirls that she neglected to realize that something had to shift in order to finish.
I hope someone else who saw the performance last nite will post something. I will only add one more tidbit. When Odette leaves the stage at the very end of the ballet she does very few actual steps; however, that moment is the climax of the emotion of the story (IMO). I watched (via binoculars) Carla express that moment. She sent shivers down my spine.......and if the truth be known (from a somewhat macho guy), tears down my cheek. I was electrified. Other principals at PNB can dance as well perhaps, and can create character as well perhaps, but I doubt any other dancer at PNB could have created that moment like Carla did. I'm lucky enough to be going again tonite (performance #4 .....thanks H). I'll look to see how the master, Patricia Barker, handles that moment.
Posted 09 February 2007 - 03:02 PM
When I heard Samuel Ramey sing in his mid-30's, my greatest wish was to hear him sing King Philip's monologue in Don Carlos. I knew I'd have to wait a long time until that role was in his rep. 15 years later I heard it, and what was astonishing was how it met every expectation I had and beyond. Korbes' performance as Odette/Odile was so much beyond the promise she showed in the gala, and I couldn't imagine that being possible. (Or to think what she will make of this in a few years after the next revival.)
I think Korbes has mother-of-pearl juice running in her veins: her Odette was so simultaneously soft, strong, expansive, and luminous. Or I should say her Odettes, because the vulnerable Odette in the second act was very different from the hope-shattered fourth act Odette, who despite the outcome, could show forgiveness in her sorrow. If the last gesture is the most affecting, I think in Korbes' case it is because it is the culmination of the arc of a story she has built throughout the ballet.
Korbes' Odile was an unusual one. She's not a natural Odile, and my experience of other dancers for whom this is also true is that they tend to try to put on the wickedness. Korbes' Odile was calculated, but more measured: in a well-lit ballroom, in a little black dress, it would have been inappropriate for her to show an intimate, moonlit self, but she sprinkled enough innate softness throughout the Black Swan pas de deux, without the usual "wink-wink," to remind him, but also focused a laser beam of glamorous attention on Casey Herd's Prince. After all, he's a guy, and in front of the entire court, this sexy, strong creature, who's saved him from either marriage to a generic princess or a nasty confrontation with this mother, is treating him like the center of her universe. (The difference between Herd's approach in the elegant opening variation to his Black Act variation was light night and day; in the latter he was reborn and beamed charisma.) She doesn't have to wiggle to seduce him, and she gloats only at the very end of the Act. And she knows her role; she needs little reminder from von Rothbart, and the two interact lightly.
Because at the same time, she's seducing the Queen Mother. QM can recognize a woman with personal power, and the son she knows, a little bit too much of a dreamer, is going to need one. One of the joys of Otto Neubert's portrayal of von Rothbart is the way he struts over to the downstage left chair that matches QM's one downstage right, and expands into it like a king, as if he is entitled to it. There obviously hasn't been a Man around the house in this family, and he fills the void.
Korbes' fouettes were a strong argument for Maya Plisetsaya's pique turns. She did slip out on the landing of the last multiple pirouette, but that's almost beside the point: there's something angular and clipped about them, the only place in the entire ballet where she is not expansive. But that was the least important part of her performance.
Kara Zimmerman was a standout in the first act Pas de Trois, dancing with delicacy and great detail, and in true classical style. Rebecca Johnston was a stunner as one of the two lead swans, with open, expressive arms and her beautiful trademark legs. Lesley Rausch caught and kept my eye as the one among six princesses in Acts I and III through the smallest, but most telling tilt of the head and neck.
Among the guests in Act III, Kiyon Gaines was spectacular in the Czardas, creating a character with his proud carriage and theatricality. Brittany Reid gave a spirited and saucy rendition in the Spanish. Thomas's and Griffiths's energy were well-matched in the Neopolitan. And what an impression when Maria Chapman extended one glittery purple-clad leg from underneath her multi-colored skirt in the Persian: it explained why she is one fantastic Peacock in Nutcracker.
The swans were superb and joy to watch. They weren't 24 dancers doing the same steps: they created a sisterhood of swans. Had it not been for Korbes's Odette/Odile, they would have been the first star of the night.
The artists to which I instinctively compare Korbes are singers. I think she has the sheer beauty of instrument, the range of color, and the vast interpretive powers and fidelity to text of the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Thomas Quasthoff.
Posted 10 February 2007 - 02:26 PM
Posted 10 February 2007 - 09:09 PM
Did anyone here see all five casts? I'd be interested to hear about the three I missed. Keep up the good work, my friends!
Posted 10 February 2007 - 10:50 PM
Barker's Odile was just plain baaaaaaaaaaaaad. (In the best possible way.) Carrie Imler's Queen Mother is not one I'd like to cross, which normally would make me think that perhaps the Prince is getting an easier deal with Odile. Not last night.
It may very well have been that the awareness of the great dancer leaving a canonic role at the height of her powers overwhelmed the overall sense I had of the drama as a whole.
