Review: AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE: SWAN LAKE at Kennedy Center

This production runs from February 21st-25th.

By: Feb. 24, 2024
Review: AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE: SWAN LAKE at Kennedy Center
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In American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake, everything shimmered. The costumes, the music, the set, and the lighting created a glittering sensory chorus of decadence and emotion.

The poise of the ballerini made me sit up straight in my seat, as if they could see me in the audience, and I was a fellow attendee of the ball. The excitement was palpable as guests were filing into aisles in the Kennedy Center Opera House, a cavernous hall of soft red felt and chandelier stars above. This energy continued throughout the concert, as people in the seats around me gasped and exclaimed with joy, surprise, and awe. 

Once settled into the rhythm of large-scale dance performance, I was able to appreciate the sheer magnitude of detail in all parts of the arrangement. I am struck by roles I see in the program such as “Librarian” and “Directors of Repertoire,” as the presence of such positions confirms that the organization and documentation of the music, choreography, and dramaturgical history is something one can dedicate their profession to. 

This show was truly a lot to take in. From entering the theater to leaving the building, I was there for about three hours. Though lengthy in time and dense in content, my attention never wavered, as the beautiful strength of the dancers made my own sitting, watching body feel alive with movement. 

After what feels like a complete story in Acts I and II, Act II begins and ends with stunts that keep you awake. The antagonist, the wicked sorcerer von Rothbart, reappears with his signature dark mood lighting and crouched, menacing cape twirls. 

A brief note about von Rothbart, played by Roman Zhurbin in this specific performance; both the set and the costuming of the sorcerer scenes established them clearly outside, in the woods. As the swans are animals and the humans are human, the sorcerer is someone else. Perhaps an earthen spirit, or a troll, but regardless, a presence most foul. I am grateful to the set and costume designers for creating such detailed scenes that each felt distinct and rich in their own way. 

I applaud the director, Susan Jaffe, and choreographer, Kevin Mackenzie, for their creation of depth through formations and spacing. Social dances with the queen often had members of the corps de ballet perched near the wings, watching the spectacles unfold. As I watched them watch the others, my imagined embodiment of those roles, an inter-audience, made me think harder about what it is like to be a professional ballet dancer.

The swans, or more accurately the dancers who perform the roles, are the ones we have to thank for the most iconic scenes of Swan Lake. They are able to move so exactly and stand so still in a unison shape of fifteen to thirty-five other dancers that the corps becomes a body of its own. The indirect gaze of the swans felt at once modest and intimate. The dancers are mechanical, methodic, precise, and robotic even. Watching swan after swan come out of the wings in single file and perfect unison must be a joyous sight for any lover of the ballet. 

Finally, the presence of Isabella Boylston, who danced Odette/Odile, cannot be understated. In the way I desire when I watch the best ballets, she simply floated over the stage with the most beautiful slowness and ease. She is the classical princess of our dreams. 

A performative celebration of grace and poise, a display of vigorous virtuosity and ensemble excellence, American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake is a show to make time for. 

American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center has a run time of two hours and eighteen minutes with one intermission.

Image by Rosalie O’Connor




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