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Swan Lake Performances

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I just got home from PNB's Opening Night performance of Swan Lake. What a night! I got a last minute seat in the upper upper Second Tier, about six rows from the back, and only a couple of seats from the aisle. Except for far upstage left -- von Rothbart's entrance and the Odette's Acts II and IV exits, the sightlines were just fine. For $16, what a steal.

I've seen Balanchine's one-act version many, many times, but the full length Swan Lake only about a dozen times -- at least eight productions over 30+ years. I think Stowell reworked the entire first act; I don't have anyone listed as the Jester from the '96 production, and that choreography had a character called "Peasant Girl," who did not appear this time. The second act was Ivanov/Petipa. Stowell used the same four national pieces last time, but I don't remember any of the choreography from then. The Black Swan pas de deux was traditional, and the Jester's dance in Act III seemed familiar. At least parts of Act IV were after Petipa, but this is the first time I haven't zoned out the first half of that act.

Act I takes place outside the palace, in the courtyard, and the costumes felt rustic, a lot like I've seen in the beginning of Sleeping Beauty Act III. The costumes were stunning, with the courtiers and Siegfried's friends in muted, autumnal colors mixed with some bright reds. The guests (six women) wore light, flowing dresses in muted gelato colors -- champagne, apricot, nectarine, raspberry, strawberry, and lime. The pillars from Fanfare of Feathers were back, with a disconcerting sunny blue sky as background.

Jester was dressed as a civilian, not in the split black and white costume I'm used to seeing. In Act I, the choreography for the role was relatively subdued, and he was treated as Siegfried's confidante, like Wolfgang -- they even drank a toast together. Wolfgang was a drinker, but it was reflected more in the downstage right stage business than in his dancing -- he did not dance a doddering old fool or a drunk. Wolfgang opened the ballet with a dance with the ensemble, and it was a very courtly part. The waltz was a huge disappointment, though. Stowell added six little girls to join the six guests, who, in the beginning, provided a lovely contrast in the very long piece. And while it was a charming moment when Milov lent a light hand to each in their tour jetes, Stowell didn't capitalize on the momentum to follow the "swirl" of the music as it reached a climax: he banished the little girls and had the six women do a pedantic, stationary port de bras.

I don't remember having seen the pas de trois before; I believe it is newly choreographed. There was one women (Jodie Thomas) who danced with the man (Le Yin), and one women who danced solo (Noelani Pantastico), and in past performances I seem to remember each women dancing with the man, as well as several steps and images that were missing. But the choreography was impressive, and Pantastico, in particular, shone bright. She danced with amplitude, yet with precision. The only way I can try to describe her impact is that she seemed to take up just the right amount of space, yet she showed no effort. She also seemed to project a sense of dancing in the moment, and loving where she is. Apart from the principals, I thought hers to be the best performance of the night.

Act II opened with the flat swans moving along the back of the stage against a huge moon. Then the smoke machine started, and von Rothbart emerged from the smoke swirling with huge flowing purple and blue silk cape-wings. It was quite an entrance. Barker was a very strong Swan Queen, from the moment she stepped on stage, a little bit like Firebird. There was nothing delicate about her; she danced as if burdened by the curse and by the responsibility of being in charge of the Swans. If she needed saving, it wasn't because of a specific past hurt; it was that she was held back by a bigger force, and this is a very different interpretation from what I've seen from anyone else and from Barker seven years ago. She played a person, not an archtype. And it made Odile's deception in Act III that much more believable, because she didn't have to change from delicate to steely. I liked that the Prince's solo was left out: we know he's happy, and it's really not about him.

It had taken Erin Joseph all of 30 seconds in Act I as Queen Mother to establish why the Prince needed to run after Swans in the moonlight. In Act III there was an interesting dynamic, partially dictated by the staging: Queen Mother sits downstage right; von Rothbart takes a seat downstage left. Odile played to the Queen Mother, not to von Rothbart, who whispered to her a couple of times, but really stayed out of the action. Two control freaks in a pod; this was the second reason it was no wonder that Siegfried succumbed to Odile.

The Act III sets added giant French doors to the back of the stage. Odile and von Rothbart entered through them -- upstage center -- and that's where the vision of Odette appears, not from above. It made her seem close enough to be within reach, but it also made sense of how von Rothbart tries to hide her from view.

