Laura Tisserand in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake.   Photo Angela Sterling

Laura Tisserand in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake.
Photo Angela Sterling

McCaw Hall, Seattle. WA; April 11, 2015

Dean Speer

From the plaintively evocative opening strains in the oboe, you know you’re in for a good ride at the ballet. Romantic and sweeping in its scope, Swan Lake makes a compelling case for its sustained popularity.

Not a success at its 1877 premiere with choreography by Julius Reisinger, it was revived to great acclaim in 1895, with choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, following a tribute to its composer, Tchaikovsky.

Yet its characters, with the exception of Odette, are two-dimensional, serving to only further the story and provide the impetus for its great choreography and poetic dancing. The Prince for example, I’m convinced is myopic, clearly suffering from poor eyesight. After all, he keeps finding Odette and then losing her in Act II and in Act III he is fairly easily fooled by von Rothbart’s daughter, Odile, that she’s the real deal, hypnotizing him with her dazzling 32 fouettées.

Pacific Northwest Ballet found itself the focus of media attention when it premiered its production in 1981 – suddenly it was an “overnight” sensation.

Retaining the same choreography, PNB refreshed its production with new sets and costumes in 2003 – gorgeous costumes by Paul Tazewell and a set by Ming Cho Lee that is purposely off-kilter, suggesting that this is truly an unsettling story.

We were happy to be in the audience for the role debut of Laura Tisserand as the dual swan queen Odette and duplicitous sorceress, Odile. For this series of performances, Artistic Director Peter Boal chose a field of “tall” principal couples – Carla Körbes with Karel Cruz, Leslie Rausch and Seth Orza and Laura Tisserand, partnered by the talented and experienced Batkhurel Bold.

Tisserand is a “lefty” turner and she confidently attacked the phrases and steps – double and fast attitude turns, high and clear jumps and clean line with amplitude. Her Odette was sufficiently limpid and startled by the sudden appearance of the prince’s 21st birthday hunting party.

The real star of Swan Lake is its corps de ballet, too often the unsung hero. The unison of steps, movements, phrasing and feeling are critical to success and the PNB corps came through with flying colors, showing great discipline and ensemble.

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake.   Photo Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake.
Photo Angela Sterling

One Act II demonstration of unison is the Pas de quatre for the Four Little Swans who pas de chat (there are 15) and rélevé and echappé and make beats (entrechat quatres) in perfect ensemble: Leta Biasucci, Amanda Clark, Angelica Generosa, and Nicole Rizzitano.

In Act I, it’s the Pas de trios that demonstrates much charm and ease. However, this choreography is technically hard – pirouettes ending with full rond de jambe en l’air, while staying on relevé, cabrioles devant, jumping fouettées, and much, much more, including one man – Benjamin Griffiths – partnering two sprightly and energetic females, Rachel Foster and Amanda Clark.

Act III continues with the most divertissements. The guests perform a Czardas led by Emma Love Suddarth and Ezra Thomson; a snappy and colorful Spanish Dance with Leah Merchant, Steven Loch, Sarah Pasch, and Eric Hipolito, Jr., the tarantella of the Neapolitan Dance with Generosa and Ryan Cardea and concluding with a soulful Persian Dance, elegantly danced by Sarah Ricard Orza.

Of course all good things must come to an end – after all Swan Lake is a tragedy — as myopia takes over our hapless Prince Siegfried and he inadvertently swears his love to the wrong woman. Odile and her father von Rothbart cackle maniacally and flee, leaving the court aghast and the prince to once again run after the real swan queen, Odette, who he finds once more among her flock in Act IV.

After much pleading and regret on Siegfried’s part, Odette forgives him with a touch on his head as he kneels. She bourées off into the daylight, still under the spell of von Rothbart, returning to her bipolar double life as a bird and as the curtain comes ringing down, we return to the dramatic strains of the Tchaikovsky theme as Mr. Bold flings himself to the stage floor, weeping.

The public loves Swan Lake – it is part of our collective culture. A typical response, “Oh, that was so sad – and wonderful. I’m going to see it again!”

Allan Dameron conducted the mighty PNB Orchestra — now in its 25th anniversary season — which we are so fortunate to have. Live music is more than a mere accompaniment, it’s also the impetus for most choreography and production concepts but also it is what both we and the dancers respond to, warming the house, and making immediate the effects of greatness.