Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkin in Swan Lake Photo Gene Schiavone

Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkin in Swan Lake
Photo Gene Schiavone

Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY
June 27 (m), 2015

Colleen Boresta

Another afternoon at the ballet, another sold out house. This time, the crowd was due to the popularity of the ballet being danced. After The Nutcracker, Swan Lake is probably the best-known ballet in the world. It contains Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable score and the ultimate challenge for the ballerina – the dual role of Odette/Odile. After the Academy Award winning movie, Black Swan was released in 2010, an even larger number of people wanted to see Swan Lake live. I saw endless numbers of mothers, grandmothers and aunts treating little girls to American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake. Perhaps this will lead to future attendance at many other ballets.

American Ballet Theatre’s present production of Swan Lake by Kevin McKenzie is after – way after – Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. This particular version of the ballet has a few flaws. There are two von Rothbarts – one attractive and seductive; the other monstrously ugly. In the prologue, these two von Rothbarts change Odette into a swan. Seeing Odette as a girl at the beginning of the beginning of the ballet takes away much of the magic of her entrance as the Swan Queen in Act II. The sight of the gruesome von Rothbart squeezing a stuffed toy swan (after Odette’s transformation has taken place) is just plain embarrassing.

Another point of contention is when the handsome von Rothbart gets his own solo in Act III. The solo makes little sense dramatically and the audience is just hoping it will end so the Black Swan pas de deux can begin. For me, the most serious shortcoming in McKenzie’s Swan Lake is the removal of much of Act IV. Without a more complete final act, much of Prince Siegfried’s devastation at his betrayal of Odette and her resulting sorrow is lost.

Because of the magnificent performances, especially of the two principal dancers, the June 27th matinee of Swan Lake was magical. As Odette, Isabella Boylston’s upper body is much more flexible than when I saw her dance the role three years ago. Her arms were not quite at the boneless level of Russian-trained dancers like Polina Semionova, but Boylston is getting there. Her petit batterie, at the end of Act II, was thrilling. As Odile, Boylston revelled in her seductive powers. She shimmered like the most brilliant diamond. Boylston’s balances in the Black Swan pas de deux went on forever and her fouettés were very fast singles, whipped off in time to the music, with only a little traveling.

Boylston’s Siegfried, Daniil Simkin, was, as always, a very exciting dancer. His solo work was rich with spinning pirouettes, incredibly high leaps and very fast turns à la seconde. Simkin’s partnering has much improved from when I saw him as Prince Siegfried in 2012. In fact, I found his partnering to be absolutely wonderful. Simkin is also a superb actor. His puppy dog eagerness was perfect for his depiction of a very young Prince Siegfried. The look on his face at the end of the Black Swan pas de deux was priceless, clearly showing the prince’s desire to grab Odile and have his “way” with her. When he realized that he has betrayed Odette, Simkin’s desolation was heartrending.

Corps member Sterling Baca was an effectively evil Act III von Rothbart. He was not quite up to Marcel Gomes’ level in the role, but then who is? Baca’s dancing was strong with soaring leaps and fast turns. In the Act I pas de trois, Zhiyao Zhang impressed with his incredible elevation and amazing ballon. His partners, Cassandra Trenary and Luciana Paris, stood out for their sparkling footwork and wonderful musicality. The four cygnets (Misty Copeland, Skylar Brandt, Sarah Lane and Mai Aihara) performed in perfect sync with the music and each other. Melanie Hamrick and Paulina Waski’s big swans showed off their lovely lyrical phrasing. In spite of the production’s flaws, it was a wonderful afternoon at the ballet.