writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition


Swan Lake
with Michelle Wiles and David Hallberg
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
June 16, 2004

by Mindy Aloff
copyright © 2004 by Mindy Aloff
published June 21, 2004

Michele Wiles and David Hallberg have enjoyed a triumphant partnership in several ballets this season, and their matinee of Swan Lake was attended by many dance luminaries, among them Cynthia Gregory and Allegra Kent. As individuals and as a pair, this greatly promising American ballerina and premier danseur, still in their early 20s, offer much for balletgoers to enjoy. They are both tall and blonde, with wonderful boy-and-girl-next-door faces (well, in the case of Wiles, it’s as if Grace Kelly lived next door) and bodies that are high-waisted and long-thighed; and both possess beautifully arched feet that make poses and beaten jumps a joy to behold. Both are virtuosos, especially in pirouettes of all kinds. And both also demonstrate a remarkably educated sense of ballet style and deportment, characterized by penetrating intelligence and, in Hallberg’s case, a reserve well beyond his years.

However, prodigious stylistic refinement at a very early age can have its down side, and in Swan Lake it proved something of an impediment to communication. This couple’s four acts were, to my eye, full of fine detail yet oddly stilted, as if they were more concerned with meeting a preconceived template of correctness than with dancing a tragedy of surprising love, betrayal, forgiveness, and transcendence through suicide. Although it was clear that, as a couple, they had decided in advance on an interpretation built on such nuances as the hummingbird entrechat quatres in Odette’s Act II variation and Siegfried’s three different ways of raising his arm to swear his love, now to Odette, now to Odile, it didn’t seem as if either dancer had thought about what might be necessary to project the story to the reaches of a 4,000-seat opera house. For three of the acts, I sat in a seat in the middle of the orchestra on the side; although I admired the dancing of both principals very much, its effect was a little remote, and, in some respects, a little cold. For the fourth act, I stood at the back of the orchestra and felt no warmth from the stage at all. When Hallberg’s Siegfried reached for her, he took a lunge, held his back upright, and reached for her with his arms only; his chest and lower back were not implicated in the gesture. He looked correct, and princely, but in a generic way. Similarly, although Wiles’s Odette delivered her mime monologue explaining her past with a delicacy worthy of Watteau, she didn’t actually stand out from the other swans when she shared the stage with them. She was a nice girl who dances beautiful ballet. (Wiles seemed more comfortable with the flirtatious Odile, who is a less complicated character. And, of course, her version of the 32 fouettés—triple-single-double for the first 16—would make her stand out in a hurricane.)

One hopes that they will have more chances to perform these roles, and also to observe other partnerships performing them, both live and on film. This is only the threshold of potentially wonderful careers for two dancers who are already classicists to their bones.

First, Michele Wiles and David Hallberg in Swan Lake. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.
Second, David Hallberg in Swan Lake.  Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 23
June 21, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Mindy Aloff
revised June 21, 2004


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last updated on June 14, 2004