American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House, New York
June 18, 2013
by Tom Phillips
Copyright 2013 by Tom Phillips
The theatrical deficiencies of ABT’s current Swan Lake have been well documented over the dozen years of its existence, and they were all evident Tuesday night at the Met. Both Act One and Act Two should end like cliffhangers, but instead each seemed to just trail off. Act Four should raise the drama to tragic dimensions, but instead it just gets rid of the principals in perfunctory fashion, leaving a corps of swans in limbo. Still, the dual role of Odette and Odile remains the ultimate challenge for a ballerina, and there’s enough drama inherent just in the pas de deux of Acts Two and Three to make a memorable evening. On Tuesday, Veronika Part rose to the ballerina’s challenge. But this Swan Lake was still short on drama, mostly because of her unsatisfying partnership with Cory Stearns.
Part employed every millimeter of her classic frame to grow into a swan queen, with an exquisite arch of her broad upper back, and a winglike extension of her arms to the rear. And there was nothing foreshortened in her emotional expression, as she mimed the plight of her character. But it didn’t get much reaction from Stearns, and the chance encounter never transformed into romance.
Siegfried is a difficult character, given the conventions of classic ballet, which can make the man literally disappear behind the ballerina. The plot doesn’t help him either, as this prince is continually being manipulated and pushed around by women. But somehow in Act Two he has to step up and declare his love, declare himself a changed man. In terms of acting, it’s hard to know where the problem lay. Was Part’s Odette just too self-involved and overwrought to fall in love with? Or was this prince short on passion? At any rate, when he did pledge his troth, it seemed a shallow gesture, not even his own idea. So it was no big surprise when he broke his vows in Act Three. Interestingly, the two seemed to be drawing closer in Act Four. By then it was too little, too late.
Part’s Odile is better than her Odette, at least in this cast where she exuded far more presence than her partner. Her solo allegro passages were brilliant, the pique turns sparkling like a big diamond ring. In the adagios her lines were occasionally lumpy, but the climactic arabesques generous and sure. The 32 fouettes, though, looked hurried and not fully extended, even at a relatively slow tempo set by Ormsby Wilkins.
There was nothing to complain about in Stearns’ dancing, or his partnering. His leaps and his lifts both look strong and easy. But the noble Prince Siegfried just didn't show up. Ivan Vasiliev as Rothbart nearly stole Act Three with a sneering, arrogant bravura turn around the floor that left the Queen Mother either smitten or aghast, it was hard to tell.
Stella Abrera and Melanie Hamrick got Act One off to a bouncing start with a light-footed pas de trois, with Sascha Radetsky as Benno. When we got to the lakeside, some of the swans looked slightly out of sync with their sisters. And the cygnets lacked the startled quickness that distinguishes the very young. Another place to pick up the tempo.
The question has been raised, how much does ABT care about its Swan Lake? This production will never be ideal, but it is serviceable, and it packed the house on Tuesday night. That alone would justify giving it more polish, and more commitment to explore the mysteries at its core.
-- Copyright 2013 by Tom Phillips
Photograph of Veronika Part and Cory Stearns by MIRA