A Double Delight

Written by Susan Reiter on . Posted in Dance, Posts.

As American Ballet Theatre heads into the home stretch of its
eight-week Metropolitan Opera House season, it offers two of the most
consistently beloved and familiar 19th-century classics: Swan Lake (through July 2) and The Sleeping
(July 5–9). Both ballets are elevated into the realm of the sublime
by their peerless Tchaikovsky scores, and each features a multi-faceted role
for a ballerina. In Swan Lake—as
filmgoers are now well aware, if they caught the lugubrious award-season
favorite Black Swan—the lead female
dancer has to portray two contrasting characters, switching gears between acts.
The role of Princess Aurora, Sleeping
’s heroine, demands the ultimate in pristine classical technique as
well subtle evolution from the innocent wonder of a 16-year-old to the
authority of an incipient monarch.

ABT has been through several productions of these repertory
perennials over the course of its history, and both of these productions are
relatively recent and can hardly be considered the most authentic around. But
they retain the essentials of choreographic genius that are what make these
ballets touchstones of the classical repertory, and works in which the great
dancers of many generations have been measured and compared. The crystalline
purity of the fairies’ variations in Sleeping
’s Prologue—as they each bestow a specific quality on the newborn
princess—and the elegant, sweeping lines of the swan ensembles in Swan Lake are just two examples of
choreography that has proven timeless in its quality and resonance.

Swan Lake has had
quite a year, between the much-discussed and debated film, the return to New
York of Matthew Bourne’s innovative 1995 version with its all-male swan
ensemble, and a run of New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins’ production that
proved so popular at the box office that an extra performance was added. ABT’s
current production, with choreography by artistic director Kevin McKenzie after
Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, is now 10 years old. Its most unusual feature is
the split portrayal of Von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer under whose spell Odette
languishes. A grotesque swamp creature in the lakeside scenes, Von Rothbart
transforms himself into an alluring, dangerous figure when he accompanies Odile
to the palace in Act Three. McKenzie inserted a rather awkward prologue that is
intended to clarify the villain’s two aspects, and provide an abbreviated
backstory to the ballet’s narrative.

But the glories and challenges of the ballerina role remain,
and ABT is fielding seven different women in the role. Some are more natural
Odettes, pliant and vulnerable, while others take more naturally to the
assertive, technically showy qualities of Odile’s choreography. But each must
navigate both in the course of a performance. ABT’s typically international
roster of swan queens includes three Americans: Gillian Murphy, who has been in
blazing form this season; Julie Kent, marking her 25th anniversary with the
company, and Michelle Wiles, who is tall, commanding and dramatically
understated. Argentina-native Paloma Herrera, whose technical excellence has
been excitingly matched by a newly fluid quality and greater depth of
interpretation in recent seasons, is always a good match with Marcelo Gomes,
who will be her prince; he also partners Kent in the ballet. Three contrasting
Russians will take on the dual role, company members Veronika Part, expansive
and heartfelt in the ballet, and Irina Dvorovenko, as well as Polina Semionova,
making her first guest appearances with ABT this season. Her only other
performance was as Kitri, the spunky spitfire heroine of Don Quixote, in which she made a bold, technically commanding
impression. Semionova’s long, fluid line and sweeping limbs promise exciting
things for her Swan Lake. To make
José Manuel Carreño’s June 30 farewell performance extra-special, he will
partner two swans: Kent in the white acts, and Murphy in the black one.

Part, Herrera, Murphy and Dvorovenko will also perform in Sleeping Beauty, as ABT closes its
season with seven different Auroras, including Xiomara Reyes. The two extremely
different, equally fascinating guest artists—Alina Cojocaru from the Royal
Ballet, and Natalia Osipova of the Bolshoi—who last year performed in the
ballet on the same day (matinee and evening) will again portray Aurora, though
this time their appearances will be separated by two days. Osipova’s Prince
Désiré will be David Hallberg, the company’s most inherently noble and elegant
male dancer, closing out what has been his finest season yet. Cojocaru’s Prince
will be her frequent partner at the Royal, Johan Kobborg, a guest artist who
also danced in Giselle this season.
Others from ABT’s strong male roster who will do princely duty in both ballets,
in addition to Gomes and Hallberg, will be Cory Stearns and Maxim

American Ballet Theatre

Though July 9, Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, www.abt.org;
$20 .