Send in the Swans
Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Angel Corella has been programming classical story ballet repertoire in the three years he has been running Pennsylvania Ballet. In addition to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, he mounted company premieres with Don Q and La Corsaire. Corella is a consummate classicist, but also want to stage old rep in way that will attract new audiences, in part by culling ideas from productions he himself danced all over the world. And with the current production of Swan Lake, he stages the most iconic ballet in all of classical repertoire, is more streamlined and has a more cogent theatrical arc.
By now, Swan Lake’s original Petipa-Ivanov choreography, is the distant jumping off point, even as chunks of its Imperial ballet vocabulary stays in place. Corella’s Swan Lake takes calculated risks, for starters, clipping musical passages or moving sections around, ostensibly to have the ballet clock in at under two hours, but also making the ballet a more streamlined fantasy.
There have been so many psychosexual interpretations of Swan Lake, and Corella skips all that and keeps it a straightforward storybook ballet, without much dramatic subterfuge to explain a Prince falling in love with a swan princess.
This is the third version that PA Ballet brings to its repertoire, first a one act reduction by George Balanchine and most memorably Christopher Wheeldon’s 2004 highly modernist adaptation created on the company in 2004, that proved a hit in several runs over a decade.
Corella dials back any psychodrama that may lurk telling the macabre story of the evil Van Rothbart turning a woman into a swan for his bidding. He makes this all about the dancing as he continues to showcase the classical strengths of principals, soloists and corps members ambitiously rotating five casts in various part during the ballet’s 10-day run.
On opening night Dayesi Torriente ignited her breakthrough performance as Odette/Odile. Character wise as Odette expressing understated power. Torrenti is a lyrical dancer with steely technique shown in strong arched back and diamond hard arabesques. And in a more commanding way as Odile, her technically artistry as thrilling in her adagio phrasing as during her electrifying fouette whips (about 8 of the 30 or so were doubles). Torriente can just suspend on pointe, her arabesque variations breathtaking.
As Prince Siegfried Arian Molina Soca’s lifts is the most ardent lover-prince, not built on overwrought pantomime. Odette folded of in avian repose, her torso pulsing at the strums of the harp as she is floats into the first central pas de deux with Siegfried. Soca is such a solid dancer, his jump variations muscled and with lingering ballone, his steel center turns finished off with unfussy polish.
Swan Lake really taps the technical artistry and ensemble character of the corps de ballet. The corps men ensemble executing robust unison double tours and looking focused and engaged even when they are in the background. The corps de ballet women are simply luminous from the moment they enter in the lakeside mist. They are earthy, mythical and powerful and flocked with purpose, conjuring exquisite pointe work and impeccable unison port de bra that never looked ‘posed.’
The Cynettes- Kathryn Manger, Yuka Iseda, Alexandra Heier and Emily Davis are entrancing, supple and razor sharp in those lateral piques and petit jumps timed step to note to Tchaikovsky’s bouncy oboe passage, one of the most recognized piece of dance music in the world.
Beatrice Jona Affron’s is a specialist of Tchaikovsky’s ballet and her timing and pacing of the dancers, doubly impressive making the necessary timing adjustment in rotating lead casts. Even with the dicey excisions of some passages for, presumably, Corella’s shortened dramaturg, Affron and Ballet Orchestra brings to power and dimension of Tchaikovsky’s score.
Affron knows the acoustic issues in the Academy and knows how to overcome them. Among the many outstanding players- concertmaster Luigi Mazzocchi’s violin solos filling the Academy with soulful expression, next to the rich strings of harpist Mindy Cutcher and masterful voicings from oboists Nick Masterson and Stephen Labiner. Also kudos to the drama of the blazing full brass in the final act.
Alexandra Hughes, Nayara Lopes and Peter Weill dance the mid-tempo garden trio with flair, even when they got a bit tangled on some of the partnering interlocks. Weill brought warm character flourishes to the Prince’s spirited best friend Benno, but in the first act struggled to finish off his tour l’air with clean landings. By act II, he soared through air-slicing grande jetes around the Academy stage. Pristine divertissement at the party, with the quartet of princesses presented at court as the Prince’s mother tries to fix him up. Three of them- principals Mayara Pineiro, Oksana Maslova, Lillian DiPiazza all switching off as Odette-Odile during the run.
The Spanish dancers a bit under powered both choreographically and as danced. The Czardas court dance, led by Kathryn Manger and Ian Hussey and four couples in the follow-up ensemble expressed the folkloric authenticity of Tchaikovsky’s music.
As Von Rothbart Sterling Baca was hidden in leather horned headdress, modern villainy drag. Von Rothbart is so often overdone, swirling around in a cape in ways that can get campy at any moment. Not an issue here. Baca uses minimalism, but his dramatic command flashes like lakeside lightning. Zeigheng Laing and Ashton Roxander bring the jaunty pyrotechnics of the Neapolitan tambourine dance. Rakish layouts and tours, on top of the quicksilver footwork challenges. Equally commanding the ‘big swan’ leads by Alexandra Hughes and Marjorie Feiring in the corps sections.
The entrancing production designs by Benjamin Tyrrell scenic bring old world mystique and iconic balletic stage pictures that look spectacular in the opera house environs of Philadelphia’s Academy of Music.