STONEHAM — The haunting tale of “Swan Lake” has been a staple of classical ballet for well over a century. Now local composer Steve Bass has taken three familiar recurring musical motifs from Tchaikovsky’s score and built a new big band score around them for “Swan Lake in Blue: A Jazz Ballet.”
Under the expert guidance of choreographer and director Ilyse Robbins, a cast of 13 dancers brings this story to life in a world premiere production at the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham.
An impressive, 13-piece horn section, along with piano, drums, and a distinctive upright bass, are positioned prominently onstage, serving alternately as a backdrop for the dancing and an equal partner in the storytelling.
Bass has updated the story to turn the original folk tale — in which an evil sorcerer turns a princess into a swan — into a creepier tale set in the 1940s, in which a young woman named Odette (Sara Coombs) is kidnapped and “owned” by the mob. A few questionable plot details unfortunately are highlighted by choreography that includes a mob boss throwing Odette over his shoulder and carrying her off. The human trafficking reference is only reinforced when Odette is “forced” to be a burlesque dancer in a nightclub. To Robbins’s credit, “The Dance of the Swans,” which includes Odette and her two Little Swans (Briana Fallon and Gillian Gordon), while suggestive never veers into tawdry.
Here, Siegfried is a Broadway producer, and he meets Odette when she auditions, along with most of the ensemble, for his newest show. Robbins creates an exciting and upbeat tap number to introduce us to the story, allowing the dancers to “learn” a combination, join in, and show off their own moves, under the guidance of Jackson Jirard, as the producer’s assistant. While it’s unfair to single out anyone in the outstanding ensemble, Jirard manages to both blend in effortlessly and then stand out with some breathtaking moves.
All the principals are first rate, moving easily back and forth between precision tap numbers and graceful jazz moves, with Coombs adding an expressive emotional layer to her dancing.
Robbins blends joyous tap numbers with romantic pas de deux, not to mention a mambo, rhumba, and samba, as Siegfried (Andy McLeavey) falls for Odette and fights the mob boss Von Rothbart (David Visini) for her. In perfect step with Bass’s music, Robbins references some classic ballet moves without getting bogged down in re-creations. As in the original, Siegfried and Odette fall in love, and when Siegfried is tricked into mistaking the black-clad Odile for Odette, the results are tragic.
While “Swan Lake in Blue: A Jazz Ballet” doesn’t deliver the emotional punch of Tchaikovsky’s ballet (no matter how many times you see it), Bass’s rich, big band sound offers great solo opportunities for the members of that horn section, and Robbins’s choreography showcases a stage full of impressive dance talent.
SWAN LAKE IN BLUE: A JAZZ BALLET
Created and composed by Steve Bass. Choreographed and directed by Ilyse Robbins. At Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, through March 1. Tickets $47-$62. 781-279-2200, www.greaterbostonstage.org