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Flash Review, 2-14: 'Swan' dives
Swan seeks swain; contact New York City Ballet

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak

NEW YORK -- Before Friday's opening of this season's run of Peter Martins's New York CIty Ballet production of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" (after Petipa, Ivanov, and Balanchine), I took advantage of the new copy of Edwin Denby's collected "Dance Writings" that I'd scored Wednesday at a book sale at the Amsterdam branch of the NY Public Library to get a little guidance into what I should be looking for. Reviewing Ballet Theatre's performance of the same ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in the October 30, 1942 edition of the NY Herald Tribune, the greatest American dance critic of them all wrote, "This ballet makes little enough sense when done as a production number. It makes the best of sense if the three central figures can convey that the Swan Queen is really enchanted, the Prince really in love with her, and his Friend really his Friend." Unfortunately, while Sara Mearns acquitted herself well in the performance I saw -- even if her struggling swan seemed more like a Tweety Bird when it flapped its wings, she was entrancingly enchanted -- the other two principal characters concerned in Friday's cast were unable to get themselves even to the point where one could consider their virtues as Denby suggests. Jared Angle's Prince handled Mearns as if her Swan Queen had cooties. (Does City Ballet, whose strength is more in abstract than story ballets, even have a danseur noble in its ranks capable of the dramatic investment and acting ability this role demands? I'd like to see the ebullient and charasmatic Amar Ramasar given a shot, if he's not been already.) Anthony Huxley, the wisp of a corps dancer making a debut as the friend, Benno, was tentative in his dancing (not the only one; a corps woman fell splat on her butt in the opening sequence) and vaporous in his emotional involvement. (Not that he or for that matter anyone was given a lot to work with in the mime department; can we just agree to outlaw that hands swirling in the air gesture that Angle called on so much it lost any meaning?) Of the lead men, only Daniel Ulbricht's Jester showed any verve -- and indeed, Ulbricht had enough of it to go around, comporting himself like a real conductor, deploying corps of all ages around the stage. While the five-year-olds acquitted themselves well in their dancing, not so smart was to apparently put one of them in charge of the sets and costumes; scenery and costume designer Per Kirkeby's backdrops (Kirsten Lund Nielsen shares the credit for costumes and sets) looked like the scribblings of a kindergartener, and his blouse for the Prince appeared to have been shredded by a particularly savage swan. As "Swan Lake"s go, this is one ugly duckling.


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