writers on dancing


Glamour Girls

"Swan Lake"
American Ballet Theatre
Opera House
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
February 12 (matinee) and 13 (matinee), 2005

by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright © 2005 by Alexandra Tomalonis

American Ballet Theatre did pay tribute to the Forties (the stated theme of the Kennedy Center this year) after all. The two ballerinas dancing “Swan Lake” at this week-end’s matinees— Michele Wiles, in her debut Saturday with Maxim Beloserkovsky, and Veronika Part, dancing with Marcelo Gomes on Sunday— both have the kind of glamour girl looks of '40s stage and screen actresses. Wiles is a big blonde with a gorgeous 90-degree arabesque; Part is that rarest of creatures, the vulnerable seductress. It’s easy to imagine her slinking around nightclubs in World War II movies, falling in love with young pilots while cold-bloodedly fingering spies.

Part has been with ABT since 2002 and is rarely seen; a Lady Capulet here, a Myrta or two there. Her Odette-Odile stunned many New Yorkers last spring, and it stunned Washingtonians too. There were screams of approval after the Black Swan adagio, and vigorous, sustained applause at the end. The cheers were well-deserved. Part’s portrayal was as complete as I have seen from this company in the 30 years I’ve been watching it. She did what one reads ballerinas do, but seldom sees: every solo revealed another aspect of her character, and of herself as a dancer. In fact, Part was so interesting she masked the production’s flaws while remaining in scale with it, a balancing act she didn’t have to manage when dancing the ballet with the Kirov.

Part has slimmed down to her pre-Lilac Fairy days, while retaining the creaminess of skin and line that made her such a delicious good fairy. In Act II, she’s decidedly a Princess and not a swan, although there’s a wildness in her, as though the enchantment had released something deep within that remains with her during her hours of moonlight freedom. She greets Siegfried warily. He has to win her over, and she shows the exact moment she decides to let herself fall in love him in the White Swan pas de deux by the slightest tremor before letting her head fall back against his shoulder. The solos tell us more. The first (the turns smooth as silken feet skimming glass) is tinged with melancholy; the second, triumphant as she shows her power as a woman through the power of her beats. Gomes partnered her beautifully and was as noble and sincere a Siegfried as one could wish, although he was so young and gentle that one had the disquieting feeling that this Odette would be too much for this Siegfried to handle, had all gone as hoped.

In the third act, Part ignored the silliness that precedes the Black Swan pas de deux in this production (where von Rothbart II seduces all the Would Be Brides to the plaintive music of the Russian Dance before hopping onto the spare throne and baring his teeth at the Queen) and was a dazzling, storybook enchantress. In the adagio, she looked as though she could have eaten Siegfried alive, and he would have gone willingly. Part is her best with a partner; then, she takes risks. Her nerves showed in her solo, but she delivered a clean and complete set of fouettés in the coda. Gomes’ dancing here was a bit disappointing. He moves on a large scale but the solo lacked the polish that's distinguished this young dancer's work in the past.

This production’s fourth act is staged so poorly that it’s actively anti-dramatic. Every time an emotion or a dance phrase begins to gather momentum something stops it. Odette jumps off a cliff without having the chance to let us, and Siegfried, know that she’s choosing to die in human form rather than live forever as a swan. For his part, Siegfried, having barely seen her (he’s writhing around with von Rothbart I at the time) runs after her and jumps too, though it hardly matters, as the grand heroic point that he not only wants to be with her forever in death but that his death will free the sister swans, is lost. (Gomes’ leap was terrific, though. He soared off that cliff, as though leaping from a ten-story building and enjoying the flight.) Part and Gomes made the most of what they were given, but one can’t help but wish that they’ll have a better vehicle some day.

Like Part, Michele Wiles is tall and dances unapologetically on a grand scale. Her lines are so perfect, I would have happily watched her dance all afternoon, reveling in the shapes she makes. In addition to a smoothly danced White Swan pas de deux, her two moments of glory in Act II were in the mime scene, where Odette explains to Siegfried that she is a Princess under the spell of an Evil Magician, and that her mothers' tears made the lake on which she and the other swans spend their days, and at the end of the act as she returns to avian form. Wiles takes the full stage to make the change, fighting for an instant before the arms become wings, and then you see her physical power: she gathers speed slowly, heading towards the wings like a jet plane revving to take off.

Beloserkovsky partnered her gallantly, although there wasn't much rapport visible between the two. (But one doesn't expect depth of characterization in a debut.) Like Gomes, he was a gentle Siegfried rather than a heroic one, so perhaps that's the directorial approach. Wiles's dancing, both the Act II and III adagios, paid attention to style and musicality as well as technique. The only place where the Varna-winner approach got in the way was in the Black Swan coda, where Wiles tried to throw in a few triples in the fouettés with near disastrous results.  She saved the sequence, but traveled. In a performance that was so dependent on technique rather than poetry, this mattered, but the debut was an exciting one nonetheless.

Volume 3, No. 7
February 14, 2005
Copyright ©2005 by Alexandra Tomalonis


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last updated on February 7, 2005