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DANCE REVIEW

Boston Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ is a spellbinder

Viktorina Kapitonova and Lasha Khozashvili in Boston Ballet's presentation of "Swan Lake."Rosalie O'Connor Photography

Even 145 years after its Moscow premiere, nothing says ballet like “Swan Lake.” There are the swans, of course — nothing says ballet like a swan corps. There’s Tchaikovsky’s delectable score. And there’s the allure of a puzzling scenario. Just what is Prince Siegfried thinking when he pledges his troth to Black Swan Odile after previously promising himself to White Swan Odette. Does he think Odile is just Odette in a black tutu? Or has he discovered he likes bad girls? We also never quite know how the story will end, since every production goes its own way.

Boston Ballet hasn’t presented “Swan Lake” since 2016 (the May 2020 production was canceled due to the pandemic), so Thursday’s opening-night performance at the Citizens Bank Opera House was a treat, particularly with Viktorina Kapitonova and Lasha Khozashvili in the lead roles.

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This is basically the production Boston Ballet premiered in 2014, with sets and costumes by Robert Perdziola and some rethinking by artistic director Mikko Nissinen. Perdziola’s sets are painted flats, so the dancers have ample room to move. The romantic castle park in which Siegfried celebrates his 21st birthday is overseen by a towering ancient tree, the castle itself rising in the distance. Its grand hall is a panorama of tapestries and painted ceilings; the swans’ lake is a haze of midnight blue with crags and a tiny, bright new moon. The costumes are similarly light and airy; Rothbart is no owl-headed monster but a darkly handsome prince. The national dances are a riot of color, yellow for the Neapolitan, blue for the csárdás, red for the mazurka.

Nissinen’s innovations include a prologue mimed during the orchestral introduction in which Rothbart introduces himself to a young girl and then casts his spell on her; the sequence explains how he’s acquired his troop of enchanted swan maidens. The third-act pas de cinq that’s featured in past Boston Ballet productions has been dropped this time out, and the number of csárdás couples reduced, due to a proactive concern for dancers’ health and safety.

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In the last act, we still have Nissinen’s insertion of a brief duet for Odette and Siegfried; set to music originally intended for the pas de cinq, and using the vocabulary from their act-two pas de deux to heart-stopping effect, it allows them to dance out Siegfried’s repentance and Odette’s forgiveness. The finale, however, remains problematic. Siegfried holds Odette aloft as a sign of their reunion, whereupon Rothbart collapses. The score shifts from B minor to B major, and we anticipate a happy real-life ending; instead, Odette throws herself into the lake, and when a grieving Siegfried sees her in swan heaven, via projection, he follows.

Viktorina Kapitonova (center) in "Swan Lake."Rosalie O'Connor Photography

No mystery attached to Kapitonova’s performance Thursday. Her exquisite Odette was not so much a wild animal as a vulnerable woman who no longer trusts men; she seemed to shrink away from Khozashvili and melt into him at the same time. With expressive arms and gorgeous extensions, she pointed the score and filled out every phrase, no matter how slow the tempo. Her Odile was phenomenal, a mischievous siren who flirts with Siegfried, flirts with Rothbart, flirts with the audience. I haven’t seen an Odile have this much fun since Nina Ananiashvili guested with the company in 1990 and 1992.

A gentle, callow Khozashvili was just the Siegfried to win this Odette’s trust. His cabrioles and tour jetés into arabesque were creditable enough, but the role is mostly about partnering and relating, and he delivered on both counts. Tigran Mkrtchyan’s menacing, hypnotic Rothbart made the prologue an instant success, and thereafter he stamped himself as Siegfried’s rival. Ji Young Chae, Chisako Oga, and Derek Dunn were effervescent and mercurial in the first-act pas de trois; it would be hard to imagine a more rewarding trio.

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The swan corps offered good ensemble and spacing; even better was the warmth and spontaneity of Siegfried’s first-act friends. Mark Stanley’s generous lighting design let us appreciate these fine performances. And the Boston Ballet Orchestra, under music director Mischa Santora, gave an easy lilt to the proceedings, particularly the first-act waltz and polonaise. This “Swan Lake” was worth the wait.

SWAN LAKE

Music by Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, with additional choreography by Mikko Nissinen. Sets and costumes, Robert Perdziola. Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through June 5. Tickets: $39-$224. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.


Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.