Last year I was amazed at Veronica Part as the Wili Queen in Giselle. Last fall, she looked beautiful but miscast in Ashton's Monotones. I was very sorry to have missed her Swan Lake but I had run out of time and money.
But this year I remedied last year's miss. And I must say, Part is the best Swan Queen I've ever seen. She mixes true Russian classicism with American economical, no-nonsense technique. I was also happy to see that this production takes the music as close to tempo as possible. True it wasn't full of fire like the NYCB version, but it was a good mix between the slo-mo of current Russian productions and NYCB's swans on speed.
I loved that Part was an heroic Odette. She didn't dance a portrait of a woman wallowing in self-pity but someone who still had fight left within her. She didn't emphasize a fear when meeting the Prince but someone who was willing to die to protect the rest of the cursed swan women. Her work in the pas de deux was gorgeous as her acting took her from dubiousness to surety. Her dancing was full of moments that suggested bird-like frailty that totally captured my attention.
It was just too bad that James Whiteside couldn't match her bigger than life portrayal of the Swan Queen. Technically he was good. But in the realm of acting, he was hopelessly flat and self-contained. I just couldn't understand how the rakish good-humor he showed in La Fille, just totally disappeared in this production. He didn't seem like the same dancer. His work in the pas de deux sections was serviceable. He handled the lifts very well considering that Part towered over him in her pointe shoes. But the assisted pirouettes, attitudes and arabesques were awkward. Whiteside stood too far away from Part. So that her turns were all slighly off center and wobbly. It made it look as if Whiteside's Prince was afraid of the Swan Queen not devastatingly in love at first sight.
This reticence in Whiteside also led to a lackluster Odile section. Part was full of life. Her zealous attack on the choreography indicated a character who lustily enjoyed all facets of living to the point of debauchery. But she had nothing to bounce ideas off of in this section. Whiteside wasn't inflamed by lust and led astray. He was just as calm and collected in this section as he was in the rest of the previous scenes.
Luckily there were plenty of dancers around Whiteside showing a pulse. Marcello Gomes was fantastic as Von Rothbart. This version expanded on his character and led to insights into the story that I had never considered. The argument of this production made the case of von Rothbart being a sexual predator who loves to seduce and enslave beautiful women. And his mesmerizing solo scene in the Black Swan section was the portrayal of a man on the hunt just as much as Odile. It was too bad that he wasn't Part's partner for the production. Usually he is her Prince. Why this changed suddenly, I have no idea.
Corps dancer Patrick Frenette was a standout performer in this production. His partnering in the opening Birthday scene was a little shaky but this could have been due to the stage being a bit overly crowded with dancers. But he stood out with very thoughtful technique and good acting. He was also very handsome and looked good on stage. His work as one of the Spanish dancers in the third act was fabulous. He even had a great acting moment with Marcello Gomes' von Rothbart. He was one of the few courtiers to notice von Rothbart's snarling laughter at the Prince which led to stare off. I will be looking for his work in the future.
Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher and Calvin Royal III were very good in the Pas de Trois. Teuscher in particular has the most lovely arms I've ever seen. Her port de bras are so fresh, natural and without strain. Shevchenko had good sparkle and fine footwork. Royal was also good technically but his acting was a bit off. He was full of smiles and lacked aristocratic demeanor. This Pas de Trois wasn't the Peasant pas de deux from Giselle. Someone should have told him to be more self-possessed. Another standout performance was Catherine Hurlin who danced the Spanish Princess in the third act. She managed to stand out from the crowd with a very lovely dancing presence.
The ABT corps must also be commended as a whole for fabulous work. The dancing in the Swan section in particular was very fine.
I enjoyed this production very much and hope to see Part in more roles this coming fall season.
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