Dallas — Watching a mediocre Swan Lake is painful, and must be especially so for those who paid $165 a ticket to see Saint Petersburg State Russian Ballet’s version Tuesday at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House.
The opening did not bode well: over-amped canned music, a jester out of place with his broad, cartoonish antics, and a corps that looked fine so long as you ignored their feet.
The occasion is Prince Siegfried’s 21st birthday and everyone in the village is there to celebrate. The hitch is the Queen Mother: she harangues the Prince to find a wife, offering him several pretty maidens. He will have nothing to do with it, waving them away like so many annoying mosquitoes. The Queen has done something nice: she gives him a crossbow. He seizes it as a signal of freedom, and all the pestering of the jester can’t dampen his enthusiasm.
While this little exchange in Act I sets the stage for the Prince to discover his true love—it turns out to be Odette, the Swan Queen—we had to wade through some quite ordinary ensemble dancing. Fortunately, Act II perked up, and as it is the pivotal act (many ballet companies perform only the second act) with Aleksandr Voitin as Prince Siegfried acting very much the prince, with wonderful, lofty jumps and a handsome manner, and a capable Anna Voitina as the Swan Queen.
The setting is lovely: a castle high, high up on the rocks is seen in the far distance, with a lake below and the forest opening to permit the Prince to hunt. He watches four swans serenely gliding at the lake’s edge (they are fake), but once the Swan Queen appears, he is transfixed. She bourrées forth on beautifully arched feet and with an even more impressive arched back, her arms undulating in that willowing way of swans. She is impressive with her high arabesques as the Prince rotates her, with her delicate beating feet, and with daring swoops downward. But expressiveness is wanting. She’s steady, not tremulous or enraptured, and even when the evil magician Von Rothbart beckons her back, she bourrées not in a trance, but like an obedient child.
As for the swans, they show no sign of peril, barely tilting their heads downward with one arm raised for protection. The four cygnets are something else: quick and precise, their feet working like pistons.
Act III, set in the castle’s grand hall, turns out to be Voitina’s nemesis. She can glower and connive quite convincingly as the interloper Odile, but she falls apart in turns and most especially in those dreaded fouettés. The Prince has his day, however, swooping across the stage back and forth in glorious leaps.
He has to deal with four maidens chosen again by his mother, and for some reason they are garbed all in white with veils, like brides. (In other versions, they are dressed in the clothes of princesses from foreign lands.) As before, he waves them away.
The costumes for the variations from Spain, Russia and the like are much more pleasing, particularly the dark teal of the Russian dancers, with their boots and flowing robes. The dancing is lively with its clever patterns and fast feet.
Act IV whisks by at a nice clip, and ends happily (in many, the end is tragic), with the Prince reunited with the Swan Queen and Rothbart dispatched. Like the Prince, we feel saved.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.