The majestic Capitol Theatre in downtown Salt Lake, themed with cream and red decor, seated a full house Friday, Jan. 12 for the opening of Swan Lake. The tale, dating back to its first production in 1895, tells of the young Prince Siegfried who falls in love with Princess Odette, whose been transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer, von Rothbart, who, himself, turns into a giant bird creature and lives by the lake. The sorcerer has abducted many young women, turning them into swans and holds them captive at the lake. Only the true love of a human can break the spell and set the women free. Showcasing the Ballet West Academy, the show was elegant and dramatic. And, thanks to artistic director Adam Skulte, the story was retold “once again, but for the first time.”
Skulte took everything, from Tchaikovsky’s original score, original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivano to the original costumes, mixing old styles with more contemporary to create an entirely new production of Swan Lake. With help from choreographers Mark Goldweber, Pamela Robinson-Harris and designer Peter Cazalet, this reborn version of the classic ballet was a success.
Naturally, with no dialogue, the orchestration and the dancers must provide the story and develop the scenes, the actions. Of, course, for those who’ve never watched the original, reading the story provided in the program is necessary; it can be hard to follow.
Shultz wanted to draw out the rift between the human world and the one of the swans, the natural and supernatural. In Act I and III, both set in the royal hall to celebrate Prince Siegfried’s 21 birthday, the color scheme is bright golds, greens, and reds. The sets are so well done the stage looked like a movie set, with the tall stain glassed windows, long winding brick staircase. Acts II and IV, both at The Lake, draw out the idea of purity and eeriness. The background is the dark, black mountain side where the evil sorcerer is often seen, lurking and surveilancing all that goes on below. The fog machines add a nice effect, floating across the stage lit by pale, muted white light from the moon. On the backdrop, it’s painted in a textured orange and hangs midway in the velvety blue sky of the painted night sky. The evil sorcerer, too, is literally terrifying. His eyes are outlined in a strip of black paint, bringing out the white of his eyes from the audience seating, and his costume is dark, mostly black, green’s and purples, like the iridescent feathers of a raven, complete with long reaching wings that swirl with him during pirouettes and leaps.
Shulte wanted, also, to “bring out the drama that is inherent in the story but often gets lost in the ballet.” Throughout the performance, the music accompanying each dance communicates the emotion. During dances with light footwork, the tunes are more bouncy, the sound is more top-heavy in the higher register instruments like upper woodwinds and violas, violins. During one performance from the royal court in honor of the Prince, one ballerina is accompanied only by a single trilling clarinet as she dances, lightly, bouncing. Whenever the evil sorcerer makes an appearance, it’s preluded or punctuated with the low register voices, dark, low rich tones I the base clef. There is a motif throughout on a single oboe that plays whenever Odette, played by Christina Bennett opening night, appears on stage and dances with Prince Siegfried, played by Christopher Rudd. Coming out in iconic white tutu, designed to look like feathers, the Odette’s outfit still had it’s own flair inherent to this play. Prince Siegfried’s costume, likewise, was the same light blue trimmed in silver like the original, but still had its own new personality. The two dance harmoniously. The emotion is clear on their faces. They are obviously in love, are desperate to be in each other’s arms, but there is this rift between them, this separation that’s clear on the aching on their faces, the way they stretch towards each other when apart. The moments of longing are also followed with moments of struggle. In the final act, when Prince Siegfried fights the evil sorcerer von Rothbart, the music fills the auditorium and the swan maidens rise to defend him, flying directly in von Rothbart’s path.
From truly acrobatic feats that seem to have the male dancers suspended in the air to the delicate displays of balance and control from the female ballerinas, Swan Lake was a showcase of pure talent and hours of hard work.
Throughout the ballet, in between acts and after dances within each, thunderous applause, whoops and shouts of bravo followed. Odette’s solos, especially, in her graceful displays of poise, power, earned several “Bravos” and long extended cheers. When the ballet ended, even the first bout of dancers to take their bows approached, half the auditorium sprang up in standing ovation. The rest stood with each coming row of dancers to take their bows, ending finally with the entire house on its feat, roaring its approval when the leads came out and bowed. Several bouquets were tossed from the audience before the dancers left the stage and the audience remained cheering.
This iconic piece has embraced many new, unique artistic revisions. Don’t miss this revision that drew from the old to bring out a completely new ballet. Swan Lake will play from Feb. 17-20. Even non-ballet fans can find something to enjoy, from the orchestration, to the story to the dancing that make for a well spent night, sampling the arts. For more information, visit www.balletwest.org.