The princesses were relegated to their normal spot -- a relatively empty dance, concurrent with all of the stage business with the Queen Mother urging Siegfried to pick, Siegfried refusing, and the QM getting very annoyed. I prefer the Kirov version where they lead their national dances; it gives them more stature, even though, dramatically, Siegfried is offstage with Odile, and isn't even watching. Still, the costumes were gorgeous. Alexandra Dickson and Karel Cruz led the czardas with character, and his was a very nuanced, old-world kind of guy. The Spanish Dance was also a fine piece, with a flamenco feel, but not the usual stereotypes rolled into one. I thought the Neopolitan and Persian disappointing (except when the four little girls playing Persian Attendants got to jump around). Neopolitan reminded me of Puss 'N Boots -- a little too cute -- and Persian (danced to the Russian music) was a reprise of Peacock in the Nutcracker.

The Act III pas de deux -- Barker and Milov nailed it while remaining in character. I don't know any other way to describe it. When Odette was revealed after Siegfried pledges himself to Odile, it took Milov a while to figure out what was going on -- he didn't quite believe what he saw, nor was he willing to believe that what was tangible and within reach wasn't what he wanted. A nice touch.

I've never really paid attention to the Act IV pas de deux before, but Barker was so heartbreaking in it, that I was riveted. She was still very strong, but she was also very grave, with a sense that Odette was trying to remember every minute of this, as a last memory. As big music played toward the end, and the swans swirled around and von Rothbart menanced, Barker and Milov stood together in the center of the storm, and she twice put her head on his shoulder in the simplest, most affecting way I've ever seen.

The Company deserved its ovation tonight, as did Kershaw (conductor), and designers Ming Cho Lee (sets), Paul Tazewell (costumes), and Randall Chiarelli (lighting).

PNB has a special offer going now: for each ticket you buy to Swan Lake -- runs 25-28 September, and 1 October-5 October (with matinee and evening performances on Sats and Suns) -- and Nutcracker, you get two free seats in the Second Tier to the Ballet Now! repertory performance on 6 November.

If anyone else has seen this performance, I'd appreciate it if you could tell me who of the six women in Act I was dressed in Apricot. I think she had dark hair, which would leave out Dickson, Skinner, and Lowenberg, and which leaves Eames, Chapman, and Vinson. I couldn't stop watching her.

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Thanks very much for that -- I'm very grateful to you for writing about the production. If Doug sees this, he may be able to comment on the first act pas de trois, etc, whether it's what we like to think of as Petipa, or rechoreographed.

I also liked your assessment of the Jester:

ester was dressed as a civilian, not in the split black and white costume I'm used to seeing. In Act I, the choreography for the role was relatively subdued, and he was treated as Siegfried's confidante, like Wolfgang -- they even drank a toast together.

It sounds as though the Jester has morphed with Benno (did the Jester do a jester-type solo? Or is he just called that in the program). Or maybe Benno was a closet Jester all along, and has just come out :wink:

Other comments welcome - and if anyone sees other casts, we'd like to read about them, too.

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Thanks to NextStage's post in the Links forum here's an article that does talk a bit about the company's "Swan Lake" and its hopes for it... It's quite an interesting article as it really gives a good overview of PNB since Kent and Stowell made it their home.

Leap to McCaw Hall by By R.M. Campbell,Seattle Post - Intelligencer

And Helene, many thanks for your report - the details are wonderful. B)

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It sounds as though the Jester has morphed with Benno (did the Jester do a jester-type solo? Or is he just called that in the program).  Or maybe Benno was a closet Jester all along, and has just come out :)

That's the way it felt. Jester did do some jester-like dancing in Act I, but it was intermittent, and he was more interactive with the guests. That changed in Act III, although his new costume was no more jester-like than in Act I. Only Siegfried's friends showed up at the beginning of Act II, so Stowell didn't take the Jester/Benno analogy that far. But I was glad that the role was more subtle in Act I.

I hope lots of other people see this production and post :)

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Francia Russell staged the pas de trois in Act I. The choreography is said to be "traditional" and not by Kent Stowell. I'll try and find out who wears apricot in the waltz. The Act III national dances are the same as always, just new costumes.

Act I was substantially rechoreographed this time around. The Jester was always in Act III, but is now also in Act I. No more Benno. Wolfgang is a young man. 24 swans now rather than 18, as in the past. The Psant Girl used to dance the Act I Pas d'action, but now that is given over to Wolfgang and the female courtiers. In fact, no more peasants - everyone's a courtier.

