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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 9, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 06
Pacific Northwest Ballet presents a spectacular, virtuosic and memorable Swan Lake
Arts & Entertainment
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Pacific Northwest Ballet presents a spectacular, virtuosic and memorable Swan Lake

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN Contributing Writer

PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
SWAN LAKE
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
February 3 (runs through 2/11)


It has been three years since Seattle dance lovers have seen Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake - one of the iconic ballets of the 19th century storybook genre. It's fabulous in every sense - a big, glossy work based on a fable about a prince who falls in love with a princess who is spell-bound as a swan. This four act ballet in the elegant Russian style marshals all the resources required of a premiere dance company: a gorgeous composition, a first-class orchestra, beautiful stage and costume designs, virtuoso dancers, and - extremely important to this work - a corps de ballet that can execute the group precision that characterizes Swan Lake. Dance lovers everywhere can be grateful that the Pacific Northwest Ballet has the resources to produce a spectacular, virtuosic, and memorable version of this classic work. To see it for the first time is to experience a heart-lifting revelation, as if you never knew humans could conspire to make something so beautiful. To see it again is to be reminded that magic is composed of hard work and good taste - it's just as wonderful, but now you can see the wizardry that informs your memory of earlier visits.

On February 3rd the demanding role of the swan princess, Odette, and her evil twin, Odile, was danced by Noelani Pentastico, partnered by Seth Orza as Prince Siegfried. Both were deeply compelling. Pentastico achieved the sublime mixture of gracefulness and sorrow required of a princess who suffers so much misfortune: to be enslaved, to find love, to have love requited, but then to lose the promise of both love and freedom. Seth Orza's prince is almost as unfortunate - pressed by his demanding mother to marry against his will, he escapes with his courtiers into a forest where he encounters a flock of magical swans. He falls in love, invites Odette to meet the court and satisfy his obligation to marry, only to discover that Odile has replaced his true love and tricked him into betraying his vow. It's a tragic story for all the characters - one of those melancholy, beautiful tales that needs to be set in fairyland, otherwise we would be too sad. Orza's dancing was not only spectacular - his leaps and turns almost dangerous - but his final collapse when Odette disappears into the mist was as romantic and heartbreaking as Wallis' Pre-Raphaelite painting, 'The Death of Chatterton.'

The shared choreography between PNB's founder Kent Stowell and the Russian choreographers of 1895 Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov preserves all that ballet lovers expect to find in Swan Lake while adding a reimagined and more realistic ending and new folk and national dances in Acts I and III. Though one of the patrons sitting near me complained bitterly about the lack of coordination in Act I between the dancers and orchestra I found the opening scenes to be quite charming and less in need of military precision as the famous Act II is when the swans enter in soft, feathery steps and perfect unity. Swan Lake is justly famous for the role that the corps de ballet plays as the flock of swans that accompanies Odette and her prince, providing a graceful frame for their courtship. As PNB's twenty-four swans create one lovely pattern after another, or hold graceful poses in absolute stillness during the adagios, the audience is given the impression not only of the elegance and beauty of swans, but of the rigid control that the evil wizard has over these entrapped swan-humans. Their pristine white tutus that lift and fall as they move complete the effect of women trapped in swan bodies. PNB's corps executes these patterns with perfect refinement and discipline. In my book, they are the stars of the ballet - the dancers who personify refinement and balance, the icons of otherworldly beauty, the exquisite birds who inhabit our memories.

One of the highlights of Swan Lake is the dance of the four little swans, in which four young women face the audience holding hands lattice-style and execute two minutes of the most precise dancing imaginable, including sixteen consecutive pas de chats, as they move sideways across the stage. The dance is a highlight of the ballet, made all the more impressive by the fact that if one dancer messes up the others will be forced to stop. This dance elicited some of the most enthusiastic cheers of the evening. And though the swans are what people tend to remember about Swan Lake, there are two big scenes in the prince's palace in which we are treated to an array of dances from other countries - Russia, Spain, Italy, Persia - in Act III and a pas de trois in Act I - a series of short pieces that express all the charm and exuberance of youth. I found this sequence of dances among the most delightful of the evening because they expressed the witty, flirtatious optimism of youth while making virtuosity appear natural. Their happy exuberance contrasted sharply and provided an important antidote to the tragedy of the main narrative. There was also a tipsy dance master conducting the festivities who made the audience laugh out loud. Jester Price Suddarth was suitably airborne and comical, but without a jester's cap or bells he looked like a frat boy showing off at the party. I think this is the fault of the costume - he needs a hat!

As ever, Emil de Cou and the PNB orchestra gave a luscious account of Tchaikovsky's music. If you've never seen Swan Lake, don't miss it! Where else can you hear a world-class account of Tchaikovsky's marvelous composition while seeing an iconic, superb ballet as well? It's a wonderful journey. PNB's Swan Lake is performed at McCaw Hall through February 11.

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