BWW Review: Heather Ogden is One Strong Swan in the National Ballet of Canada's SWAN LAKE
The theme will get under your skin. With some of the most beautiful music ballet has to offer, SWAN LAKE is sure to capture your heart. The National Ballet of Canada is celebrating the 140th anniversary of Tchaikovsky's most iconic ballet with their dark, brooding production designed by Santo Loquasto and Robert Thomson with choreography by James Kudelka. The opening night performance featured ballet's power couple, Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté. Stunning design meets extraordinary dancing, creating a real-life fairytale on the Four Seasons Centre stage.
The first act opens with the town celebrating the birthday of their prince, Siegfried (Guillaume Côté). Being forced by his mother to choose a bride and marry, the prince removes himself from the festivities - pensive in his melancholy. In an attempt to distract him, Siegfried's friend Benno (Naoya Ebe) convinces him to hunt swans seen flying overhead. The friends are separated in the woods, leading Siegfried to discover a tranquil lake. The sorcerer Rothbart (Piotr Stanczyk) interrupts the prince, tempting him with the white swan, Odette (Heather Ogden). After a passionate introduction, the two fall in love - Odette being the remedy to Siegfried's unhappiness.
A general depressed tone covers the stage throughout the production, communicated in the sets, designed by Santo Loquasto, which shift from elaborately intricate and dark to sparse and desolate. (Loquasto recently won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Musical for HELLO DOLLY.) Loquasto's white swan costumes serve as an illuminating contrast to his set - especially when paired with Robert Thomson's careful lighting design. Each angle of each dancer's body is in focus throughout. Together, Loquasto and Thomson collaborate on one of the most magical scene changes I've ever witnessed on the stage - sure to impress even the most ardent critic.
Tchaikovsky sounds grand with David Briskin as musical director and principal conductor of the National Ballet Orchestra. The relationship between the orchestra and Kudelka's choreography is fluid - they work as a team, an ebb and flow of growing intensity and gentle emotion. The strings were exceptionally strong - the violin solo during Act III's Russian Princess scene is one of the musical highlights.
SWAN LAKE demands extreme technical focus from the corps de ballet. With Kudelka's creative energy, they exist independently while also being able to blend together as a cohesive, coordinated unit. The four dancers in the pas de quatre, "danse des petits cygnes" deserve lavish praise. Their execution was flawlessly unified - igniting immediate applause. An honourable mention must be given to Naoya Ebe as Benno, who, incredibly light on his feet, floats across the stage - stealing the first act.
Compared to his portrayal as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire last week, Guillaume Côté is gentle, passionate and emotional as Siegfried. The perfect gentleman, his dancing is stoic - each step executed with effortless grace. Côté and Ogden have undeniable chemistry - they dance as two humans that belong in each other's arms.
Heather Ogden emerging as Odette in Act II will bring tears to your eyes. The prima ballerina is in fine form, returning to the stage as radiant as ever after a second pregnancy. The innocence and fear of a princess - trapped - is communicated in her face, the way she delicately tilts her head and all the way down through her expressive hands. Ogden's portrayal of Odette is so close to perfection, that it overshadows her Odile. Although she has some of the most "impressive" choreography in Act III (performing over thirty fouettes will always demand applause, especially with Ogden's balance), I would have liked to see more of a physical contrast between her Odette and Odile. In saying that, sacrificing any of the supreme natural grace that Ogden displays as the white swan would be a casualty - it is truly a magnificent performance.
SWAN LAKE is perfect for ballet beginners and ballet lovers alike. The music is rich, gorgeous and recognizable. The story is captivating - offering an escape to a land of mystery and magic.
SWAN LAKE, presented by the National Ballet of Canada and Porsche runs through June 25, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W, Toronto, ON.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit national.ballet.ca
Guillaume Côté (June 18, 22, 24 eve)
Brendan Saye (June 16, 24 mat)
Christopher Gerty (June 17 mat, 23)
Evan McKie (June 17 eve, 21, 25)
ODETTE / ODILE:
Heather Ogden (June 18, 22, 24 eve)
Hannah Fischer (June 16, 24 mat)
Emma Hawes (June 17 mat, 23)
Svetlana Lunkina (June 17 eve, 21, 25)
Piotr Stanczyk (June 18, 22, 24 eve)
Ethan Watts (June 16, 24 mat)
Ben Rudisin (June 17 mat, 23)
Jonathan Renna (June 17 eve, 21, 25)
(Header photo credit: Artists of the Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic)