The Washington Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ at The Kennedy Center

Swooning over the first ‘Swan’

Step aside, Baryshnikov. There’s a new kid on the block and he’s taking the dance world by storm. The Washington Ballet’s Brooklyn Mack took his royal place last night as Prince Siegfried in the highly touted premiere of Swan Lake at The Kennedy Center. With a grin that lit up The Eisenhower Theater stage, the tall, dark, handsome dancer proved that he is not only princely but a tour-de-force in ballet.

And guest artist Misty Copeland in the leading roles of Odette/Odile added star quality to the already festive evening. The American Ballet Theater soloist and cover girl for Under Armour Clothing (check out the You Tube video “I Will What I Want”) demonstrated fragility as the tortured white swan and a wicked, “come hither” attitude, as the evil twin black swan. It was the latter where Copeland found her niche with her intricate pointe work.

The Washington Ballet's 'Swan Lake' with Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mack. Photo by media4artists l Theo Kossenas.
The Washington Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ with Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mack. Photo by media4artists/Theo Kossenas.

Like those fabled swallows known for returning to Capistrano each spring, swans settle regularly in our are this time of year. Back in the heyday of classical ballet in the late 1970s and early 1980s, local dance fans had at least a half-dozen productions of Swan Lake to sample by late April.

So far it’s The Washington Ballet who has offered the first flutter of wings this spring season in this historic debut, and the pairing of two African-American classical dancers is one for the books. While Copeland and Mack will perform only once more at this Sunday’s closing evening show, let’s hope that the audience responds as rabidly for Ayano Kimura and Jonathan Jordan, paired tonight and Sunday afternoon; Aurora Dickie and Tamas Krizsa (my choice) Saturday afternoon; and Maki Onuki and Miguel Anaya Saturday evening.

Artistic Director Septime Webre has long been a champion of diversity in his school and company, obvious in this production with dancers from The Washington Ballet Trainee Program. As he stood onstage before curtain, The Cuban-American director beamed when he announced another first – live musical accompaniment by S&R Foundation’s Evermay Chamber Orchestra. After first intermission Concertmaster Tamaki Kawkubo played a lovely violin solo from the Tchaikovsky score, created for the ballet and arranged by Rowland Lee for this production.

Swan Lake has been called both “the greatest romantic ballet of all time” and “an old war horse.” Nearly every major company has presented the ballet in either its full-length, four-act version or the shortened two-act. Since its first and reportedly ragged production at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1877, Swan Lake has consistently been the most popular ballet with dancers and audiences. Although it is presented in may different versions, most ballet companies (including TWB) base their renditions both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Petipa and Ivanov. Guest choreographer Kirk Petersen writes in his note, “This Swan Lake honors the past, but lives in the present.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the fairy-tale ballet, it must seem a bit reactionary to revel in a story of a symbolic swan-girl that captures the heart of a prince. Somehow, when I see the ballet, I suppress the “good verses evil” theme and the superficial ending of Odette and Siegfried united through death in a world of eternal love. Swan Lake, for me, unites the corps de ballet with the theme of the story, encourages strong virtuosity through the “divertissements,” the little skits or entertainment for the royal family, and establishes a rapport with the audience with the dance pyrotechnics.

The Company of the Washington Ballet's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by media4artists/Theo Kossenas.
The Company of the Washington Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake.’ Photo by media4artists/Theo Kossenas.

Let me be clear: The Washington Ballet’s Swan Lake is not your grandmother’s ballet!

This production is fresh and full of youthful vitality. There were added dances for the companies soloists and special touches – loved the chemistry between Mack and Copeland and the way she touched his knee in the palace dance. The mime was clear throughout, as Mack proclaimed his love for both swans. Indeed, TWB has never looked better, and Sona Kharatian is gorgeous as the Queen Mother. It’s worth fighting to get a ticket…no matter who is dancing the lead roles.

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The Washington Ballet’s Swan Lake plays through April 12, 2015 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater-2700 F Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

Running Time: Almost three hours, with two 20-minute intermissions.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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Carolyn Kelemen is an award-winning arts critic and feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, Howard County Times, and Columbia Flier - 45 years and counting. The Columbia resident earned her Masters Degree in Dance at Mills College in California and has taught college and graduate courses at Goucher College, Loyola, the College of Notre Dame and Howard Community College. A professional dancer throughout the East Coast in the late 50s and early 60s, she was trained in classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and tap. Her TV/film career includes MPT’s “ weeknight Alive” and years of local productions in the Maryland/DC area. Carolyn is a longtime member of the Dance Critics of America, the American Theatre Critics Association. She has proudly produced the “A Labor of Love” AIDS benefits since 1988.


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