Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ballet San Jose -"Swan Lake"

The San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose, CA
February 26, 2011

The story of “Swan Lake” has certainly gotten a lot of attention over the past few months. While it has played out on the big screen and in the dance discourse, some companies are offering even further analytic opportunities by featuring the classic ballet as part of their 2011 season. Ballet San Jose's version, choreographed by Artistic Director Dennis Nahat, provides a unique take on the traditional story with an expanded treatment of Baron Von Rothbart and a much-needed inventory of ballet's technical oeuvre. With his attention to detail, Nahat's “Swan Lake” could be aptly retitled, “Swan Lake: The Return of Artistic Intricacy”.

Nahat's interpretation of Von Rothbart is brilliant. With Rothbart being the evil manipulator of this story's individuals, situations and events, it makes complete sense that he should be very present throughout the entire ballet (and in many productions his appearances are fairly minimal). In the prologue, we meet Von Rothbart for the first time as he captures four maidens and transforms them to swans. Though it would have been more effective for Odette to be one of those four women, these opening moments paint a villainous portrait. As the ballet continues, Von Rothbart's purpose becomes the interruption and halting of Odette and Siegfried's emerging relationship. To that end, Nahat has created several pas de trois for Odette, Siegfried and Von Rothbart (danced by Jeremy Kovitch) to represent Rothbart's interference. These trios definitely speak of his vicious intentions, though they also embody the struggles of all three characters: Odette's struggle for freedom, Siegfried's struggle for love and Von Rothbart's struggle for domination.

Photo by Robert Shomler
San Jose Ballet's corps is very good, one of the most mature groups (not necessarily in age, but certainly in artistic rigor) that I have seen in a long time - they really work together as a team. This is not a company who has their corps de ballet stand around framing the action; they are active participants. We first encounter them as the courtiers in Act I performing some very inventive choreography. Nahat is not afraid to use demi-pointe for the women as its own position, as opposed to its more common transitional use. This allowed discoveries and opportunities for steps and sequences that so many other choreographers miss. I must admit that at times, the corps looked a little cramped in the stage space, but because of their impressive aggregate sensibilities, they made the best of it. Act II's swan chorus was a beautiful display of delicate choreography - prancey front attitudes alongside wispy pas de chats. Softer pointe shoes would have been a nice addition to the scene.

Photo by Robert Shomler
The role of Prince Siegfried was the perfect showcase for Guest Artist Carlos Acosta's fantastic technique. His variations in Act I highlighted his spectacular plié, and his ability to end a multiple pirouette up in passé relevé rather than down in a closed position; a Cecchetti adage that we seldom see nowadays. Alexsandra Meijer's portrayal of both Odette and Odile was superb. As she first met the Prince, the fear and terror were apparent in every part of her being, not just in her arms as is often the case with many Swan Queens. And, as she was pulled away by Von Rothbart at the end of the second Act, her boureés screamed of her desperation, helplessness and panic.  Her Odile was enticing and alluring, though the technical requirements of this powerhouse character (specifically the fouettés) did present some challenges last Saturday night.

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