I won't see the production until next week ...

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Tonight I saw a mostly different cast in Swan Lake. Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold, who shared the Black Swan pas de deux at the Fanfare of Feathers gala, danced Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried.

I don't know what I was thinking last Thursday when the choreography for the Act I pas de trois looked new. My only defense was that Pantastico danced it as if had never been seen before, but that's a rather weak one. Tonight Alexandra Dickson in the other women's role was the standout. She danced softly, with clear articulation, and beautiful posture. I would have loved to see her as Odette/Odile, but that's a wish that I don't think will ever be fulfilled; she's never cast that way.

Among the guests, Rebecca Johnston in the champagne-colored dress caught and kept my eye with her full phrasing and lovely feet, as she did from among the 24 swans in Acts II and IV. In the third act, Dickson again gave a wonderfully character-driven, proud performance in the Czardas. Nicholas Ade was strong as the man in one of two couples in the Spanish dance, and among the princes friends in Acts I and II, he was the only one who looked well brought up. I don't really like the Neopolitan dance, but Chalnessa Eames, with her Kitri-like smile and demeanor, danced with a bit of the :) in her eye, and was delightful.

For my taste Le Yin, whom I usually love, was too much of a show off as Jester in Act I, and some of his big effects seemed forced to me, although the crowd took it's cue and went wild. Jonathan Poretta was cleaner and more natural last Thursday, and, in my opinion, was all the more charming for not asking for applause. Le was more the paid entertainer; Porretta focused on making his friends happy and flirting.

Milov had played the prince as a too-well-behaved son, who was cowed by his mother and a bit repressed. Bold played the role as a bit of an impetuous spoiled brat, and a bit rebellious. Imler also played a young Odette/Odile. I was surprised when she was more of a bird than Barker: although she did no flapping -- yay! -- she fluttered her upper arms impressively. When she met the Prince at the beginning of Act I, she was very strong and headstrong, although wary, which tied into her interpretation of Odile. The pas de deux was very well-danced and beautifully phrased. I've never seen the solo danced more convincingly; it was so gentle, as if she was having a blissful dream.

As Odile she was every bit as good as in the gala, and well worth waiting for. She was a contemporary Bad News force, the young woman that is dreaded by (nearly) every son's mother if he brings her home, and the nightmare of every daughter whose boyfriend got a whiff of her. The way she led him on and tied him around her finger was innate, like she didn't have to think about it at all. I usually yawn when the fouettes start, but I've never seen anyone do single/single/double from beginning to end before. And at the end of the Act, she didn't even gloat; it was more like "job done, let's go."

Having finally paid attention to the beautiful duet at the beginning of Act IV, I've decided that it's the test, like the Vision Scene in Sleeping Beauty. All or most of the greatest hits are over, but can the ballerina be moving in the quiet, classical part? Imler was very lovely, and this is really nit-picking, but I felt like I was watching "Swan Lake: The Film", not "Swan Lake: The Myth." I didn't get the feeling that this was The Last Chance Gone Forever. Instead, I felt like this was extremely sad, but not quite the end of the world. Imler and Bold were a beautiful couple, but reminded me a little of my friend's description of a former girlfriend, "Kinda smart. Kinda dumb."

It was Imler's debut, and a tremendous one at that. I shouldn't have expected that her first Odette/Odile would be fully cooked, like her Aurora a few years ago. I hope that this beautiful production is revived in a couple of years, so that I can see her grow just a little more into the role. (And maybe with Milov.) But it was still a privilege to see her dance it now.

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This is coming a little late in the day I know, but I had the chance to catch three different casts: opening night (Barker/Milov); 9/27 matinee (Noelani Pantastico's debut as Odette/Odile; and 10/3 (Nadeau/Maraval). It was fascinating to see the different casts and the contrasts each offered. Barker, while giving an incredibly strong performance in the supercharged atmosphere of opening night, was perhaps the least interesting in the role. She is so beyond the traditional conception of Odette/Odile that the part doesn't seem to offer her many challenges. Pantastico was a fatalistic Odette who never dared to allow herself to believe that the spell could be broken in Act II and who was resigned to her fate in Act IV. Similarly, her Odile, while clearly a different character than her Odette, appeared to look to von Rothbart for approval and guidance throughout her seduction of Siegfried. It was an accomplished debut and Pantastico, who looked more comfortable in the Odile role, seemed to grow in confidence as the performance progressed. She is a remarkable young dancer. I look forward to seeing her in PNB’s all-Balanchine program (in Brahms-Schoenberg, I hope). The Nadeau/Maraval pairing, on the whole, proved to be the most satisfying performance of the ones that I saw. Nadeau was truly a Swan Queen rather than just Odette, helped along tremendously by Maraval's sensitive partnering. Of the three Siegfrieds that I saw, he was the only one to convey his awe of Odette--that here at last was what he had been looking for all along.

