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The DanceView Times, New York edition

A Sweet and Dazzling Swan Lake

Swan Lake
with Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
June 18, 2004 (matinee)

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter
published June 22, 2004

The next-to-last of ABT's eight Swan Lakes featured the week's second all-American pair in the lead roles (Wiles-Hallberg being the other)—a rarity these days, given the company's international array of principals. Gillian Murphy, whose tensile classical purity and deepening emotional range have had her going from strength to strength this season, had Ethan Stiefel as her prince, after doing the first-cast honors with Jose Manuel Carreno.

Kevin McKenzie's four-year-old staging emphasizes the situation of an attractive man surrounded by a bevy of admiring, attracted women. During Act I, Prince Siegfried is constantly eyed from a distance by women of both the aristocratic and peasant ensembles. He is encircled by leaping women within the waltz (in which McKenzie has thePricne take a very active role) and again when he stands under the maypole at its conclusion—just as he will be circled by the princesses offered up as prospective brides in the third act.

With the innately elegant, sweet-tempered Stiefel in the role, he suggested the elegant young Prince William of today's England: the object of swooning young girls' fantasies from afar, someone they yearn to meet, yet approach with trepidation when given the opportunity. Stiefel played Siegfried as bemused by all this ardent attention and also aware of how easily everyone around him found themselves paired up while he remained alone. During the odd little interpolated section in which one of the aristocratic ladies (Misty Copeland at this performance) seems to be (or think of herself as) Benno's girlfriend and acts boldly towards him, she becomes flustered and shy the minute Benno suggests the Prince dance with her instead. Stiefel played Siegfried as well aware of, yet confused by, the power he has over women—and not sure how to make use of it.

The Pas de Trois served up as entertainment amid Siegfried's birthday festivities featured a standout performance from Erica Cornejo, whose performances have been exceptionally vivid and notable all season. She danced with joy and spontaneity, and her ballon during her solo and the coda was remarkable. Sasha Radetsky, who has developed a more assertive presence and dances with a crisper attack, and the engaging Renata Pavam made this a buoyant, if not exactly top-of-the-line pas de trois.

At the lakeside, Murphy entered as a tremulous Odette, After the plush expansiveness of Veronika Part earlier this week, Murphy's more dynamic attack was striking, as was her more matter-of-fact phrasing in contrast to Part's way of luxuriating in the movement (which was again on view as she danced an impressively soulful Big Swan), Murphy, as always, was exceptionally musical in every aspect of her dancing, never straining for an effect that might break the close connection with Tchaikovsky. Her Odette is a very creaturely being; even though at night she is permitted to resume her human form, this Odette seemed to hold back the full expression of her womanliness, rained in by the spell. Stiefel was remarkably tender as he first encountered her, as well as during the pas de deux, when he gazed with wonder at her hand, as if in awe of being close enough to touch this magical creature.

Murphy and  Stiefel brought more than the requisite dazzle and excitement to Act III, without ever letting things turn gaudy or tacky. Murphy used her astonishing technical authority to create an Odile who glories in her power over Siegfried, the fact that she is in control of what is unfolding. Her was rapt from the moment she entered—and clearly relieved to get away from the plodding princesses. The pas de deux built with gradual but definite energy toward the coda, in which Murphy unfurled quadruple fouettés (I felt like I was at a skating competition for a moment, trying to count the spins) and she brought things to a blazing finale. Stiefel then took up the challenge, performing his beautiful pirouettes a la seconde with exemplary flair, and slowing down to a thrilling rubato towards the end.

The sorrowful Act IV reunion of Odette and Siegfried was very much a clear, expressive dialogue as danced by these two, with Odette trapped by her fate and Siegfried abjectly apologetic about having been so misled. Overall, theirs was a pairing with a relatively cool overall approach, but one expressed a deepening connection and increasing profundity as their fates intertwined.

Ricardo Torres brought intelligence and stylishness to the sinister, seductive Rothbart who lures all the gullible ladies in the ballroom (more future swans for his collection, one imagines). He does not quite have the authority or sheer magnetism to make this difficult (and somewhat intrusive) set piece work its full power. Among other lesser roles, it was wonderful to see Georgina Parkinson, every inch a queen, as Siegfried's mother; whose authority you were sure he wouldn't dare to question.

I leave it to the marketing people to figure out who goes to the ballet, in what numbers and when, but it must be noted that after Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon performances for which the back rows of the audience were an expanse of empty seats, this Saturday matinee (on a gloriously sunny day at a time of year when one usually expects many people to be out of the city over the weekend) was packed—a friend who tried to buy a ticket reported that only a few partial view tickets remained at the box office. The sizable audience, which included quite a few members of the under-12 generation, responded with a high level of enthusiasm and involvement right from the start, when they greeted conductor David LaMarche with a rousing ovation.

First, Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel in Swan Lake Act II. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.
Second, Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel in Swan Lake Act III.  Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 23
June 22, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter


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last updated on June 14, 2004