Theater & dance

Boston Ballet offers fresh take on ‘Swan Lake’

Shelby Elsbree (front) and other ballerinas await rehearsal for “Swan Lake.”

Essdras M. Suarez/Globe Staff

Shelby Elsbree (front) and other ballerinas await rehearsal for “Swan Lake.”

When Boston Ballet presents the world premiere of artistic director Mikko Nissinen’s new production of “Swan Lake” on Thursday, it will be streamlined, infused with new choreography, and featuring all new sets and costumes by Robert Perdziola, who designed the company’s new “Nutcracker.” Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio will make debuts in the starring roles on opening night. And the company has added extra performances to keep up with ticket demand. Outside of the perennial favorite “Nutcracker,” Nissinen is projecting this “Swan Lake” to be the “all-time, best-selling show of Boston Ballet, by a long shot.”

We recently talked to Nissinen, who first danced in “Swan Lake” at the age of 12, about what’s in store.

Advertisement

Q. What makes “Swan Lake” one of the greatest masterpieces in ballet?

A. It’s a beautiful romantic story, a tale that captures people’s imagination. It has some of the finest corps de ballet choreography ever, from the Lev Ivanov second act, that has mesmerized people for over a century. And here we go again with Mr. Tchaikovsky. He’s given us an incredible [musical] backdrop for the story.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Q. It’s also arguably the most familiar ballet in the repertoire. What are your major departures from the 1895 Petipa version, which was avant-garde at the time but is now considered a classic? How do you keep it classic yet make it fresh and new?


A. I am in essence paying a tribute to Petipa/Ivanov. I went back to the original as it is known today, then I filled in the holes and tried to make it more cohesive. I’ve created a new prologue for the part of the story usually told in the synopsis, when Rothbart the evil sorcerer abducts girls and turns them into swans. We’ll see the abduction of Odette, which is such an important part of the story. My fourth act is 18 minutes [reduced from 45 minutes] to keep the dramatic intensity, and I think it tells the story very clearly. We perform Acts One and Two back to back, intermission, then Three and Four together. You’re out of theater in two hours 20 minutes versus three hours. I think it’s better for the audience experience. At end of day, if I do a good job, it should feel like the ultimate “Swan Lake.” It has a very clear, very distinct point of view. I’ve tried to dig deeper into the detail and elevate the dance technique to today’s level.

Q. What was the biggest challenge in reimagining and remounting this ballet?

Advertisement

A. It’s a huge responsibility to the art form, and also for Boston Ballet, to do a “Nutcracker” or “Swan Lake,” playing with the most recognizable titles in ballet. You have to do very good job. But I’m excited about all the elements getting together and finally seeing the big picture. I’ve been seeing amazing performances from every cast. In art, it’s not always just the [depth of the company] but the artists themselves, how far they can go and what they bring. It’s really a living theater, and everyone brings something special and unique. The only thing right now is to make sure we’re ready but we don’t want to peak too early.

“Swan Lake” preview:

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.