Boston Ballet casts a spell with latest ‘Swan Lake’
It’s no surprise that after more than 100 years, “Swan Lake” is still considered one of the most beloved of all classical ballets. It is set to a dramatic, tunefully memorable score by Tchaikovsky and is based on a fanciful folktale full of love, magic, betrayal, and promises of salvation. Over the past century plus, countless choreographers have created versions, including Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen, whose glowing production for the company premiered in 2014 and is being reprised through May 26.
Based on the Petipa/Ivanov choreography premiered by Russia’s Imperial Ballet in 1895, Nissinen’s version of the familiar tale includes the prologue, which shows how young Odette is abducted at a picnic by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart and turned into a swan. Meanwhile, young Prince Siegfried celebrates his coming-of-age and is pressed to choose a wife. Escaping the specter of adult responsibilities, he discovers Odette in the forest. Mesmerized by her beauty and plight, he pledges his devotion, only to be foiled later by Von Rothbart and his daughter Odile, who is transformed to look like Odette. She tricks Siegfried into professing his love for her. When Siegfried realizes his mistake, he rushes to beg Odette’s forgiveness, but it is not enough to break the evil spell, and when she returns to the lake, he tragically follows.
For Friday’s opening night performance, Misa Kuranaga was pitch perfect as Odette/Odile. As the vulnerable Swan Queen, she complemented impeccable technical facility with exquisite, birdlike nuances in the cant of the head, flickering feet, expressive fingers, and long, liquid arms that rotated backward, undulating with feathery softness. She takes a 180-degree turn as the imposter Odile, replacing the Swan Queen’s delicacy with steely edge and coy hauteur, flirting shamelessly and reeling off a blistering series of fouettés. (How could Siegfried not know?)
Gonzalo Garcia, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, was brought in as guest artist to partner Kuranaga. He was a distracted, melancholy Siegfried, slightly heavy and lacking the youthful impetuosity that might allow him to fall in love with a swan. But he displayed solid technical assurance and was a capable, attentive partner, facilitating soaring lifts, sparkling turns, and gorgeous balances that dropped ever so lightly into breathtaking swoons. After an unfortunate slip during his first entrance, Lasha Khozashvili recovered brilliantly to portray a commanding, menacing Von Rothbart, unleashing a buoyant series of grand jetés.
Nissinen’s production uses a minimum of fussy mime and ramps up some of the ballet’s virtuosity to meet his dancers’ skills. The party scenes offered some dazzling solo turns, including Ji Young Chae, Seo Hye Han, and Junxiong Zhao in the charming Pas de Trois. Eye-catching ensemble sections vividly showcased the company’s excellent depth and range. Colorful, spirited character dances unspooled chains of layered, imitative phrases and vivid patterns of crisscrossing lines, circles, and spirals.
Act II’s timeless choreography highlighted the corps de ballet. The 24 swans were elegant and beautifully coordinated. With their fleet footwork and sharp, birdlike shifts of the head, Diana Albrecht, Maria Alvarez, Jillian Barrell, and Corina Gill showed drill-like precision as the four cygnets. The ballet’s only choreographic misstep was the awkward, lackluster face-off between Siegfried and Von Rothbart.
The orchestra, led by Jonathan McPhee, gave a powerful account of the music, with outstanding solos in the strings and trumpets, and by harpist Kathleen Lyon-Pingree. Robert Perdziola’s wonderfully moody sets and Mark Stanley’s evocative lighting powerfully set the ballet’s dark tone. The final tableau, swans slowly sinking below a layer of mist, was stunning.
In a lovely gesture, the production honored former artistic director Violette Verdy, who passed away in February at the age of 82.
At Boston Opera House, April 29 (through
May 26). Tickets $35-$220, 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org