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Swan Lake

Pique Arabesque

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We saw the matinee on Saturday, June 7th. It was our first visit to the Houston Ballet and we're already considering a subscription for next year. Sara Webb played Odette/Odile and Connor Walsh was Prince Siegfried, with James Gotesky as Rothbart. The choreography was quite traditional, and listed as being by Stanton Welch "after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov". The structure included the transformation scene in the prologue that shows Odette being caught and cursed by von Rothbart. This ballet also included a final assembly of the swan maidens, restored to their human form after the defeat of Rothbart, moving hesitantly as if slowly recognizing that the loss of Odette has resulted in their freedom.

I confess to a preference for the ending in the recent San Francisco Ballet staging, which shows two swans -- implied to be the lovers -- flying past the moon at the end. However, showing a resolution for the other captured girls was a nice touch.

It took me several minutes of the beginning of the ballet to stop kicking myself, though -- walking in we saw that Hugh Laurie was playing that evening with his band. Had we only known we could have enjoyed both.

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Hi, Pique Arabesque. I'm sorry I didn't see your question sooner. *the* cast to see was yesterday afternoon's matinee, for which I actually made a trip. Welch's Swan Lake suffers from all the problems of the ballets he makes himself, exacerbated by the fact that this is a great work of art which needs great choreography to make it work properly.

That said, let me rave about the dancers, who almost make the imbecilic choreography work. Katharine Precourt, the Odette-Odile, is magnificent. She has been a ballerina for several years and if Welch doesn't hurry up and promote her to principal she will probably go to another company which WILL recognize her with that title. She is capable of both elegiac sadness as Odette (there were some moments on a par with Makarova, Lander, Gregory, Bessmertnova, etc.) and nearly salacious glee as Odile; she knows within approximately five seconds that Siegfried is her slave and she spends the rest of Black Swan enjoying herself. She has a ravishing arabesque, her lines and back sometimes bring to mind great Russians of the past. Although she travelled a good bit in her fouettes in the Black Swan coda, she threw in doubles in the first half and was strong until very near the end of the turns. Precourt's turns in her Black Swan variation (alas, to the 'Sound of Music' one, not the ravishing 'Russian' oboe solo in minor) were excellent. I do not know if this was her debut in the role, but her commitment to it was extraordinary.

William Newton, the Rothbart, is tall and commanding (he was, interestingly, terrific in the Phlegmatic variation in The Four Temperaments) and completely dominated the stage as Rothbart. He appeared to relish his very baroque cape....and was stalwart in the lift in which he must carry Odette over his head on a complete tour of the stage. Another dancer years overdue for promotion.

Aaron Robison, the Siegfried, is dashingly handsome, remarkably well built even for a classical dancer, and has a tremendous jump which he showed to great advantage. Robison was uncomfortable only with one multiple pirouette sequence in his Black Swan pdd variation, and that was only slight; his double tours at the end were great. He was gallant with his Odette and suitably hormonally idiotic with his Odile.

One of the biggest problems with this production (yes, worse than Peter Martins' at NYCB--who would think it possible?) is that the great smaller solo opportunities are utterly vitiated by being rearranged (there is no Act One pas de trois and the lovely music is cannibalized, not even heard in order, for some princess introductions) or extraordinarily badly choreographed (How is it possible to ruin the great RUSSIAN DANCE--one of Tschaikovsky's most sublime moments in ballet or elsewhere? Denise Tarrant, the concertmistress, acquitted herself honorably in this extremely difficult showpiece and in the White Swan pas de deux as well....Swan Lake is, among, other things, a violin concerto....) There is virtually no geniune display (and very little national character) in any of the national dances of the ballroom scene; only the Hungarian princess has a few interesting things to do. Sara Webb was excellent in this--Raymonda 'Hungarian' hand-behind-head poses really suit her. Most of the princesses are interfered with (not partnered, lol) by their escorts ('ambassadors') for at least some of their variations, instead of being partnered by the 'guards' appearing for that ostensible purpose. (Christopher Gray and Zechang Liang as the Neapolitan guards were especially stellar; if only they had had more to do.) I suppose it goes without saying, given the tenor of this production, that there is also no pas de quatre of any kind, much less one like the miraculous Ashton version. Music again cannibalized. The worst miscaculation musically was the insertion of what is now world-famous as the girl's variation from Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux , as one of the princesses' 'variations' (These, again, were anything but equally favored or even equal in time onstage); I am sure I was hardly the only audience member wincing at every witless step and unable to efface thoughts of the *real* choreography to this music.

Then there was the constant costume change for Precourt, from a long white nightie (representing the 'girl' Odette) to a white tutu, back and forth, ditto for the black act. Apart from the dismaying literalness of such costuming hijinks, the nightgown was nearly as bad as the thing perpetrated on the Clara in Baryshnikov's ABT Nutcracker--obscuring what are beautiful and commanding lines on the ballerina. The sets and lighting are pretty good (these *are* better than the lurid NYCB red bordello, etc) but the costumes are dreadful. Siegfried's attendants in several cases wear more princely and studly getups. This would be bad enough without a Prince who is extremely prepossessing and easy on the eye; with Robison it was criminal.

Houston Ballet is a wonderful company and its dancers rarely fail to distinguish themselves greatly. The corps is extremely strong and it is always a pleasure to see corps dancers in this company dance solo parts. The dancing in this Swan Lake was not the problem.

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