Swan Lake gliding with fresh moves



American Ballet Theatre

Principals: Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Thursday

The American Ballet Theatre is regarded as a top ballet company among a handful in the world. Expectations of its performance here were therefore high and the company delivered with a dazzling rendition of Swan Lake.

There were fresh approaches to the narrative, performance and design. Artistic director and choreographer Kevin McKenzie followed the 1895 Marius Petipa/Lev Ivanov plot, but altered some key aspects, including staging the ballet with only one interval rather than the usual two.

The opening strains of Tchaikovsky's haunting score, played by the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra, predicted a lavish production. It also heralded the start of the ballet with a Prologue - where we see Odette as a princess who is transformed by evil sorcerer Rothbart into a swan that can regain human form only after sunset.

This short scene enabled principal dancer Misty Copeland to portray the character as a strong woman who controls her fate, unlike in most productions, where Odette is portrayed as an ethereal being with little sense of the woman she once was.

Other significant changes see Rothbart played by two dancers - as a monster in the mythical lake scenes and as Odile's father at the palace ball in Act Three. Although this might confuse those not familiar with the story, the audience was thrilled to watch Calvin Royal III dance the role of the father, interspersing his acting with spectacular leaps.

Act One was set in the palace gardens, which ensured a seamless segue to the lake for Act Two. The garden backdrop, like a wispy Rococo painting, was matched by the cool tones in the costumes. The dancing was celebratory, although there were some synchronisation glitches in the beginning.

In contrast, Act Three transported the audience to the richness of Imperial Russia for the palace ball, with the lavish use of gold and jewel colours. In a joyful meeting of music and dance, the cast performed the various divertissements of national dances with vigour and precision.

But the scenes at the lake, where the corps de ballet truly excelled, were the ballet's highlights. As wrists and elbows bent to denote wings, legs were lifted in conformity to exactly the right height.

Duets, trios and the quartet of cygnets contributed to the beauty and grandeur of the ballet.

However, Act Four saw them caught in limbo, as they waited for Odette at the lake in front of a scrim. This curious scene featured several inconsequential runs on and off that lessened the dramatic impact of the finale.

The principals were exceptional dancers, although their rapport was supportive rather than overtly romantic or dramatic.

Copeland played her dual roles with sensual strength, sustained emotion and control. As Odette, she wound her way through the virtuosic series of lifts, multiple pirouettes and six o'clock extensions with a technique that appeared as though she had all the time in the world. Her Odile was playful and teasing as she performed the side split lifts working towards the climax of ensnaring her prince.

Herman Cornejo, meanwhile, moved between boyish charm and decisive manhood as he leapt wondrously, fouetted with accuracy and executed the overhead lifts effortlessly.

In recent years, there have been many reconfigurations and deconstructions of the fairy-tale aspects of Swan Lake's narrative to highlight the dark side of a story that ultimately sees a woman commit suicide over lost love.

The American Ballet Theatre's story probes some of this complexity, but cannot resist the high romance of a sugar-coated ending as Prince Siegfried follows his love in a suicide pact and they are finally seen united in love after death.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2018, with the headline 'Swan Lake gliding with fresh moves'. Subscribe