- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

The American Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake,” which premiered here at the Kennedy Center five years ago, returned triumphantly Tuesday night, its success further sanctified by the half-dozen or so television cameras perched about the hall to record the performance for PBS.

Hardly intrusive, as in the past, the cameras added a festive note to the evening after the company’s director, Kevin McKenzie, informed the audience that it was being cast to play itself.

The ballet, with the same dancers, will be filmed twice more this week in case of slips, but this was a near-perfect performance.

The stagecraft of American Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake” is magnificent, with handsome front curtains, elegant and colorful costumes, lavish sets and a sliding curtain of gracefully designed trees that moves across the stage during scene changes.

Mr. McKenzie has streamlined the production, reducing the traditional four acts to two, with the sliding curtains permitting quick transitions as one act dissolves into the next. (The major flub of the evening was loud, prolonged hammering backstage during one such changeover.)

The dancing itself was close to flawless. Heading the large cast were Gillian Murphy as Odette-Odile and Angel Corella as her Prince.

Miss Murphy has understandably risen swiftly through the ranks. Her phenomenal technique was refined as Odette and brilliant as Odile, breezily tossing off triple turns as she began the famous fouettes in the Black Swan pas de deux. Her pyrotechnic skill is dazzling, and her sense of drama has increased, although innate coolness makes her admirable rather than enthralling.

At the ballet’s premiere here five years ago, Mr. Corella, one of the most exciting male dancers on the stage today, was a gallant and ardent Prince with a luminous Julie Kent as his partner. At last night’s performance, he was uncharacteristically subdued, a switch from the usual intensity he brings to his roles.

Mr. McKenzie has added several felicitous touches to the traditional “Swan Lake.” His court dances in the first act are swift and lively, and the opening solo for Mr. Corella ups the excitement level early on.

His most radical and successful change is the addition of a brazenly sexy solo for the magician, Von Rothbart, that gives zing to the ballroom scene — which needs a lift after the routine national dances. The addition is appropriate and effective. Marcelo Gomes’ sharp, taunting performance in the role was a major part of its success.

A highlight of the evening was the first-act pas de trois danced by Xiomara Reyes, Erica Cornejo and especially Herman Cornejo — as wonderfully airborne a performance as I’ve ever seen. It would be marvelous to see them in George Balanchine’s similarly airborne “Valse Fantaisie.”

The corps of swans who contribute so much to the ballet’s “white scenes” had been rehearsed to an extraordinary degree of cohesion and gave an elegant, poetic performance.

ABT has enough sense of tradition that it fielded older or retired dancers in roles that called for authority — from Frederic Franklin as the Prince’s tutor and Georgina Parkinson as the Queen Mother to Victor Barbee as the Master of Ceremonies. Like the Russians and the Danes, ABT knows that putting older dancers in such roles, rather than young ones in heavy makeup, adds weight and conviction to the overall effect.

The choreography for the grieving formations of swans in the final scene was not up to other versions — Frederick Ashton’s for the Royal Ballet or Christopher Wheeldon’s for the Pennsylvania Ballet — but both hero and heroine plunged to a watery grave with abandon, to be united in the heavens with the large stage moon as backdrop.


WHAT: The American Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake”

WHEN: Tonight through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $29 to $99

PHONE: 202/467-4600


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