Posted 11 February 2007 - 08:48 PM
Seeing a ballet a number of times in a short period reveals so many details that are difficult to grasp in one viewing, particularly in the mime. Maria Chapman, as the downstage right guest in the Act I sextet to the Waltz, gave dramatic focus to the Prince, who was seated feet away. As he partnered her intermittently, she was attentive to him in a way that she wasn't to her courtier partner. As he left her off to the side of the stage, she looked softly over her shoulder after him. Towards the end of the act, it was Laura Gilbreath's turn, and the same attention had a slightly different feel.
A moment I had missed Friday is after Odile is introduced, and von Rothbart heads to the Queen Mother to great her: Carrie Imler dismissed him to his chair with a flick of her hand just before he reached her midstage, and the "we'll see" look that Otto Neubert gave her over his shoulder was priceless. Similarly, the "don't even think about it you worthless piece of lint" over-the-shoulder glance he gave to Herd's Siegfried at the end of Act II stopped the Prince in his tracks.
Neubert and Christophe Maraval gave very different renditions of von Rothbart. Neubert was supremely confident and arrogant. He took up a great deal of space, whether moving or sprawled in his chair. Maraval was more quietly sinister with ice water running in his veins, and if "A Series of Unfortunate Events" were turned into a ballet, he'd be my choice to play Count Olaf. But artdish hit it right on the head when he wrote
In the Spring 2006 print edition of DanceView, in her review of Peter Martins's Swan Lake, Carol Pardo wrote "And by casting [Austin] Laurent [as the jester] with his long legs and long line, the part becomes more than the province of the short, bouncy demi-caractčre men." I saw Lucien Postlewaite dance the jester role in Stowell's version for the first two performances and Benjamin Griffiths in this afternoon's. I always thought of Postlewaite as a tall dancer, until he was onstage with Herd/Milov, Cruz, and Gorboulev -- and even Gorboulev looked shorter than usual next to Herd/Milov and Cruz. (I think he is one of those dancers who can look tall or medium.) But his proportions are shortish torso and long legs, and he looked very different in the part than Griffiths, who has traditional jester proportions, and is as fast in allegro as any other man in the company. Yet while both interpretations were very bright and beautifully danced -- and the jester has a terrific solo in Act III -- neither dancer crossed that line into cloying show-off and applause machine.
Another role in which proportions, both of the dancer and of the dancing, made a huge difference was the male role in the Act I Pas de Trois. In a Q&A last year, either Boal or one of the other dancers said that they refer to Batkhurel Bold as "Air Bold." Tall with very long legs, Bold's extension and ballon in jumps is huge, like the tour jetes in full split position. By contrast, Anton Pankevitch, who is more compact, did a more classically proportioned interpretation. (He did a beautiful double tours moving upstage during his variation.) Pankevitch's trio -- he danced with Johnston and Zimmerman -- was better balanced; Bold was much taller than Thomas and Eames, and he had to bend pretty far down for the supported pirouettes with Thomas.
Pardo wrote of the jester, "That there should not be a jester in Swan Lake, that Tchaikovsky did not write any music for a jester, that the character is pushy and annoying are separate problems." In Stowell's version, the jester is a trusted servant of the Prince. He is dressed in if not quite livery, in the court servant's dress, not in half black/half white tights. (He wears a lovely red with gold trimmed long vest in Act I, and a gorgeous grey, silver, and gold costume in Act III.) He has as much mime as anyone in the ballet. I didn't realize until today that as the jester introduces the international guests to the Queen Mother in Act III, he does a tiny, short imitation of each.
The center of Wolfgang's role, which is surrounded by a large amount of mime about his drinking -- the only part of the ballet I found annoying -- is a dance in which he leads the courtiers. The dramatic genius of this piece is that it is a court character dance. The passés are done at mid-calf, and the jumps are inches off the floor. It's like watching an older retired dancer demonstrating, and it steals your heart with its gentle elegance, and in it Oleg Gorboulev hit the exactly correct tone in it.
The Pas de Trois this afternoon was a real joy. Rebecca Johnston has legs and feet to die for. In the allegro, though, I though her arms looked a little forced; as one of two big swans in the Act II adagio, her arms are expansive and graceful. Her diagonal of sissone jumps in the coda were superb. Zimmerman danced another beautiful performance, and it was all in the details: the roll-down into fourth in preparation for the pirouettes, regardless of the speed of the music, the articulate small developes out of pirouettes, and the precise placement. She gave the same attention to her role as one of the four cygnettes in Act II -- the cygnettes were terrific in all three performances -- with the roll in and out of the fast echappés, reaching top in each one, and the beautiful presentation of the foot in each of the little jumps at the end (emboîtés?). In the other cast, Chalnessa Eames danced her variations with her characteristic brightness and clarity.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was Kari Brunson's Persian. With her snake-charmer arms, and very different phrasing than either Chapman or Lallone, she performed a dance of hypnotic seduction, which segued perfectly into the Black Swan Pas de Deux, in which Körbes's Odile was a little badder than on Thursday, to great effect.
At the center of the ballet was Körbes's Odette and the beautiful corps of swans, led by Johnston and the wonderful Lesley Rausch. (Rausch and Johnston are quite different dancers, and it is an abundance of riches when they dance mirroring each other.) The emotional range Körbes showed in cinematic detail as she embraced Siegfried for the last time at the end of Act IV was astonishing, and it was a three-hankie conclusion.
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