Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Swan Lake by Ballet Repertory Theatre at the Kimo

Now in their 24th season, Ballet Repertory Theatre is serving up "Swan Lake," a classical and tasty Tchaikovsky treat for the dance lovers in our community. Despite having seen this show often in times past, I never grow tired of it; there are so many options for dancers to choose from when approaching such iconic roles, and so many ways for the choreographer to choose to present this tale. BRT's newest staging of the classical ballet does exactly this, combining elements of the familiar with new moments of discovery for the audience to enjoy.

Placing equal emphasis on acting ability as well as technical ability, choreographer Alex Ossadnik stages this story in four acts, allowing the fairy tale to take precedence instead of being the afterthought that some choreographers have treated it as. Ossadnik also deviated from the expected in casting the role of Odette/Odile, White Swan/Black Swan, who is often performed by the same dancer but is danced by two dancers for this production. Erika Ray plays the delicate Odette, a princess doomed to appear as a white swan who falls in love with Prince Siegfried, danced with clean precision by Mauro Villanueva. In pursuit of the Prince's kingdom, the scheming Baron von Rothbart (Michael Smith) seeks to place his daughter, the seductive Odile, danced by Briana VanSchuyver, in line for the throne instead. Using trickery at the masquerade ball, Rothbart switches Odette for Odile, and consigns the Prince to marry the wrong woman.

The technique required by this classic's choreography is always of a high caliber, and the entire company sets the artistic bar(re) quite high. By Ossadnik's vision, we see moments that recall pure Petipa, such as the pas de deux in act two when Odette and Siegfried first fall in love, while others are completely unique, such as the Black Act's pas de quatre between Odette, Rothbart, Siegfried and Odile. With such strong pointe technique displayed by Ray and VanSchuyver, and superb partnering technique by Villanueva and Smith, as well as Smith's ability to find his brooding villain, the principle characters combine their personal expression with the story they're given and in return, believably embody the characters' archetypes.

Ray must remain delicate, tortured, and innocent in her movements, while VanSchuyver is aggressive, powerful and seductive in hers. Beside the foreboding character of the Baron and the innocence of the Prince, the dancers build their characters' stories as equally as they do their choreography. One role, that of the Queen, was also notably changed, and allowed for dancer Annie Cormier to bring her own pointe technique to the part. Most often presented in character shoe, Cormier's pointe shoes allow for Siegfried and his mother to perform their own pas de deux in act one, a bit different from most productions.

I spoke with Ossadnik after the opening night performance and asked about another directorial choice he made, removing the famous (or infamous?) 32 fouette turns that traditionally are Odile's to perform in the Black Act. Over a century later, the turns are almost expected, ever since Pierina Legnani performed them in 1895, but dance critics question are they necessary? Romantics insist they embody Odile's bewitching power to seduce the Prince, but detractors compare the choreography to a circus act, calling them superfluous and meant to entertain a less sophisticated audience. Upon questioning, Ossadnik demurred, insisting that by his vision the fouettes are only needed when technically called for.

They were not missed, especially given the dense amount of complex choreography to be seen, and the lovely work done by the entire corps de ballet, in cannon and otherwise. Another iconic moment the company resonated with was act two's dance of the "little swans," which brought cheers and whistles from the house on opening night. "Little swans" was another example of Ossadnik holding true to the Petipa classic, where the choreography was not watered down to accommodate an imperfect dance technique, but instead kept true to the original and all four dancers performed the fast, intricate and challenging pas de quatre superbly.

Other moments in this production recall a child like sense of delight, most especially the climactic ending where Rothbart stirs the waters of the lake into a storm, reminding me of the effects you read of that were accomplished in the Maryinsky Theatre where this ballet debuted well over a century ago. Yet another choice "Swan Lake" choreographers must make is how to end it... there are several versions, some happy and some sad, and without giving anything away, I can definitively say the Ballet Repertory Theatre's ending left me feeling satisfied. Like a harmonious four course meal, the ballet in four acts has moments of light, airy sweetness tempered with heavy, and saucy, choreography that is meaty, complex and delicious, and meant to be savored and enjoyed.

Under the direction of Artistic Director Katherine Giese, BRT has continued to develop their company's repertory so that it is chock full of classic and modern ballet forms, delighting both types of balletomanes. To get your tickets, and to find out about their classes and workshops, visit their website at www.brtnm.com or you can visit the Kimo Theatre website for "Swan Lake" tickets at www.kimotickets.com.

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