BWW Review: American Ballet Theatre's SWAN LAKE
Swan Lake is an icon, the Hamlet of the ballet world and, much like Hamlet, audiences might need reminding that it is more than images and a melody; it is a bizarre and symphonic evening-length work of poetry. ABT's production puts full faith in the breadth of this work, leaving the magical and melodramatic elements leaning more towards camp than enchantment. Luckily, the capacity of Swan Lake to present the expressivity of the human form is on full display. With principal dancer Hee Seo leading the performance as an Odette seemingly etched in glass, the centrality of Swan Lake to the choreographic art form is reaffirmed.
Choreographer Kevin McKenzie softens the architectural edges of Petipa's groupings. Where the swans were perhaps once a testament to order and control, here they become hypnotically surreal. This works in perfect contrast to the social world of the castle and its birthday events and Great Hall procession, which are more socially grounded. McKenzie is at his best with Act I's pas de trois, which is masterfully handled by Katherine Williams, Catherine Hurline, and Blaine Hoven. The three dancers are inviting as they playfully execute a breathless tangle of motions, which are later counterpoised by the effervescent and initially apprehensive attitude of Odette. If Act 1 feels overlong in terms of plot motivation, this trio will more than keep your interest.
The characterizations offered by Hee Seo and Cory Stearns as Prince Siegfried offer human warmth. Hee Seo's Odette is effervescently regal and turns cunning as Odile. Stearns's youthful joy and enchantment in her "black swan" has more of the innocence of wonder rather than lust. While performing the pas de deux he, smartly, holds himself as an undercurrent to Seo's singing attitudes and arabesques. Then, when he's on his own, he commands the stage with powerful acrobatics and charismatic charm. Also claiming the stage in Act III is Thomas Forster as von Rothbardt, who seduces a procession and the convoy of prince's suitors with his wit and acrobatic force.
This Swan Lake is enchanting and forceful, even if I did find the world of the forest to be too familiar. Zack Brown's beautifully classic and bright designs for costuming and set are appropriately extravagant, though I would have preferred air of mystery and danger to them. The melodrama of the work leaves it dramatically distant. The ending displays the concept of sorrow and romance in essence, rather than pure surreal catharsis. Though with Seo on the stage, awe is baked into the scenes and our memories!