BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE is Beautiful
Houston Ballet is closing their 2013-2014 season with a gorgeous revival of Stanton Welch's SWAN LAKE. With unforgettable music composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and a beloved story, SWAN LAKE may have been one of Houston Ballet's most anticipated shows this season. Settling in for the lengthy production, I could barely contain my excitement. Impressed as I was by the show, I discovered that Darren Aronosky's Black Swan left me with expectations for the ballet that were not delivered.
Black Swan was my introduction to SWAN LAKE, and after seeing it performed I felt surprisingly let down. The mania and angst that Natalie Portman dances with as the Black Swan was missing from the SWAN LAKE I saw. The music, while haunting, wasn't as bombastic as Clint Mansell's re-orchestrated takes on Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's score. Darren Aronosky's film painted an inaccurate portrait of SWAN LAKE in my mind. While I'd like to blame all my disappointment in the production on this, there were other aspects that interfered with my ability to be entirely swept away by the ballet as well.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's first act for SWAN LAKE is a whopping 75 minutes, and it feels long in performance. Stanton Welch's choreography, while featuring energetic leaps and beautiful classical technique, mirrors the repetitive motifs of the score too well. The parade of princesses drags in the second scene of the first act. Then, in the third scene, the movements of the swans seems so stilted that it feels like after you've seen one swan solo, you've seen them all. As the skilled and graceful dancers move from the pas de quatre to solos and to duets there is no denying the skill, precision, and beauty of the scene and these dances, but both elements lose their appeal as the novelty of humans impressively recreating the movements of birds wears off.
Darren Aronosky's cinematic approach to the second act was filled with crazed fervor. His characterization of the Black Swan is tangibly volatile and unsettlingly dangerous. Watching Sara Webb dance the role, I wasn't moved by her performance in this particular act. She danced Odile and the Black Swan with sass and personality, but I found myself entirely missing the perilous edginess from Black Swan. Her interpretation of the role held my interest for the entirety of her performance in the act, but it wasn't what I expected.
Despite these setbacks, Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE had many glowing elements. Stanton Welch's chorography for the piece creates innumerable stage images that are filled to overflowing with beauty and grace. He also meticulously attends to levels, alternating between low, medium range, and high gestures to bring out the romance and desire of the characters. As Odette and the White Swan, Sara Webb shines. Her poise and elegance are simply breathtaking. Connor Walsh's Prince Siegfried is charming and youthful. Nao Kusuzaki is captivating as the Princess of Russia, owning her solos and featured moments in Act I and Act II. As Prince Siegfried's friends Oliver Halkowich and Chun Wai Chan bound across the large stage with impressive leaps and unyielding energy.
Scenic and Costume Designs by Kristian Fredrikson are striking and lovely. In fact, the reveal of the second act's set earned applause at the performance I attended. Additionally, the feathering on the tutus for the swans is astounding, creating picturesque costuming. The rest of the costumes capture pre-Renaissance era European fashions and take audiences back to a romanticized portrayal of the middle ages, letting us swoon over the valor of the prince and ensuring we are not surprised when the third act features a large dragon as a set piece.
Houston Ballet's revival of Stanton Welch's SWAN LAKE was not my favorite story ballet performance; however, I am very satisfied that I had the opportunity to see it danced before my eyes. It is lovely, and it is easy to see why this story has captured the hearts of fans. I simply wish I had seen the ballet before I ever saw Black Swan. Despite my own personal hang-ups with the production, Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE is still a lush and opulent performance of a classic piece.
Running Time: 3 hours with 2 intermissions.
SWAN LAKE, produced by Houston Ballet, runs in the Brown Theater at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue, Houston, 77002 now through June 15, 2014. Performances are Friday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 14 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday June 15 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.houstonballet.org or call (800) 828-2787.