Graceful as ever, ‘Swan Lake’ slays in real-life return
RWB ensemble spreads wings again
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet took balletomanes on a flight of fancy Wednesday night, as it presented its penultimate show of the season, Swan Lake, notably its first fully staged production of the ethereal ballet blanc since 2015.
The 83-year old company pivoted hard during the global pandemic, offering a compact, filmed version titled Visions of Swan Lake to online viewers in March 2021. However there’s nothing like the real thing, with these intrepid dancers often receiving whoops and cheers during opening night’s performance.
Choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, the lavish, 146-year-old story ballet tells the tale of Odette, Queen of the Swans who lives under evil sorcerer Baron von Rothbart’s spell that sees her transformed into a swan by day. Only by finding true love — enter dashing Prince Siegfried — can Rothbart’s dark curse be broken and Odette with her flock of swans finally be returned to their mortal form. Its dual role of Odette and her doppelganger, Odile, as Rothbart’s daughter who tricks Siegfried into betraying Odette, marks a career milestone for ballerinas around the globe, long on the bucket list for aspiring swans.
Principal dancer Chenxin Liu (all leads alternating) tackled her notoriously demanding roles with aplomb, her pristine lines juxtaposed with floating port de bras and solid classical technique evoking the lyrical lines of her feathery character. She expressed the trembling vulnerability of Odette discovering true love with the prince during the White Swan Pas de Deux, later contrasted by her sharp attack during its counterpart, the Black Swan Pas de Deux, in which she tossed off the ballet’s famous 32 fouettés with laser precision.
Principal dancer Yue Shi as the prince filled the stage with his every appearance, his expressive acting ability wordlessly conveying his inner turmoil as the Queen Mother (Catherine Wreford Ledlow) commanded him to choose a bride during Act I’s ball scene. As a danseur noble, he provided steady ballast for Liu during their pas de deux including their light-as-a-feather lifts, as well as enthralling us with his bounding leaps and pillow-soft landings during his own variations.
Rothbart is one of those delicious roles dancers die for. Soloist Stephan Azulay lorded power over the ensemble of swans, cracking the eight-foot wings of his spiny cape and infusing his role with rugged athleticism.
Corps de Ballet member Liam Saito popped like a cork as the jolly Jester, nailing his leaps while spinning like a top during hyperkinetic solos that became a highlight of the evening. Also, what a pleasure to see long-retired RWB dancer Alexander Gamayunov (Siegfried’s mentor) back on this stage in his character role.
Thank goodness the four baby swan cygnets have their wings, er, arms tightly locked together again, physically distanced during Visions of Swan Lake which still unsettles to this day. This perennial highlight could have benefitted from greater synchronicity and Russian rigour in the way the ballet’s inaugural stager, Galina Yordanova, during its RWB premiere in 1987, would have insisted upon.
The Pas de Trois dancers featuring Soloist Jaimi Deleau, Corps de Ballet member Jenna Burns, and Second Soloist Peter Lancksweerdt deserve special mention for their tightly knitted ensemble work, as do guest artists of Winnipeg’s Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble who boot-stomped their way through the Mazurka during Act III’s divertissement of folkloric dances, that also includes Neapolitan, Hungarian and Spanish numbers, as well as more courtly offerings.
Another undeniable star of Swan Lake is Tchaikovsky’s lushly orchestrated score, brought to life by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra led with gusto by RWB principal conductor Julian Pellicano. Also included were Peter Farmer’s opulent, Renaissance-style sets and costumes ranging from richly brocaded vestments to sparkling white tutus.
There is a lot — repeat — a lot of dancing in this ballet that doesn’t necessarily drive the narrative forward, in the spirit of classical tradition. However the sight of the entire, fluttering flock of swans comprised of Corps de Ballet members in the Act IV finale, luminous in lighting designer Nicolas Cernovitch’s moonlight effects, still takes one’s breath away.
Traditionally, this boy-meets/loses/wins-bird ballet ends in tragedy as Odette dies in Siegfried’s arms while he rues his betrayal. However in this kinder, gentler version, the prince ultimately slays Rothbart to win the love of his life, as goodness triumphs over evil — a timeless message as potent today as in 1877, with the opening-night crowd leaping to their feet seeming to agree.
The production continues through Sunday. For tickets or further information, visit rwb.org.