BWW Reviews: American Ballet Theatre's 'Swan Lake' Still Special
In the wake of Julie Kent's Saturday retirement performance of Romeo and Juliet emerges American Ballet Theatre's week-long run of Swan Lake - their first production without the talents of their three recently retired superstars: Kent, Paloma Herrera, and Xiomara Reyes. Now one of only two American principal ballerinas, Gillian Murphy led the Monday night production as Odette/Odile, bringing new subtlety to the role.
Murphy's coyness as Odette is enchanting (rather than annoying, as it sometimes reads) because she demonstrates that Odette has only become coy through her years under von Rothbart's curse. She is more spirited in the prologue, intrigued by Cory Stearns' sexy Rothbart and abducted by him with a hint of willingness. Her resistance is too pretty to be completely sincere, but it is Odette, not Murphy, who is the poor actress.
Marcelo Gomes' Prince Siegfried, too, possesses layers of motivation. His Prince is strikingly more mature, more deliberate than last week's Romeo. He is a good host, a diplomat, willingly yet halfheartedly dancing with each of the women at his birthday party attempting to stake their claim on his new eligibility. He dutifully accepts his mother's charge of immediate marriage, only showing his disappointment and dread when she has left the room. He watches couples interacting in slow motion, seeming to see his own future unfold as he mourns the loss of freedom marriage will bring. As soon as he exits, off to the woods to escape impending reality, the couples burst into full-speed drunken galavanting. The Prince only perceives marriage as a loss of freedom, when in fact their intoxicated splendour is far superior (and far more free) than his eventual fate.
Murphy and Gomes decorate their relationship with details: her nervous stiffness when they first meet, his desperate sprint as he chases her offstage after her bow, her calculated, mocking imitation of Odette's demureness as Odile, his innocent cluelessness that she is anything more than she appears to be. At the end of his pas de deux with Odile, Gomes throws himself at her feet. She tosses her head back into a neck-breaking arch, allowing the full extent of her deranged intensity to briefly slip through.
Swan Lake provides few distinctive corps de ballet roles, but several moments from Monday stand out for reasons good and bad. While soloists Sarah Lane, Joseph Gorak, and corps member Skylar Brandt float in their pas de trois, the cygnettes gallop through their clunky pas de chats. Craig Salstein and Arron Scott possess the same brand of delightful bounciness (the thing that makes them both excellent Mercutios), perfectly mirroring each other in their already-mirrored rapid-fire turns in the Neapolitan dance.
Cory Stearns as the young, attractive von Rothbart suggests the unresolvable crookedness of this ballet. The prologue begins to replay as he easily and immediately seduces each of the princesses hoping to wed Siegfried. He casually claims his seat next to the Queen. Though von Rothbart's swans turn against him after Odette's suicide, destroying him, the seemingly effortless reproducibility of his evil and the lingering presence of Odile echo past the curtain's close.
Gillian Murphy in Swan Lake, Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.