The National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
March 8, 2014
by Denise Sum
Copyright © by Denise Sum 2014
James Kudelka's darkly reimagined "Swan Lake" has many fundemental problems that have been previously written about here. An incoherent narrative, an overly intrusive Rothbart, and a dreary and violent first act are only some of the problems. In cases like this, it is up to the dancers to try to elevate the work, which is never fair. However, on opening night, two principal guest artists, ex-Bolshoi star Svetlana Lunkina and Stuttgart principal dancer Evan McKie tried valiantly to do the impossible. They succeeded in making a flawed production considerably more watchable.
She gave a moving performance, clearly hungry for the opportunity to dance the kind of challenging classical role that she was trained for. Her Odette was lyrical and soulful, but also timid and controlled. Her dancing demonstrates a remarkable plastique, always in motion, always purposeful. The effect is captivating. Her Odile was completely different without being over the top or fake. She oozed confidence as she weaved her web of seduction around Siegfried, inviting him near before turning on him at the last moment. She was technically strong in her turns and balances, although she struggled through the fouettés. She started off alternating singles and doubles, but lost momentum and ended up traveling and needing to finish early. Still, it did not dimish the overall power of her genuine and nuanced performance.
Siegfried was danced by McKie, who is the epitome of a dansuer noble. He is tall, handsome, and elegant in how he carries himself. He has a long neck and points his toes to their maximum even when he is down on one knee. Everything about his dancing is clean and unfussy. He does not pull off the big tricks like some others, but still manages to imbue his role with excitement. For instance, when he greets his mother, The Queen, in the first act, he can barely look her in the eyes. He creates a tension between them from the start and then continues to build on it through to ballroom scene. Instead of being a generic prince, he brings dramatic qualities to his interpretation. His Siegfried is not just bored but irritated in the ballroom scene. As the princesses are placed on stools in front of him so he can select a bride, he sees the ridiculousness of it all. At one point he defiantly leaves in the middle of one of their variations. He wants something more than a political or stategic marriage, so it makes sense that he would fall so quickly for Odile, who ignites strong feelings in him.
McKie and Lunkina got off to a bit of a shaky start in the Act II adagio. The back bends were careful and promenades were slightly wobbly. Intentional or not, they looked believable as two individuals who were dancing together for the first time, unsure of what to expect and how much to trust the other. As the ballet progressed, they looked more comfortable together but their partnership is still very green and they have very different styles.
The NBoC performers rose to the occasion in other roles. Notably, Naoya Ebe's Benno was a loyal friend to Siegfried and was remarkably light on his feet in the pas de trois. Ebe moves with the precision of an elite athlete maximizing efficiency and aerodynamics. His turns are perfectly centred, his placement is precise, and his batterie are impeccable. As the fool, Robert Stephen was energetic and comical. Patrick Lavoie did his best to be intimidating as Rothbart, an unfortunately hollow role that does not highlight his talents. In the third act, Tiffany Mosher brought a refreshing vivacity to the Spanish variation.
Toronto will be treated once more to McKie's dancing as he is cast as Lensky for the opening night of "Onegin" next week. Too bad we will not see Lunkina as Tatiana, but there are several NBoC principals who are worth seeing in the role.
Svetlana Lunkina and Evan McKie in "Swan Lake". Photos by Aleksandar Antonijevic.