BWW Reviews: In American Ballet Theatre's SWAN LAKE the Show Must Go On Despite Injury
On June 23rd, Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes were scheduled to dance the lead roles of Odette-Odile and Prince Siegfried in American Ballet Theatre's Swan Lake. Unfortunately, after an exquisitely musical and technically proficient first act, it was announced that Ms. Murphy would not dance in the second act due to an injury, sparking a collective gasp from the audience, especially since the first act was danced so well.
Throughout the White Swan pas de deux, Ms. Murphy's lower body appeared strong and precise, while her upper body exuded suppleness and vulnerability. She flew through the air in her sissonnes during her variation, yet made no sound in the landing. The only part of this scene where I felt something was slightly off was during Ms. Murphy's solo variation: she did not seem to sustain her extensions to the side in second position on pointe as long as she is capable of doing.
In the second act, Hee Seo substituted for Ms. Murphy. Admittedly, I was disappointed with the need for a substitute. However, Ms. Seo proved to be a marvelous replacement in terms of both technique and character, most successfully portraying Odile as the seductive and mysterious Black Swan. In the grand pas de deux, Ms. Seo sustained a balance in a piqué arabesque for an impressively long duration. The opening of this pas de deux was danced brilliantly, and it was obvious that Mr. Gomes was content with his new partner by the genuine grin on his face. Perhaps Ms. Seo was so overwhelmed at her own level of dancing in the first entrance that she made herself a bit nervous during her variation. The double pirouettes into a renversé were not executed as strongly as she is capable of doing. Nevertheless, she regained composure and finished with exciting fouetté turns that make this ballet so iconic.
Although it is the Swan Queen that draws the most attention in this ballet, it was impossible to overlook the marvelous male dancers of this ballet. I was particularly impressed with Mr. Gomes' solo in the first act where he executed extraordinarily controlled pirouettes and jumps. Towards the end of the first scene, when all of the aristocrats and peasants seemed to have found themselves a mate, it was clear that Prince Siegfried was frustrated because he had not found his match and/or because of his imminent obligation to choose a bride as the Queen Mother had ordered. At this point, Mr. Gomes broke into one of the most graceful and lyrical ballet solos I have ever seen performed by a male dancer. It is not often that males dance adagio style solos; instead they more frequently dance up-tempo and explosive variations in classical ballet. Yet, Mr. Gomes' jumps and turns did not lack any strength; the ballon was evident and he melted seamlessly into landings.
The peasant pas de trois was performed beautifully by Sarah Lane, Yuriko Kajiya and Joseph Gorak. Ms. Lane is a dancer who always captivates my attention. Despite her small stature, she moves big, with elegance and poise. Her footwork is quick and effortless.
American Ballet Theatre's production of Swan Lake is quite demanding for the corps de ballet, as well as the principle dancers. It was so refreshing to see an entire corps of dancers with pure, classical ballet technique, especially with respect to the dancers' port de bras. In addition, the dancers in this company seem to be very in tune with each other and are able to dance in a cohesive group, which was especially clear in the second act when all of the swans move uniformly from one posture to another within one count.
Sometimes popular ballets such as Swan Lake are presented as vehicles to display technical skill rather than a story. This was not the case here. Mr. Gomes, Ms. Murphy and Ms. Seo were able to use the demanding choreography as a means to tell a moving and tragic love story. Swan Lake is over 100 years old, and American Ballet Theatre performs this ballet almost every summer. Some people wonder why one would watch the same ballet year after year. After viewing this particular performance it was clear why: there is a certain magic that ensues when magnificent dancers, a gorgeous score and a storybook setting combine to create a timeless tale of good overcoming evil and love transcending death.