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Flash Review 2, 2-28: Engaged but not Seduced
Diving for Swans in Canada

By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2001 Shena Wilson

TORONTO -- James Kudelka's "Swan Lake" was performed by the National Ballet of Canada for a sold-out house Saturday at the Hummingbird Center. Sonia Rodriguez and Guillaume Cote played the roles of Odette/Odile and Siegfried, Rodriquez for only the second time. As punctuation to the final standing ovation, flowers were formally presented and more still tossed eagerly onto the stage to surprised, smiling principals: Cote, Rodriguez and Christopher Body (for Rothbart).

In Kudelka's production we are happily not blinded-by-the-white, thanks to colorful, sumptuous, and original costumes. Technique dazzles and there were several portions Saturday that held that magical blend of classical story and age-old distilled human emotion and motivation, as only 'Swan' and uber-classics can do. Naturally, we were treated to much swanning-around, i.e. a solo, then another, and another, and then they told two friends and.... I find this practice tiresome after the ninth stunning variation, even if it is somewhat unavoidable due to story-line and score. And there is the noted use of, shall we say, sexy-evil in Kudelka's "Swan Lake" which makes the storyline infinitely more enjoyable than many 'Swan Ponds.' It keeps things afloat in our era, as it were.

Making the 'best of' list in this performance are the knights in the first act. Men with allegro panache and ballon for days! Loved it. Jhe Russell, for one, was having a grand ol' time. The only party girl at these post-hunting festivities with Siegfried and friends is the Wench, danced wonderfully by Stephanie Hutchinson. She inhabits this perky, sensual personage with ease, and then, in the third act, she chameleons into a Hungarian Princess with an air of wisdom and style. Hers was the most engaging of the four impressive princess dances. Hutchinson is a treat to watch.

Throughout the ballet, the Swan corps beautifully provided the requisite eye-candy of technique and elegance mirrored into infinity: legs, feathers and the broken and crossed swan-wrists with endless flowing lines. Absolutely noteworthy is the Act Two variation by four little Swans. Incredible precision. And while thinking of this special precision, my eye was often drawn to Julie Hay in the group of Swans. She is exacting, engaging and I want to find her because she exudes character and depth even when in the back row of the flock. Remarkable.

Now, on to the principals. May I begin with Rothbart, danced commandingly by Body? I ask because in theory this is not all about him. He is the evil, the one we mustn't love. But I do. Curtain rises. Spotlight scans the stage slowly. A castle in the distance, dim-light, and, alone on a rock, a tall swan perches, regally. Sinewy beautiful muscle of an almost bare body (how could I resist?), a grand pair of wings, minimal movements and an energy! Raw seduction (here's the source of sexy-evil) and lots of loom. A plan simmers. Hmmm. Where is that Siegfried?

Siegfried is of course a heck of a morsel of a role. Cote does well to clasp on to it and wrestles it to the ground with a lot of vigor and terrific acting skill. He projects the necessary youthful wonder and the beauty of innocence and takes a fair crack at 'being his own prince' even though this is a story about a guy who is commanded by his frowning mother, the always elegant Victoria Bertram, to choose a bride ASAP. (If he were left to frolic with his friends, and best pal Benno, danced with bravado and charm by the Avinoam Silverman, none of this nastiness, betrayal and ultimate destruction would happen!) Cote's allegro and arabesque lines are consistently beautiful. I enjoy him most when he is either alone or acting, as opposed to when he is with Rodriguez.

In Sonia Rodriguez there is a spectacular dancer and a determined perfectionist beyond the heavens, who reminds me somewhat of Evelyn Hart. When she is Odile, i.e. evil and given more interesting choreography than is Odette, she really comes off the page. Her swans are successfully contrasting and when she is frightened by Siegfried's initial presence, she is incredibly bird-like.

Rodriguez's performance is clean and light, her strength palpable at any given millisecond during the almost three-hour spectacle. However, I wanted to witness that "lovin' feeling," that particular human passion, much more than I did this evening. I yearned for a sense of enrapture, of ooze, a flustered lusty swan-heart. The oft-downcast gaze of Odette is the traditional demeanor of the 'I am innocent and ethereal' that is required by this role. But I got tired of it. It began to look almost like a furrowed brow or like she's not aware of him, her love, even being there. (There is shy or coy, and then there is feather-gazer.) The exchange between these two fine dancers is ghostly: it is there somewhere. I know I see it momentarily when Siegfried envelopes Odile in his arms in the third act. But I don't feel it living and breathing, yearning throughout, let alone being the driving force of passion that carries the story. I am dazzled, yet teased.

In the end, love is fallible and Rothbart is triumphant. (We all know the story. Siegfried, not the sharpest knife and confronted with evil trickery, doesn't recognize his true love-bird. 'Hey, really baby, I thought it was you.' Odettes everywhere unite!) Which leads us to the absolutely effective flood scene of the doomed castle. Accomplished with enormous silky blue fabric pulled deftly across the stage, the water gathers everything under its powerful tow. This may not be original, but is really wonderfully well done here! Huge bravo!

The innocent and the guilty, to quote the program, are destroyed by the evil in both worlds of "Swan Lake." Kudelka's "Swan Lake" remains seductive. I was well seduced enough certainly to enjoy and remain engaged, as well as wholly admirative; but I was just not moved to the absolute nth degree.

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