Several weeks ago I bought a ticket to the Czech National Theatre's "Swan Lake." I had been torn about whether to buy the ticket, because I'm not that close to Prague, but I really wanted to see the dancer scheduled to perform. Then a few days before the performance, there was a casting change (of course...). But as it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised.
The replacement was Rebecca King, who I believe is the only American ballerina with the Prague company. I have actually been curious to see her for a while, and this performance was an impressive introduction. Her Odette was elegant and otherworldly; her Odile, regal and aloof. In both roles, she maintained beautiful lines. There were many moments where I thought "wow -- that looks great." Also, her movements almost always appeared to be perfectly controlled; I had the impression that almost everything she did was by design, down to the smallest detail. I wouldn't say she was better than the dancer I had intended to see (Alina Nanu, who I also loved last year in this role), but she was excellent.
Another thing I noticed was that, of the Odettes I have recently seen, King probably did the best job of conveying the sense that she was as much bird as girl. It's hard to explain, but it had something to do with the movement of her arms and shoulders. Once for a split second, I thought, "That's unusual, what she's doing." Then I realized, "oh of course; she's a swan." I hope I'm not making it sound gimmicky, because it was subtle, and maybe someone else wouldn't even interpret it as I did. But to me, she definitely created the feeling of a girl trapped by an enchantment.
As Odile, King was smoothly confident and a bit above-it-all. At one point, as she was leaving a position where her partner had been supporting her, she tossed his hand aside in what I took as a subtly dismissive gesture. To my eye, she was also strong technically. Her supported pirouettes were very fast. Once, she seemed to waver from being perfectly vertical, but that might be a little nitpicky. Her fouettes were also good. I think she ended the fouettes just a beat before the music, but a lot of Odiles do that. I also liked the position she took at the end of that sequence, when the prince kneels down in front of her, grasping one of her hands, while she holds the other behind her. Nothing was out of place, and you could easily believe that she was in complete control of him.
Still, if I had to choose, I would say that her Odette was a little stronger than her Odile. I liked that she didn't play Odile as vampy or blatantly evil. But maybe just a little more coolness would have added to her portrayal. Also, she has a series of steps right after the fouettes where she is moving downstage left to the prince. This is right before her identity is revealed. Dramatically, I think that's a strong moment, but to my eye, I thought King could have looked a little lighter and sharper during that sequence. (Of course, I'm sure any normal would person would be too exhausted after all those fouettes!)
As for the rest of the cast, I thought the jester, Gianvito Attimonelli, was very strong. The prince, Michal Štípa, was also fine. (I hope this isn't sexist, but I never pay as much attention to Siegfried as I do to O/O.) Of the national dances, I really liked the Russian dance. The last few Swan Lakes I saw did not include this dance, which in Prague featured a guy with flowing steel-colored hair doing backflips and that neat Russian dance where you crouch down and kick your legs out in front of you.
So, all in all it was a nice show with pleasant surprises -- I am looking forward to seeing King again in some other roles.