As to the other aspects of the production, here are a few random thoughts. I found the fey conception of the Jester as suggested by the choreography to be distasteful in the extreme. Both Jonathan Poretta and Cornell Callender, however, were extremely vivid (Poretta was perhaps a bit over the top on opening night; his performance on 9/27 was more admirably restrained). Mara Vinson, as usual, was a standout, this time in multiple parts (particularly during the 9/27 performance). The national dances were dull, dull, dull. I would have voted for “Neapolitan” as the worst of the lot until I saw Poretta and Rachel Foster manage to make something out of it at the 10/3 performance. I guess I would have to say that the real dud was “Persian.” As to Stowell’s “innovations” in general, I just wish that they didn’t make me so conscious of being put in there for a purpose (e.g. using the children in the cast merely for the cuteness factor and for their ability to bring in family and friends; pointlessly beefing up [?] Wolfgang’s part, in order to give another soloist or principal something more to do).

I appreciated the set more from the second tier (where I sat for the 10/3 performance). Closer up, the full moon in the lakeside scenes seemed to swallow up the dancers (it also annoyed me that the moon never moved at all). The orchestra was wonderful under both Kershaw and Dameron, fully conveying the emotion of the score in a way that the choreography (no matter how superbly executed by the dancers) never really did.

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Welcome, Nyala! Not too late at all -- no review is ever too late here. A very warm welcome from all of us at Ballet Alert! and I hope you'll keep us up to date on what's happening in Seattle (and join in our other discussions as well). Any thread that's not locked is an active thread -- if you scroll through the various forums and find something you'd like to comment on, don't be shy. Some of our best discussions have come from people reviving older topics.

Thanks again for a fine review -- this is an important company, and we want to hear about all of its performances and casts!

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Well, I saw all five principal casts, so I am very full of swans right now. One difference that struck me about halfway through was the attitude that Odette has during the 2nd act. Some of the women dancing that role here seemed to believe it was all over from the start -- that they were doomed no matter what, while others let themselves hope, only to be betrayed. I began to wonder if perhaps, after all that has happened to her, if Odette is more experienced that Siegfried. Nakamura's Odette almost seemed older than Wever's Siegfried -- he was very enthusiastic and boyish, while she appeared resigned to fate. It reminded me of the Marschalin from Rosenkavalier, only there's no Sophie in sight.

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Five! Wow. I hope they give stickers!!

I think you raise an interesting point -- one of the great things about those roles is that they can be anything: innocent, knowing. I've sometimes thought that Odette had been burned before -- always running into these earnest young men, who always promised anything by moonlight, then either went off hunting and genuinely forgot ("I'll call you!") or went to the ball with the best of intentions, but there was this hot chick in a black strapless...... oh, she's seen it all before, she has, she has.

I also think Siegfried can be young and innocent ("the Prince who has never loved before") like Marguerite and Armand. Marguerite is so often played by an older woman that I'd forgotten, until I reread the book some years ago, that she's actually a year or two older than Armand. And about 20 years more experienced.

Nice to have a production where Odette and Siegfried take center stage, and it's not Rothbart's Dream.

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Two reviews of this production.

Sandi Kurtz in the Seattle Weekly:

Fabula Rasa

SINCE ITS 1895 premier, Swan Lake has become a kind of template for choreographers to create their own vision of ballet. Some productions have pared down the narrative elements until the ballet was nearly abstract. Others played on certain themes, stressing psychological relationships or class issues.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's new version (playing through Sun., Oct. 5, at McCaw Hall, 206-292-ARTS) pushes the metaphoric, dreamlike elements, while adding a plethora of naturalistic details, so we're dealing in multiple worlds most of the time.

and R.M. CAMPBELL in the Post-Intelligencer

'Swan Lake' is a feast for the senses

Pacific Northwest Ballet was hoping for a hit to open its inaugural season in McCaw Hall and it has one in its new "Swan Lake."

There is glamour, flair, aristocratic refinement and genuine substance.

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