BWW Review: SWAN LAKE at KC Ballet
It's hard to believe that, in all the years of Kansas City ballet, it first tackled Swan Lake way back in, oh, 4 years ago. Devin Carney was newer to the scene then, and still carving out his reputation. It's been an interesting few years in between, and his artistic ambition has seemingly only grown. Putting a tentpole piece like this in the middle of the season rather than as an opener or closer is just another sign of his desire to push things forward.
The story of Swan Lake is a simple one:: Prince Siegfried (Liang Fu, returning to the part from 2016 - all cast noted are from company 1 of the 3 that will be performing in rotation) is out having a good time drinking and merry-making with his friend Benno (Craig Wasserman) and tutor, Wolfgang (Christopher Ruud) when his mother (Pamela Carney, another returner) shows up and tells him it's time to settle down and marry a nice princess. Benno tries to cheer up his despondent friend, first with dancing and then with organizing a hunting party in the woods. It is there that Siegfried meets Odette (Kaleena Burks), leader of a group of maidens who must live as swans by day because of Von Rothbart, an evil magician (James Kirby Rogers). She will only be released if she can find one to love her forever. Siegfried swears himself to her, and they dance until the sun comes up and she departs.
At a ball held to find him an eligible princess, Siegfried mopes, unable to take his mind off Odette. Suddenly, she appears - but it is not really her, it is Odile (Burks again), Von Rothbart's daughter he has disguised as Odette. Outside, the real Odette watches helplessly as Odile - the notorious BLACK SWAN - strings Siegfried along until he vows to marry her. Von Rothbart gleefully reveals the trick, and Siegfried rushes back to the lake to find that Odette is now doomed. She decides to drown herself rather than stay cursed, and he joins her. The curse is broken, the swan maidens are freed, and Siegfried and Odette are united in death.
The production is a lush one, choreography is a mix of Pepita & Ivanov and Mr. Carney himself (who would dream of touching Ivanov's Cygnets?). Peter Cazalet's scenery & costume design are impressive, and the dancers themselves did a marvellous job on a technically very challenging performance with only the occasional minor hiccup or timing error here and there. Burks's Odile is well done, a wicked co-conspirator with a gleam in her eye. Mr. Fu again gives us an excellent Sigfried. Really there are no weak spots to mention.
The music was provided as usual by the KC Symphony, and as always was on point. I know people tend to gravitate toward the Nutcracker, but this has always been the Tchaikovsky ballet for this reviewer. The Pas De Trois in the first act, frankly, is such a thoroughly beautiful work, that this reviewer is often tempted to close her eyes and let the music sweep her away before gently reminding herself that dance is, in fact, mostly a visual medium and would she kindly get back to work.
The Swan Lake revival follows Carney's pattern of mixing old and new, not only in the choice of shows within a season, but in the presentation of the works themselves. He seems determined to keep ballet in KC moving forward. We can only wish him best of luck in this, and hope he will continue to do so.