Swan Lake - New York City Ballet

New York City Ballet opened its 2015 Fall season tonight with its production of Swan Lake.

The production is an interesting amalgamation of Neo-Classical style with Petipa tradition.  When it works, its beautiful and reveals new insight into the ballet.  When it doesn't work, it really doesn't work.  Luckily what doesn't work doesn't really involve the dancing.

The costumes were aggressively plain.  Then at other times outright bizarre.  Case in point, Rotbart's cape (as you can see in the picture) which is pumpkin ORANGE.  It was very distracting and extremely "This is Halloween"  Nightmare Before Christmas style.  I kept expecting tiny students from SAB to come dancing around Rotbart dressed as ghouls, goblins and skeletons.  The wackiness is also apparent in the sets.  They are extremely psychedelic  and well....butt ugly.  It is not that I think the sets should be conventional but they should at least be attractive.  Whatever.

Now the dancing, the dancing was fantastic.  It took a bit to get used to the music tempo.  Which was performed a what seemed like Alvin and the Chipmunks speed.  But it posed no problem for the company.  They kept pace and many managed to look relaxed.  The only caveat I had was that the epaulement was a little sloppy, a lot of jazzy arms and claw hands.  However this was only evident in the beginning of the ballet.  Once everyone settled down, the style became a bit more classical.  Alina Dronova really stood out amongst the corps at the beginning.  She had loads of lovely style and I wished many of the younger dancers would follow her lead.  The other stand out of the opening scenes was Daniel Ulbricht as the Jester.   He garnered a lot of  cheers for his lightening quick footwork and leaps.

Sara Mearns, who played Odette/Odile, is clearly at the top of her game.  Her dancing has always been extremely romantic.  So much so that her style reveals some of the shallowness in Balanchine's most classical-ish ballets.  Many seem too brittle to hold her spirit.  But not this ballet.  This was a ballet big enough to hold her technique and dancer ambition.  It gave proper scale to her abilities so that she did not seem over wrought but majestic.  When it came to the quicker music tempo it really suited Odette's choreography.  Instead of slow tempos with long histrionic dance poses, the quicker tempo revealed a more melodious Odette and highlighted how alien she is compared to humans. There were moments where I wished the tempo wasn't so fast to allow a bit of elongation to the steps.  But still, it wasn't that much of a problem.  Mearns' Odile wasn't as glorious as her Odette.  She seemed too self contained in that section.  I couldn't figure out what was missing until the hallowed fouettes section of the choreography.  Mearns danced into that bit at breakneck speed.  I could see little wobbles the indicated she was losing control.  When in sight of the finish line, she did indeed fall out of the spins.  She covered it with quick chaines  then broke character looked out at the audience and gave us a mischievous grin. Her left shoulder lifted slightly in a half shrug then she launched into a few more fouettes to finish her solo.  Ultimately that tiny mistake revealed what was missing, a sense of crazy humor.  She should smile more in the Black Swan section.  Despite that small mishap, Mearns was greeted with cheers.

Tyler Angle was perfect as a prince given to day dreams.  His dancing was smooth and assured without trying to upstage everyone in sight.  His acting was also wonderful and his personality meshed well with Mearns.  They looked good together as a couple.  For the first time, I believed in the romance of this ballet.  Both of them worked to convey real love and real attraction.  So when it came time for Angle to make his prince swear devotion, it seemed real and not forced.  As they danced the Odette section, I was amazed how long Mearns' legs were and how they seemed to wrap around Angle, enclosing him like wings.

The divertissement sections were all first rate.    The standouts were Megan Fairchild, Craig Hall and Amar Ramasar.  It was nice to see Olivia Boisson front and center in the Corps sections.  She was also given a nice little solo as one of the Princesses.  In that section she was paired mainly with newcomer Miriam Miller.  They complemented each other well.

This is a good production despite some of the oddities.  If you have time this week and can get around the traffic snafus caused by the Pope's visit, don't miss this ballet.

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