Citizens Bank Opera House
May 27, 2022
For the first time since 2016, Boston Ballet presented its production of Swan Lake, and on the evening of May 27 it starred Ji Young Chae as Odette-Odile and Paulo Arrais as Siegfried, with Chae making her Boston debut in the role. The performance of both principals, combined with the drama and pathos of the music, was so spectacular it struck me as a historic achievement. I left the theatre not only exhilarated but also a bit disoriented by the splendor of it all.
Chae brings such technical brilliance and authority to Odette-Odile that she surpasses perfection itself. One of her special qualities is the ability to freeze the action at will to make a point (all puns intended). Often she will snap her head into position, open her eyes wide, and stare either at her partner (with specific meaning) or at the audience. When her gaze is directed out beyond the stage, I always feel as if she’s saying: “Pay attention! I’m telling you something important!” As Odile she played a sly game of cat and mouse with the prince, and as Odette she communicated a huge range of emotions: fear, love, determination, courage, sorrow, despair — each one superbly realized in both movement and affect.
Arrais as Siegfried, despite having some difficulties in Act 3 due to an injury, gave what amounted to a master class in acting. At his birthday celebration in Act 1 he was all relaxed graciousness; in his variation at the end of the act his rounded port de bras and stretched-out positions embodied Siegfried’s yearning. In Act 2 his response to Odette was beautifully modulated: the wonder and delight of his first encounter with her becoming empathy and love as she revealed her plight. In Act 4 his grief-stricken face when he sought her forgiveness was heartbreaking as was his shock and disbelief when he realized she was determined to destroy herself. As Chae and Arrais disappeared into the mist of the lake, it seemed as if each had been inspired by the virtuosity of the other.
Additional dancers of note included John Lam, who was seriously venomous as Von Rothbart, almost gnashing his teeth in a frenzy of malice. Rather than a hideous monster, the Von Rothbart of this production is a seductive antihero, and Lam performed the elegant jumps and spins of his Act 2 variation (by artistic director Mikko Nissinen) with panache.
Chisako Oga in the Act 1 pas de trois was prima inter pares. The ballon of her jumps, elasticity of her footwork (as if she had rubber ankles), and refinement of her port de bras drew one’s eyes to her.
Graham Johns, with his big gestures and defiant posture, made a convincing matador in the Spanish divertissement. One could easily imagine him swinging his cape and staring down an oncoming bull. There ought to be an Espada in his future.
Paul Craig’s upright stance, dramatic falls to one knee, and overall precision enlivened the czardas. Kudos to coach Alla Nikitina for her work on the character dances. I remember attending a coaching session of hers years ago when she told the dancers: “Hips together, shoulders apart.” It explained so much about character-dance partnering that I never forgot it.
Nina Matiashvili brought lovely technique to multiple roles: waltz and polonaise in Act 1, swan corps in Act 2, and lead Neapolitan in Act 3. A sparkling presence, she always looks so happy to be onstage and connecting with the audience. Matiashvili, who joined the company in 2016, memorably starred in Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet two years later. A promotion would be well deserved.
The music, which often soared to towering intensity, featured several conspicuous ritards, one of which occurred in the coda of Odette’s Act 2 variation. The tempo puzzled me at first until I realized (light-bulb moment!) it was laying the groundwork for a thunderous crescendo. I have to admit the extreme contrast gave me pause, even in a ballet based on the antitheses of black and white, good and evil. Be that as it may, there’s no question that the orchestra is at the very top of its game. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that in this performance there were three stars: Ji Young Chae, Paulo Arrais, and the Boston Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Mischa Santora. Bravissimo!