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

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Under a moonlit, cloudy sky, a young, overwhelmed Prince Siegfried seeks refuge in the forest following an evening of birthday revelry. A weighty anticipation gives a lag to his steps, for tomorrow he must choose a bride. He and his chum, Benno, having spied swans ascending into the night, take his new crossbow for a spin with the rest of the boyish entourage. Siegfried, separated from the group, fog traveling over his toes, comes upon a mystical lake.

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.

Enter Odette—swan by day, maiden by twilight. Siegfried, under cover, witnesses her transformation from avian to human form. Awestruck, he trespasses into her sanctuary, but goes on to earn Odette’s trust. She explains that she and her fellow swans live beholden to the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart’s curse. After a tussle with the villain, Siegfried proclaims his eternal love to Odette. Hunted hooks the hunter and their anguishing love tale takes wing.

Amidst an exciting week of success for the Washington Ballet’s first production of Swan Lake in its 70-year history this week, another luminous showing of the famous story dawned yesterday for the company. Radiating from the center of this cast: Aurora Dickie, in her sixth season with WSB, as the captivating Odette—and in Act III and IV, as the conniving Odile, Rothbart’s diabolical daughter enchanted to look like Odette. In true antagonist fashion, this fearsome father-daughter duo exists solely to thwart the benevolent romance between Prince and swan queen.

Unfortunately, their scheming sort of works, although Choreographer Kirk Peterson, (whose illustrious career includes seventeen years with American Ballet Theater, where he danced Prince Siegfried opposite the late Rebecca Wright, Washington School of Ballet Director from 2004 until her passing in 2006, as Odette/Odile), offers a hopeful conclusion in his adaptation inspired by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s famous 1895 staging, as preserved by Nicholai Sergeyev in St. Petersburg in 1934.

Tamás Krizsa, in his eighth season with WSB, brings an endearing, warm sensitivity to his portrayal of Prince Siegfried. Before Odette’s arrival, his movement seemed as blue as his regal costume. His pas de bourrées and balances were masterfully held and protracted and conveyed his forlorn character—a successful emotional feat on his part, rendering the first encounter with the swan queen all the more enchanting.

Against the stunning forest backdrop, Dickie’s sinewy arms crack, jagged, but then flutter like windswept branches. She commanded the stage from the moment she entered. Her strength, though, radiates from her spine out through her angled wrists. Hers is a rooted power, grounded and confident. Her gaze never falters. She was not missing a beat, and consistently moved with purpose. Her hops on pointe were so seamless it would have been easy to miss her bent knees. Instead of guiding her pirouettes, Krizsa’s hands seemed drawn, magnetically, to the energy from her core. Siegfried smiles a genuinely smitten smile; Dickie strikes passé then cranes her arm and head back to cradle his. In this delicate but balanced partnership, Krizsa is quiet reverence to her directed dynamism.

Later, when Rothbart arrives fashionably (and strategically) late to Siegfried’s ball and dangles Odile (as Odette) as a final choice for bride-to-be, Siegfried mistakenly vows his love to her instead. Oops. No wonder, though, given Dickie’s beguiling control in a pas de deux a trois (with Rothbart)—a control that overpowers the music and creates time between steps, instead of ever falling behind. Dickie lets a foreboding smirk loose before weaving ankle to knee in a passé dévelopé, then tosses Siegfried aside like a picked over piece of prey to gloat with her father. Her hands claw into Krizsa’s thigh in a final, striking arabesque pose; Siegfried is—well, doomed.

The entire company must be commended for Act IV, in which Peterson’s choreography, special effects, an astoundingly synchronized corps, Dickie’s torment and technical prowess as the betrayed Odette, Krizsa’s determination, and the wickedly wonderful, winged Rothbart costume swirl together for the climax. It’s corps v. sorcerer in a battle of the port de bras, meanwhile a jilted Odette, then a guilty Siegfried, each take their own lives, but unite in the afterlife. Engaging, visually, is the gradient on stage: lovers high above, stage left; corps defending below, center stage; and Rothbart, fallen, stage right.

Tchaikovsky’s celebrated score, brought to life by the Evermay Chamber, assembled by the non-profit S&R Foundation headquartered at the Evermay Estate in Georgetown, accents this scene (and the entire production) with vigor, nuance and appropriate dramatic flair.

Concertmaster and Artistic Director Tamaki Kawakubo also performed a rousing interlude in the intermission before Act III on Saturday, smiling and swaying to the music several times during the violin solo, and visibly connecting with the audience.

Other company members particularly connected, including Andile Ndlovu as Benno (his combined air time between jumps probably lasted longer than one of the three-minute pauses), Morgann Rose in the Act I pas de trois (whose smiles to dancers on stage and the audience plus her effortless port de bras signaled her professionalism) and, of course, the four cygnettes (cygne is French for swan) played by Tamako Miyasaki, Rachel Jones, Nina Fernandes, and Claire Rathbun, whose precise, staccato feet successfully flowed as one in the difficult Act II pas de quatre.

Hopefully, Dickie and Krizsa will reprise their partnership in the Washington Ballet’s upcoming May reprisal of their original ‘Alice and Wonderland,’ which premiered in 2012 and was choreographed by Septime Webre himself. It is a pleasure as an audience member to witness their transformation as characters.

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.

ABT Guest Artist Misty Copeland and WSB’s Brooklyn Mack, both African-American dancers, take the stage as Odette/Siegfried again tonight in what promises to be another memorable performance in this important moment for the Washington Ballet. (Read Carolyn Kelemen’s review of this cast’s performance).

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 3-minute pause, and two 15-minute intermissions.

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The Washington Ballet: Swan Lake is being performed tonight, Sunday, April 12, 2015 at at 6:30 p.m. in the Eisenhower Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the Box Office at (202) 467-4600, or order them online.

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