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American Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake 2016

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American Ballet Theatre

Swan Lake 2016

At the
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 17, 2016

(Read More ABT Reviews.)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on the Spring 2016 Season Ballet Music.)

Conductor: David LaMarche

Swan Lake (1877, Moscow; 2000, ABT): Choreography by Kevin McKenzie after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Set and Costumes by Zack Brown, Lighting by Duane Schuler, Performed by Gillian Murphy as Odette-Odile, Cory Stearns as Prince Siegfried, Martine Van Hamel as The Queen Mother, Keith Roberts as Wolfgang, Calvin Royal III as Benno, the Prince’s friend, Thomas Forster and Alexandre Hammoudi as von Rothbart, Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher, Calvin Royal III as Pas de Trois, Nicole Graniero, Jin Zhang, Courtlyn Hanson, Mai Aihara as Cygnettes, Katherine Williams and Catherine Hurlin as Two Swans, Keith Roberts as Master of Ceremonies, Zhong-Jing Fang as The Hungarian Princess, Catherine Hurlin as The Spanish Princess, Gemma Bond as The Italian Princess, Cassandra Trenary as The Polish Princess, Kelley Potter and Roman Zhurbin as Lead Czardas, Jennifer Whalen and Alexei Agoudine, Brittany DeGrofft and Patrick Frenette as Spanish Dance, Blaine Hoven and Joo Won Ahn as Neapolitan, and the Company as The Aristocrats, The Peasants, Swans, Czardas, and Mazurka.

Swan Lake was first produced in 1877 by the Russian imperial Ballet at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre. In 1895, the Petipa/Ivanov choreography was introduced in St. Petersburg, and in 1940 ABT staged Act II, followed in 1944 by the premier of the Black Swan Pas de Deux at the Metropolitan Opera House. In 1988 Mikhail Baryshnikov staged a new version for ABT, and in 1993 Kevin McKenzie re-staged this piece for ABT and again newly produced Swan Lake in 2000. (ABT Notes).

The high point of tonight’s Swan Lake, New York’s favorite story ballet, was not, shockingly, the Act III Black Swan Pas de Deux, between Odile and Siegfried, when he thinks the Great Hall Odile is Odette, the lakeside white swan, but, the Act I Pas de Trois. Calvin Royal III as Benno, Prince Siegfried’s best friend, with Christine Shevchenko and Devon Teuscher, as friends at the Prince’s birthday party, were outstanding, refreshing, and spontaneous. Their youthfulness was engaging and contagious, giving the audience at The Met something new and exciting, what balletomanes long for. Sadly, Cory Stearns, as Siegfried, was at his most passive and inappropriately self-content in affect, dancing as if tonight was a non-consequential stage rehearsal. Gillian Murphy, always the pro, performed predictably as Odette-Odile, sinewy and theatrical as the doomed white swan and arched and cunning as the duplicitous black swan, but we’ve seen this exact performance, for many years on end. Ms. Murphy needed a partner who could “up her game”, someone in the mold of the Siegfrieds of Ballet Theatre’s golden days, evocative of Carreño, Bocca, Corella, even Bolle, and even Hallberg. One of the standard Siegfrieds, a frequent partner of Ms. Murphy, is Marcelo Gomes, who was not cast tonight, but, again, we’ve seen that duo performance over and over. It’s time for new blood, in the absence of the injured Bolle and Hallberg. Even a few nights of featured Soloist and Corps partnerships would have been thrilling, and it would be unfair here to single out just a few, as many have been primed. Mr. Stearns was an abysmal disappointment, particularly in that monumental Black Swan Pas de Deux, barely lifting his rear leg in leaps, barely spinning, even barely acting. His was an immature, self-absorbed, ill-cast lead performance.

Calvin Royal danced with heart, propulsion, and compelling style, and he’s still in the Corps. Mr. Royal has performed stunningly in lead roles, including the “Shostakovich Trilogy”, for years and has gained much in confidence, balance, and overall technique. Devon Teuscher, a Soloist in the Pas de Trois, a peasant-styled dance at the birthday events, has also danced spotlighted roles for years, always with sublime, impassioned, gorgeous presence. And, Christine Shevchenko, a Soloist also featured in the “Shostakovich Trilogy”, among other lead roles, brings a professional aura to all her moments in the light. Thomas Forster, as the fully costumed monster, von Rothbart, is another Soloist of interest, who might exceed in larger, showcased roles, and, likewise, Zhong-Jing Fang, who was tonight’s understated Hungarian Princess, was the lead Pirate Woman in “Le Corsaire” a couple of weeks ago, dancing with fiery aplomb. One more star dancer, waiting to burst into a danseur lead, is the ever-entertaining Roman Zhurbin, who danced a minor role in a lead Czarda tonight. Mr. Zhurbin was the mother in “La Fille mal gardée” recently, and he’s astute in such drag roles, also as Cinderella’s step-sister some seasons, but why not try him out as Siegfried, maybe with Ms. Shevchenko, and how about Mr. Royal with Ms. Fang. There are multiple opportunities to raise the stage profile of Company dancers already performing with such excellence.

As The Queen Mother, the retired Principal, Martine Van Hamel, was, as always, fully in the dramatization with poise, and Keith Roberts was an astute Wolfgang and Master of Ceremonies. It should be mentioned that a consistent top quality star of the annual run of Kevin McKenzie’s (after Petipa and Ivanov) Swan Lake is the Corps. The Corps’ lakeside Act II, and, to a lesser extent, Act IV ensemble dances are always breathtaking, never a stumble, never a lurch, and never a half-raised rear leg. Theirs is an enchanting, illuminated sight to behold, and kudos to all their ballet masters and teachers. As the Act III von Rothbart, Alexandre Hammoudi was in his element. His partnered leads often result in disappointments for the audience, as his strengths lie in featured, flashy solos. He seduced Siegfried’s mother, The Queen, with deceptive, dramatic charm. As the four Cygnettes, in their synchronized, brief highlight, Nicole Graniero, Jin Zhang, Courtlyn Hanson, and Mai Aihara generated vocal accolades for tight, taut timing. Katherine Williams and Catherine Hurlin were lovely as Two Swans, as well. Elsewhere, in the Corps, Blaine Hoven performed with buoyant ease in the Neapolitan, with Joo Won Ahn, and Patrick Frenette, in the Spanish Dance, caught my eye, with his nuanced gestures. Zack Brown’s set and costumes are especially prominent in the Act III Great Hall ballroom scene, with Odile’s black tutu, The Queen Mother’s gown, von Rothbart’s purple – black leotard and cloak, that he waves and twirls, the rust-colored, designed stage curtains, and tall, rear door, with explosive entrances and exits. In fact, within Mr. Brown’s lavish concept, his lakeside scene, with the rear, rocky hills, from which Odette and Siegfried leap to their doomed destiny, is spellbinding. Duane Schuler’s lighting is magical in the Act II rising moon and Act IV rising sun.

A final note, Maestro LaMarche conducted Tchaikovsky’s lush, renowned score with poignancy, propulsion, and piercing instrumental solos that matched the ballet’s finest choreographic moments. Ballet Theatre Orchestra and solo musicians rose to the occasion like the brilliant Act IV finale’s shimmering sun.

Gillian Murphy in “Swan Lake”
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at