Fort Worth — Many critics would say they have a love/hate relationship with the ballet Swan Lake. Hate because we have seen it re-done and over-done so many times. Love because when executed correctly we can find ourselves at a loss for words. These conflicting views might have something to do with the ballet’s own fractured history. The Swan Lake we know today derives from the production choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s composition and premiered in St. Petersburg in 1895.
What many might not know is that Tchaikovsky actually composed the score in the mid-1870s and that the first production of Swan Lake was performed on stage in Moscow under the title The Lake of the Swans. It also may come as a surprise to some that the original version was a product of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre before it was revived in St. Petersburg. Petipa and Ivanov also had different ideas when it came the ballet’s choreography due to their dissimilar dance backgrounds; Petipa with his Italian and Parisian influences and Ivanov with his Imperial Russian influences. Their contrasting styles helped create one of the most challenging and coveted roles in ballet: Odette/Odile.
Swan Lake tells the story of the beautiful Odette who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer and only love can break the spell. The sorcerer plays a trick on the prince so that he falls in love with the imposter black swan thus dooming Odette. Instead of spending an eternity as a swan Odette chooses to kill herself and once the prince realizes what he has done he decides to die with her. Not exactly the happily-ever-after audiences might expect.
It’s definitely a risk for Texas Ballet Theater to close its season with such an infamous ballet, but if dress rehearsal on Thursday was any indication audiences are in for a well-balanced performance. The opening party scene in the woods started off a little rocky, but quickly gained momentum. At first, the dancers’ pantomiming felt a bit forced and Principal Dancer Lucas Priolo’s stage entrance lacked energy. But as the scene progressed the dancers began to lose themselves in the movement and story thanks in part to the live accompaniment provided by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra—the first time TBT has has live orchestra accompaniment since 2008.
The two female soloists in the party scene displayed beautiful control and amazing fortitude as they seamlessly executed multiple entrechat trois and echappe jumps into a slow arabesque hold. Simon Wexler upped the ante with his mind-blowing jumps and technical dexterity. He attacks all his movement with such vigor that viewers are just waiting for him to fall out of a turn or fumble a landing. He does neither of these things.
Priolo’s movement becomes more fluid and texturized when he dances with Carolyn Judson (Odette/Odile) during the lake scene. His quiet charm, stoic lines and breezy partnering skills are only a few of the qualities audiences are going to miss when he retires after this performance season. With her long lines, winged feet and angelic face, Judson is the quintessential swan princess. But don’t let her willowy frame and divine adagio work fool you. As soon as the tempo picks up she begins fluttering her arms frantically as she aggressively bourrees across the floor.
The corps of swans also has the difficult task of executing every head tilt, wrist flick and body angle in complete unison and at a quick-moving pace. If one dancer’s leg is a little higher than the others the whole illusion of the dance is scattered. This part of the ballet is so well-known because of its uniformity. The corps accomplishes this by breathing together as a group, giving off a tranquil vibe even as they are moving quickly in and out of formations while performing tricky foot work.
The return to live music will be talked about just as much as the dancing. The orchestra had to be cut because of financial difficulties at the start of the recession, but appears to slowly be making a comeback. In the 2014-15 season, TBT will have two productions with the FWSO: The Sleeping Beauty and The Merry Widow.
Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Swan Lake runs May 30-June 1, 2014 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com