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Flash Review Journal 1, 7-3: Swans on the Brain
Principals, Soloists, and Corps -- ABT Captures the Magic

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

With trepidation, I awaited the first curtain of American Ballet Theatre's production of "Swan Lake," with choreography by Kevin McKenzie after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, seen June 18 and 21 at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was a given that I would see some excellent dancing, but I thought it would feel more like a perfunctory tour through the relics of a museum than a cherished classic (especially in light of renditions by the Trockaderos and Matthew Bourne). I also didn't anticipate how acutely the Tchaikovsky score had infiltrated my subconscious in the way that pop music can, nor did I recall how magical and rewarding a simple line of white 'swans' could be. The lavish production also showed off the company's depth of corps, solo, and principal dancers.

The first cast I saw included Paloma Herrera (Odette/Odile) and Giuseppe Picone (Siegried). Herrera made for an athletic swan, her well-arched feet nearly hand-like in their supple dexterity when finishing a developpe, or in battus; and her flexible spine creating a hyper (if somewhat distorted) back attitude or arabesque. Her aggressive demeanor and exuberance better suited the black swan duality of the role, exuding a little too much brightness for the more timid Odette. Picone portrayed a (what else) dashing prince, his poufy hair adding a couple of inches to his statuesque frame. He danced with a strong, clear technique and a relaxed projection, if a little self-satisfied for the soul mate-searching aspect of the role. Together, they seemed a bit of an odd couple, though they produced sparks at the finale of the black swan pas de deux, the final measure rhythmically stacking one grand gesture upon another in an exuberant ending.

The second cast I saw was led by Nina Ananiashvili and Jose Manuel Carreno, who were better suited to one another. The adagio section of their pas de deux was quietly, deeply moving. Carreno, another dashing figure of a prince, seemed to imbue more urgency to his actions. His movement, while clean and solid, was more expressive than Picone's, though at times perhaps not quite as precise. Ananiashvili embodied the Odette/Odile role, her long, softly rippling arms well-suited to the swan. Her Odette was the more traditional type -- demure and elusive. Herrera may cut a more contemporary version of the ideal swan, but Ananiashvili's willowy and elegant physique is archetypal, as is her take on the role.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of "Swan Lake" was the high quality of the secondary and corps dancing, particularly the males, who boast super flexibility of the back and leg extensions, and multiple, controlled turns. Sascha Radetsky was explosive in his brief, featured sequences as Benno -- light as air, with an easy, confident projection. Marcelo Gomes stole the third act with his charming, wicked, human incarnation of von Rothbart, all knifing feet and devastatingly self-assured charisma. (His scaly counterpart was played by Ethan Brown (6/18) and Brian Reeder (6/21).) The devilishly difficult quartet for women performed with clasped hands was precisely done on June 21 by Tamara Barden, Maria Riccetto, Anne Milewski, and Xiomara Reyes.

Ermanno Florio, conducting on June 21, seemed better able to draw musicality out of the dancers, who seemed at times to fight to find the rhythms under the direction of Charles Barker on June 18. Fairy tale sets were designed by Zack Brown, with moody lighting by Duane Schuler.

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