BWW Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET'S Swan Lake Features World Class Dancing but Lackluster Decor and Costumes
In my 2015 review of the Peter Martins version of "Swan Lake" for the New York City Ballet, I focused on my dismay about the décor and costumes by Per Kirkeby that strip this classic of its time and place. Yet because I was prepared for that disappointment this time around, I was able to find more to like about the production on the evening of September 20th 2017 when I attended at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center.
First off, the evil sorcerer Rothbart is an especially compelling character in the Martins iteration of "Swan Lake". Cameron Dieck, a corps de ballet member, more than did the role justice as he swopped about with his strategically lit orange cape and surreptitiously offered Odile instructions about how to charm the Prince into professing his love for her rather than for Odette. My only objection, which I honestly didn't notice in 2015 since I was so appalled by the visuals, is that the libretto has become a sort of fractured fairy tale in which the Prince, ably danced by Russell Janzen when I was in the audience, is left without his beloved White Swan even though the light of dawn somehow caused Rothbart to melt away. Wouldn't the sorcerer's powers over the women-turned-swans have dissipated so that the swans were free of his spell?
As for the dancing, Teresa Reichlen was mostly marvelous is the very demanding dual role of Odette/Odlle. However, her interpretation of the Black Swan wasn't as imperious as it should have been, and the 32-fouette sequence was a tad wobbly with some unintended traveling rather than staying on a dime. To her credit, she did toss in some doubles. Even so, I sometimes yearn for the days when ballerinas simply whipped off the 32 fouettes flawlessly without today's added tricks. Margot Fonteyn comes to mind. Some people are fond of saying she wasn't all that much of a technician, but she never failed to deliver those fouettes. (An aside: Click here for a fascinating TED video about the physics of fouettes.)
Of the Act II dances, one of my favorites is the Divertissement: Pas de Quatre, a Martins original. I don't always like his choreography, but this piece shows off the rapid-fire footwork that has been a trademark of NYCB since the Balanchine era. As the danseur with three ballerinas, Daniel Ulbricht was his usual bounding and turning self to the delight of the dancegoers. I did miss his witty interpretation of the role of the Jester, which he danced in previous years, but Troy Schumacher acquitted himself well in that role this time around.
As I noted in 2015, the NYCB corps is looking marvelous these days. Ah, but the children from the School of American Ballet, rehearsed by Children's Ballet Master Dena Abergel and Associate Children's Ballet Master Arch Higgins, stole the show every moment that they were on stage. Crisp and clean, yet unaffected, the youngsters offer great promise for the future of the art form.
Finally, although I criticized the New York City Ballet Orchestra in 2015, I found this year's performance of the iconic Tchaikovsky score to be superb. Kudos to Conductor Andrew Sill, Violin Soloist Kurt Nikkanen, and all the members of the orchestra.
The current production of "Swan Lake" has been in the repertoire since 1999, so I can only assume it's here to stay. This season, "Swan Lake" runs through October 1st. If you can, do go see it. Concentrate as I did on the dancing rather than the sets and costumes, and you definitely won't be dissatisfied.
Photo by Paul Kolnik