Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY; June 19(m), 2013
After ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Swan Lake’ is probably the best known ballet in the world. It contains both Tchaikovsky’s exceptional score and the ultimate challenge for the ballerina – the dual role of Odette/Odile. I have seen ‘Swan Lake’ close to 40 times and I am still able to gain something new from every viewing. This is especially true when ‘Swan Lake’ features the debut of young American Ballet Theatre principal Hee Seo as was the case on Wednesday afternoon.
‘Swan Lake’ is the tale of Odette, a princess who is put under a spell by an evil wizard, von Rothbart. She must live as a swan during the day and can only be human at night. The one way the spell can be broken is if a young man who has never loved before pledges his everlasting love to Odette. Prince Siegfried meets the Swan Queen while hunting and swears his never-ending love for her. At Siegfried’s 21st birthday ball von Rothbart arrives with his daughter Odile. The magician has disguised her to look exactly like Odette. Odile seduces the Prince into declaring his undying love for her. Knowing that she will always remain a swan, Odette ends von Rothbart’s power by throwing herself into Swan Lake. Siegfried jumps in after her and the two are reunited in the afterworld.
American Ballet Theatre’s production of ‘Swan Lake’ is staged by artistic director Kevin McKenzie after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. This adaptation of ‘Swan Lake’ has several major weaknesses. There are two von Rothbarts, one handsome, the other monstrous. The ballet begins with the two von Rothbarts turning Odette into a swan. Seeing Odette as a young girl at the start of the ballet takes away much of the magic of the Swan Queen’s entrance in Act II. Seeing the ugly von Rothbart cuddling a stuffed toy swan (after Odette’s transformation) is embarrassing to watch.
Other problems with ABT’s production of ‘Swan Lake’ include the attractive von Rothbart getting his own solo in Act III. This solo makes no dramatic sense and just makes me wish it would end so the Black Swan pas de deux can start. The most serious defect in ABT’s ‘Swan Lake’ is that so much of Act IV has been eliminated. Without a more complete final act, much of Odette’s sorrow and Siegfried’s desolation at his betrayal of Odette are lost.
Due to the incredible performances of ABT’s dancers, the July 19th matinee of ‘Swan Lake’ is well worth seeing. As I mentioned earlier, Hee Seo made her debut as Odette/Odile at this performance. Hee Seo is a more natural Odette, with beautifully undulating swan arms and a splendidly flexible upper body. Her Odile is a work in progress but Hee Seo has made a very good start on the character of von Rothbart’s evil daughter. Technically Hee Seo’s dancing is very secure except for her Black Swan pas de deux fouettes where she traveled quite a bit. This is only a minor flaw, however, in an otherwise glorious performance.
For her first ‘Swan Lake’ Hee Seo is fortunate to have Marcelo Gomes as her Prince Siegfried. No ABT dancer inhabits a role quite as thoroughly as Gomes. His dancing is also sensational, especially his soaring leaps with the softest of landings. Most importantly he is a wonderfully attentive partner for Hee Seo. Their chemistry is absolutely mesmerizing.
As the handsome von Rothbart, Sascha Radetsky is seductively evil. Devon Teuscher and Christine Shevchenko seem off in the Act I pas de trois, but Blaine Hoven stands out for his great elevations and very good ballon. The female corps dancers in the white acts (Acts II and IV) dance in splendid synchronization with the music and each other. As the two big swans, Karen Uphoff and Nicola Curry’s lyrical phrasing is exquisite.
In spite of the weaknesses, it was a wonderful afternoon at the ballet. I see a great future for Hee Seo as Odette/Odile.