writers on dancing


Larger Than Life

"Swan Lake"
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
July 7, 2005

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2005 by Leigh Witchel

Veronika Part gave a huge, old-fashioned performance in “Swan Lake” on Thursday with larger-than-life projection that can’t be taught, only released from someone for whom it’s bred in the bone. Her first real appearance (Kevin McKenzie’s prologue with its date rape pantomime behind a scrim doesn’t really count) is the mime in Act II, which many productions cut. This production, to its credit and Part’s advantage, does not. Part is a brilliant mime. She can turn mime gestures into something as beautiful sculpturally as they are dramatically. Her movements are large and clear.  The style is second nature to her.

Part is, in the best sense of the word, Russian. Her dancing is a primer on what people mean when they use that adjective to describe a ballerina and her training. She has long legs, but her emphasis is on the upper body, particularly the chest and back. Her arms are also long and expressive, but even more expressive is her breastbone, kept tragically high in defiance of her fate. Her Act II adagio was a long white cry. There was rapturous applause all the way through two sets of bows taken rather amazingly in character.

Part’s Odile is big, raw-edged and weirdly gleeful. She’s like some over the top forties movie villainess, perhaps Tamara Toumanova playing a communist double agent, laughing as she drugs the hero. You never knew evil could be this much fun. You can tell how old-fashioned Part is by comparing her Act II with her Act III. She’s a white act dancer. Once upon a time, more ballerinas were white act dancers, now we’re in the age of the triple fouetté and whiz-bang technique. Part doesn’t do whiz-bang. She’s technically adequate, but she could use more security. She gets through her fouettés mostly on determination; in balances her highly arched feet are prone to collapsing off of pointe. Maybe a little whiz-bang wouldn’t hurt.

Marcelo Gomes was her enraptured partner. His role is harde than Odette's, mostly because Odette doesn’t have to to make sense out of Act I's muddled conception. Gomes, with his extravagant line, dances beautifully and partners gloriously. McKenzie sees Siegfried as a People’s Prince; he dances with peasants or aristocrats. This works for Gomes’ generous presence but he still can’t telegraph to us what the story is. We know he’s upset; we don’t know why.

Unfortunately, this is not a production that gets better with repeated viewings. Act I is choreographically disjointed. McKenzie avoids corps formations in both Act I and IV. Maybe he’s doing it to give the ballet a contemporary feel, but the power of the ballet, as in all Petipa, lies in those choral formations. Instead, in the awkward and hectic Act I waltz McKenzie uses so many solo and duo dances on the diagonal that the dances look like ballet class. The pas de trois was danced strongly by the capable Xiomara Reyes, Yuriko Kajiya and Gennadi Saveliev. Saveliev had good elevation, Kajiya handsome batterie in the opening. Reyes turns like she’s never bobbled a turn in her life.

In both Act I and III McKenzie seems to be choreographing more for pictorial effect and busyness (Fill that stage! Get those capes swirling!) rather than dramatic or structural clarity. Jesus Pastor got to do the sleazy Von Rothbart number. Gomes often does this part and can almost get away with it through sheer magnetism. Pastor is smaller, and this is one dance where you need every bit of stature you can get. With the exception of the coarse Neapolitan spinning competition, the divertissements are interesting and Zack Brown’s costumes are sumptuous. Erica Cornejo and Alexei Agoudine stood out in the czardas; their delicate princess was Zhong-Jing Fang, who draws your eye every time. In the same way, you can’t take your eyes off of the patrician Maria Bystrova in the Spanish dance.

Part and Gomes make the most they can out of a truncated and barren Act IV. At least they get a reconciliation pas de deux. Part faces her death with conviction and fortitude. Gomes died as he did everything that evening: Big, with a soaring leap off the cliff. Part presented him with a rose from her bouquet amidst the applause. She might consider stocks or real estate. This is a partner no smart ballerina would let escape.

Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Volume 3, No. 27
July 11, 2005
copyright ©2005 Leigh Witchel



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last updated on July 4, 2005