Swan Lake @ Coliseum, London

performed by
Michele Wiles, David Hallberg, Marcelo Gomes, Georgina Parkinson, Frederic Franklin, Daniil Simkin, Vitali Krauchenka

directed by
Kevin McKenzie
Superlative dancing, lightness of foot, high drama and even a dash of psychoanalysis all combined to good effect in this American Ballet Theatre production of Swan Lake.

The correct balance between these elements may not have been achieved throughout, but the performance certainly hit the mark many more times than it missed it.

Choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, and premiering in Washington D.C. in 2000, this production is one of two that American Ballet Theatre is bringing to the London Coliseum for its 2009 spring dance season (Le Corsaire follows next week).

The performance, however, started shakily as Act One’s revelries proved the weakest moment of the evening.
The ensemble dancing was wonderfully elegant, whilst David Hallberg as Prince Siegfried demonstrated a brilliant light athleticism. The concept and staging, however, felt comparatively conservative leaving the dancers trying to make the most of some unimaginative direction. And with the Orchestra of the English National Opera, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, appearing to play (admittedly well) in third gear for most of the act, I was left wondering if its rehearsal time with the company had been limited.

All this changed, however, in a dance where the gravity of having to commit to love suddenly hit Siegfried. As Hallberg watched couples come together on stage he instantly became a Chris McCandless-style lost American soul. Then with some interesting choices of dance (no production ever includes all the music that Tchaikovsky wrote for the ballet), and a final dance that featured some highly innovative steps, things had come good by the end of the first act.

Act Two introduced us to the swan-princess, Odette, played by Michele Wiles. The pas de deux between her and Siegfried was incredible, with the corps de ballet supporting the principals well without being too distracting. The dance of the cygnets was not as perfect as some I have seen, but there was an underlying dynamic strength to Wiles’ lyrical movements that is so often lacking in other Odettes.

It was therefore surprising that Wiles did not achieve quite as much in Act Three as Odile, the evil Rothbart’s daughter who is magically disguised to look like Odette and steal Siegfried’s heart. Undoubtedly flashy, Wiles was not as seductive as she might have been, and though her 32 fouetts were incredible, the act was stolen by someone else entirely.

In this production Baron von Rothbart was played by two dancers: Vitali Krauchenka when he was disguised as an owl, and the peerless Marcelo Gomes when he appeared in human form. As Gomes playfully, but sinisterly, danced with the various princesses at Act Three’s ball, he demonstrated levels of classical technique and acting ability seldom seen on any ballet stage.

After such a highlight, Act Four held no real surprises, but it was superbly executed as Odette and Siegfried plunged to their deaths in the icy lake, Rothbart melted away, and the corps de ballet applied a swirling intensity to the entire proceedings.

And as for the orchestra, well over the entire evening it rarely proved it could do more than play at different volumes. Nevertheless, with such an emotive ending, playing that supported the drama simply by being loud enough in the right places was really all that was needed.

American Ballet Theatre’s production of Le Corsaire will be performed at the London Coliseum, 2-4 April 2009.

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