April 2, 2012

Review: 'Swan Lake' triumph for Maine State Ballet

By JENNIFER BREWER

Maine State Ballet's "Swan Lake" is triumphant. Artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele has done a brilliant job of presenting this classic-of-all-classics in a form perfectly suited to both her company and its audience.

DANCE REVIEW

WHAT: Maine State Ballet's "Swan Lake"

WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, Portland

WHEN REVIEWED: Saturday

The ballet has been somewhat abbreviated, but invisibly enough that nothing seems missing. Instead, the essential story elements are brought forward and the most beloved sequences have added impact.

"Swan Lake" is one of ballet's greatest challenges, for the entire company. Entirely separating Tchaikovsky's score from the original Petipa choreography would be akin to splitting Rodgers and Hammerstein, but dancers and companies don't all have the same skills and styles.

Miele has adapted Petipa very successfully to her dancers and added choreography where necessary to portray her vision of the ballet (including creating a "happily ever after" ending, a change that even some Russian companies have made).

For the corps de ballet, "Swan Lake" is a landmark event. The swan corps, performing and posing in perfect unison in feathered white tutus, form one of ballet's most entrenched and enduring images. Being part of it is an experience that no dancer could ever forget, as well as a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

At Saturday's opening matinee, the Maine State corps performed with precision, grace and dignity. Eighteen dancers filled the stage with white, nicely performing the swans' classic steps and formations.

The corps' performance was beautifully accompanied by Kate Bennett and Christina Williams as lead swans, and delightfully punctuated by Alyssa Bryan, Shannon Dunbar, Emily Jennings and Adrienne Pelletier as the Cygnets (little swans).

The famed Cygnets' variation requires precision and speed for its quick, regimented pointe work and jumps, without sacrificing grace in the head and shoulders. These dancers performed cleanly, gracefully and with excellent rhythm and synchrony.

From its principal ballerina, "Swan Lake" requires great versatility and strength. In the first half of the ballet, she must be delicate and vulnerable as Odette, the enchanted swan queen who captures Prince Siegfried's heart. In the second half, she must bewitch as Odile (the black swan), who is disguised as Odette to steal Siegfried.

Not every ballerina can handle either the artistic nuance or the technical requirements of this double role. Technically, what most definitively distinguishes ballerinas who tackle the role successfully is Odile's long series of fouette turns, 32 counts of one of the most difficult steps in ballet. This is a "can she or can't she" moment for both the dancer and the audience.

At Saturday's performance, the answer for Janet Davis as Odette/Odile was a resounding "she can," and not only on account of her successful fouettes. Davis inhabited Odette with sweetness and beautiful femininity. Her birdlike arm movements were lovely and fluid. She added subtle sharpness for the seductive Odile, turning haughtily triumphant upon fooling Siegfried.

Glenn Davis (Siegfried) has a way of disappearing into each of his roles. In this ballet, in which Siegfried carries the majority of the dramatic action, Davis led the audience through the plot with understated clarity.

He always partners Janet Davis strongly and tenderly, but it was especially noticeable here. The separation of Siegfried and Odette by the evil sorcerer (Nathaniel Dombek) was chillingly rendered, while their climactic triumph over him was warm and satisfying, as the swans circled around the couple to repel the sorcerer's power.

As the spell was broken and Odette and the other swans were saved from the enchantment that turned them into swans, a warm, sunlit glow replaced the chillier moonlight of previous scenes.

David Herrman's lighting throughout the ballet complemented Gail Csoboth's exquisite sets and costumes. There was impressive depth to the painted backdrops, especially for the swans' lake and the surrounding forest. The costuming showed beauty and intelligence throughout, with equal attention to the color palette of the palace scenes and the requisite lightness of the swans' tutus.

Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.

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