"Swan Lake"
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
June 29 , 2007

by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2007 by Mary Cargill             

“Swan Lake”, or what is left of it, returned to the Met this week. Kevin McKenzie’s production remains problematic, but the white act, the heart of any "Swan Lake," is still intact. However, the peculiar production does negate much of the effect the dancers can have, beginning with the overture, which has Odette run on in the dark, long before Tchaikovsky’s magical, suspenseful entrance. The staged overture, which von Rothbart as some sort of a swamp monster lusting after an apparently compliant Odette, tells a story that is completely contradicted by the libretto (and echoed in the music) — why would von Rothbart live in a lake formed by Odette’s mother’s tears long before there was any reason for her to cry? Von Rothbart should not be some sort of aquatic sex-fiend, he is the embodiment, in the form of an owl, of the irrational and malevolent power of nature (there were no tree-huggers in the original fairy tales), who, finally, is overpowered by the essentially Christian idea of love and self-sacrifice.

Siegfried’s role, too, has been padded, but ironically, this lessens his emotional presence. He spends much of the first act either jumping or gazing moodily off into the distance, seemingly at random intervals, but the dramatic moment when he hears the swan music and sees the swans in the distance, calling him away to his destiny, has been dispensed with, as he just disappears in the crowd, only to turn up in front of the drop curtain for the overture of the traditional Act Two, practicing his jump. David Hallberg is one of the most naturally gifted dancers on stage today, with perfect proportions, beautifully pointed feet, a pure line, and magnificent technique. But, at least in "Swan Lake," he hasn’t integrated this into a real character; he tended to separate his acting from his dancing. His droopy solo in the first act was just pure, elegant line, without the emotional content that some other ABT dancers were able to give it, and his black act solo was full of magnificent jumps and turns, but essentially joyless. I felt I was watching the best dancer in the world, not someone who had found what he thought was his heart’s desire.

Michelle Wiles, too, is a magnificently controlled dancer, and some of her poses in the white act seemed suspended in the music. Her mime was not completely clear, sometimes substituting the traditional gestures for some extra flapping, but since the story she was supposed to tell made no sense (not only is the “lake made by my mother’s tears” contradicted by the staging, the idea that “one who has never loved before” applies to Siegfried is laughable, since Siegfried has spent the first act jumping around with all the palace sluts; it seemed that his mother should have given him a birth control manual along with that crossbow). Wiles was a queenly Odette, obviously a woman, not a swan, a little remote, but danced with a lovely flow.

She is probably a more natural Odile, but I found her black swan a bit too directed to the audience, almost ignoring Siegfried. She again used her control to emphasize some of the poses, and unfortunately lost her footing on one attempt. After that, her solo seemed a bit subdued, until the coda and where she ripped through a series of scintillating fouettés, doubles, triples, whatever, it seemed, came to mind. But again, she seemed to dance to the audience, not to Siegfried.

Among the various supporting roles, Sascha Radetsky danced a very stylish pas de trois, with Melissa Thomas and Hee Seo, both of whom seemed a bit tall and wispy to completely fill out the detailed filigree of the choreography. Melanie Hamrick was a particularly lush big swan, and Maria Bystrova used her luxurious backbend to great effect in the Spanish dance. Gennadi Saveliev was the swamp fiend’s alter ego, prancing around in his purple boots. He danced it as if he were Crassus at some particularly energetic orgy, thinking about murdering Spartacus, and this completely campy approach is certainly one way to get through the theatrically misguided production.

Volume 5, No. 26
July 1, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Mary Cargill

©2003-2007 DanceView