Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes
in American Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake”

“Swan Lake ”
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
June 28, 2006

by Gay Morris
copyright ©2006, Gay Morris

Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes starred in the Wednesday matinee of  “Swan Lake,” their single appearance together in a week of American Ballet Theatre performances of the Petipa/Ivanov classic. Part and Gomes are often seen in leading roles at ABT but they haven’t quite reached the stellar heights of some of their colleagues. Part, who came to the company in 2002 from the Kirov, is still a soloist, despite rarely dancing anything but ballerina roles. Gomes has not received the same adoring tributes accorded to dancers like Angel Corella and Jose Manuel Carreño or the recently retired Julio Bocca. Perhaps, it’s just a matter of time — Corella and Carreño have been principals since the mid-1990s and Bocca entered the company as a principal in 1986, while Gomes, although arriving at ABT in 1997, has only been a principal since 2002. Still, he is a superb technician and charismatic actor who deserves more attention.

After six years, ABT director Kevin McKenzie’s production of “Swan Lake” is amply familiar to audiences. It has held up well, with McKenzie’s narrative additions proving particularly intelligent. These include a prologue, which shows how Odette as a young woman, comes under the spell of the evil magician von Rothbart. The prologue not only helps explain the ensuing story, it paves the way for von Rothbart to become a full participant in the action. His mesmerizing power over women is developed in the third act ballroom scene, where he effortlessly bewitches princesses and queen mother alike. The dazzling solo McKenzie created for the sorcerer gives physical form to the theme of his seductive power. McKenzie’s expansion of the von Rothbart character is not simply another gimmick that puts his personal stamp on a classic, rather, it is an important comment on the ballet itself. Through it McKenzie emphasizes the danger of sexual allure and its confusion with love, which is at the heart of ”Swan Lake.”

I first saw Veronika Part in 2002 in St. Petersburg, dancing in the Emeralds section of “Jewels.” She was memorable for the opulence of her movement, which was pliant, yet grandly expansive. That expansiveness may be due to the fact that she is tall, reportedly 5’ 8.’’ In addition, she has the Kirov flexible back and expressive arms, as well as the hyperextended legs and high instep (also favored by the Kirov) that gives softness to her line and movement. It’s an unusual combination of attributes that should have served her well, at least in the lyrical dances of the ballet’s lakeside scenes. Yet somehow Part did not  completely conquer either Odette or Odile, or at least not at this performance. Part is not new to the dual-role, which she danced with the Kirov and has also performed at ABT with Gomes, so it is hard to blame the difficulty on unfamiliarity or nerves. Nor was her acting lacking; she was convincing as both the melancholy swan queen and the malicious daughter of Von Rothbart. It was her dancing that was the problem. Throughout the performance she seemed determined to remain well within the bounds of safety. The breadth that is her hallmark was rarely in evidence. Even more surprising, her arms and back, generally so eloquent, were given little individual emphasis.  She wasn’t helped by the tempos she took for the Act II dances, particularly for the central adagio, which were painfully slow. Natalia Makarova, who may have started the abysmal practice of slowing tempos in this scene, at least used it to enlarge the silhouette and emphasize the elasticity of her movement. But Part wasn’t able to accomplish the same feat; her movement simply looked gluey and her phrasing disrupted and unclear.

Where Part’s dancing as Odette lacked definition and individuality, her Odile, in Act III, lacked brilliance. She got through the steps, including at least most of the notorious fouettés, but I was feeling a bit worried for her. Never did she look completely at ease, not a happy sign in a bravura pas de deux. It was only in the Act IV lakeside scene that Part really came alive. With all the major technical demands behind her, she began to look like the dancer she should have been throughout the ballet. In this final act she was as poignant and moving as could be desired.

One note needs to be added on the subject of Part’s performance, and that is her use of Gaynor Minden shoes. As most readers know, these recently designed, and controversial, shoes change the shape of a dancer’s foot. While some use them without too many problems, Part is not one of them, despite whatever extra support and comfort the shoes are supposed to give. Because of the hyperextension of her legs and her high instep — that is to say, their curves — the shoes look particularly flat and unyielding on her foot. On pointe, they flatten the curve of her instep, making it look shallow, and then oddly produce a straightening at the toes, so that the foot ends in a tubular snout. Whatever the advantages of Gaynor Mindens, Part would do well to go back to shoes that make the most of her beautiful legs.

Part was at least fortunate in one aspect of Wednesday’s performance, which was her partner. Gomes was a passionate Prince Siegfried who was attentive to her every move and danced like a dream. His first-act solo transformed psychology into movement, giving the prince’s thoughtful mood corporeal form. He filled the music’s meditative phrases with yielding, yet always lucid movement. In contrast to this dance in adagio tempo, his third act solo and  the pas de deux coda demonstrated all the brilliance necessary to make an audience cheer. And cheer they did. He topped off the day by making a virtuosic catch of a bouquet thrown from the audience during the curtain calls. Cheers rang out again.
When “Swan Lake” was premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2000, Gomes was cast as von Rothbart (the part is divided between the magician as monster, a mime role, and the magician as handsome seducer, a dancing role). Gomes is often seen as von Rothbart and he is wonderful in Act III as he beguiles the women of the court. That Gomes can play both the ardent prince and the cynical sorcerer attests to his versatility. On Wednesday, David Hallberg, ABT’s newest star, was von Rothbart. He played the part as purely evil, with little of the exhilarating enjoyment of being bad that Gomes gives it. Hallberg also dances Prince Siegfried, and the possibility of performing both roles gives McKenzie’s “Swan Lake” something akin to a dual-role for male dancers to add to the already famous dual-role for women.

On Wednesday, the part of Benno, the prince’s friend, was taken by a stalwart Gennadi Saveliev. Anna Liceica and a talented member of the corps, Simone Messmer, joined him for the pas de trios in the first act. Kirk Peterson was a somewhat colorless Wolfgang, the prince’s tutor, and Georgina Parkinson, always a pleasure to watch, was the Queen Mother. The dance of the four cygnettes, possibly the most thankless number in the ballet repertory, was given to Ashley Ellis, Renata Pavam, Misty Copeland, and Yuriko Kajiya, presumably because they are short and can stay together. The far more rewarding dance of the two “big” swans (inevitably done by tall girls) was performed by Melanie Hamrick and Adrienne Schulte with the expansiveness that one hopes to see. In the ballroom scene I especially appreciated the passion that Maria Bystrova, Vitali Krauchenka, Carmen Corella and Cory Stearns brought to the Spanish dance and the insouciance of Carlos Lopez and Craig Salstein in the Neopolitan dance. ABT’s season continues at the Met through July 15 with performances of “Sylvia,” “Le Corsaire” and “Romeo and Juliet .” 

Volume 4, No. 26
July 10, 2006

copyright ©2006 Gay Morris



©2006 DanceView