SWAN LAKE is the classic that people think of when they hear the word “ballet.” It has every element of the spectacular ballet. The iconic music composed by Tchaikovsky, the dramatic plot, and most importantly, the brilliant choreography by the legendary ballet master, Marius Petipa.
Since the success of the 1885 revival production at the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg (antecedent of the Mariinsky Ballet) by the legendary ballet master, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and the director of the music, Riccardo Eugenio Drigo, the ballet has been performed numerous times by companies and schools all over the world.
Pennsylvania Ballet and its artistic director, Angel Corella certainly took this ballet seriously and respectfully, by adopting the traditional version that is closer to the 19th century production, and more importantly, by respecting the basics of the ballet techniques and focusing on narrating the emotions of each character more convincingly.
At the opening night, principal dancers, Dayesi Torriente and Arian Molina Soca performed the two title roles, Odile/Odette and Prince Siegfried. Soca performed his prince as a depressed young man who looked to have everything except his own destiny. Although his jumps and pirouettes are majestic, he expressed the emptiness that Siegfried carried, until the moment he met the beautiful swan, Odette and looked into her eyes. Torriente is a ballerina with a beautiful line and well-trained technique. As Odette, she emphasized the sorrow of the white swan, who was cursed to transform from a princess to a swan by an evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart. To the sweet melody played by the violin soloist, Luigi Mazzocchi, her delicate movements looked elegant but almost fragile. Those who have experience of dancing ballet would obviously know that her delicate and fluent movements as the swan only came from her years of strenuous practice and devotion to ballet. Their pas de deux was breathtaking but overshadowed as if it was the prophecy of the tragedy to come. Throughout Act II, the dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet successfully created the graceful world of the white ballet as the swans. Their movements were refined and graceful as never before.
Following the whimsical world of the second act was the ball scene with another iconic pas de deux. The dancers in gorgeous costumes appeared onto the stage and the elegant dance by the princesses took place to proof their virtues as a possible bride for Prince Siegfried. Folklore dances were presented. Zecheng Liang and Ashton Roxander were exceptionally brilliant in their sharp and impressive duo dance of Neapolitans. As the mood heightens, Odile and Siegfried danced their pas de deux. Torriente’s Odile gave impression of being too subtle or submissive at first. She stayed as a graceful swan and enticed Siegfried into believing that she was Odette that he loved. The famous 32 fouettes is often considered as ballerina’s highlight to show off their techniques. She conducted perfect fouettes with double fouettes for the first half, winning the enthusiastic applause of the audiences. However for Torriente’s Odile, this grandiose step was just the checkmate to conquer Siegfried’s mind. The moment Siegfried sweared his love to Odile, she ripped off her disguise and displayed her heartless, evil black swan.
Act III of SWAN LAKE can be a rather problematic scene. Even though many of the productions follow the 1885 version for its synopsis and choreography, the ending has been revised and choreographed in different ways in each companies’ effort to make this marvelous ballet more convincing. Pennsylvania Ballet’s Act III was similar to the version of American Ballet Theater (which Angel Corella performed Siegfried numerous times as the principal.) Sadly, this scene was not convincing enough on the opening night, leaving frustration and unfinished feeling. In despair of having betrayed Odile, Siegfried attempted to fight Von Rothbart. However, he looked as if he never believed in his strength, tumbling weakly by Sorcerer’s easy slap. No wonder Odette lost her hope so quickly and chose to kill herself. Von Rothbart supposedly was destroyed by the strong love of the couple, but he was hidden behind the swans at his final moment.
It is just another proof of how delicate and demanding it is to have one of the most-known pieces of stage art from centuries ago on the stage. Even though fundamental human nature may never change, society, culture, and our way of life will never stay the same. Art has the power to convince people and bend their minds, but stage art requires relevant revisions to reach people’s heart. Ever-evolving yet grounded in the history of its artform, Pennsylvania Ballet will surely continue to create art which touches our hearts.
[The Academy of Arts, 240 S Broad Street] March 8-18, 2018; paballet.org