American Ballet Theatre
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
January 26, 2017
by George Jackson
© 2017 by George Jackson
The news is Devon Teuscher’s unscheduled debut as Odette and Odile in ABT’s familiar “Swan Lake”. The only “promising” thing about her performance is that one looks forward to repeats. Teuscher fullfilled both roles amply and distinctly. Constant is that “Swan Lake” remains the most Wagnerian of ballet’s classics, in this production partly because of and partly despite Kevin McKenzie’s staging “after” ballet masters Petipa and Ivanov and, of course, composer Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky. A scheduled debut at this second of the week’s seven “Swan Lake” performances was Alban Lendorf’s as the more human of the two manifestations of the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart.
Devon Teuscher. Photo by Renta Pavam.
Long legged but not “all legs”, Devon Teuscher uses her entire body supplely. As the tragically captive Odette yearning for escape into everlasting love, she responded to Prince Siegfried with spontaneity, both dramatically and in the extended dancing. Her torso can shift, sometimes with surprising speed yet utter clarity and musicality. Also, with that torso Teuscher can arch majestically for what seems a sigh replete with a long, long history of woe. Her arms may suggest an Odette about to lift into flight, yet she doesn’t overstate their nature as the wings of a swan. As the wily Odile, Teuscher entices Siegfried not just with looks but by accentuating her head as if about to nudge him. Technically, she is fastidious with with small, decorative steps and has stamina for all the big-scale bravura. Temperamentally, her white swan Odette and black swan Odile, despite much difference, share impetuosity.
Tchaikovsky and his early choreographers for “Swan Lake” in Moscow, Petersburg and Prague were aware of Richard Wagner’s reforms for opera. How applicable were these innovations to ballet? There was Wagner’s music with its multitude of harmonic modulations, almost endless melodies and postponed climaxes. There was Wagner’s dramatic poetry with its notion of female duality, the male as full of inquiry and yet an innocent, plus some sort of salvation for both and unification involving death and the after life. In particular, the legend of the enchanted swan figured prominently in Wagner’s 1850 “Lohengrin” and in the 1882 “Parsifal”. The latter came after the composition of the initial “Swan Lake” but preceded the ballet’s 1895 version which is the source of productions today. Odette and Odile certainly convey dualities – good and evil, human and “swananimal”, alive and illusion. Prince Siegfried, whose coming of age is being celebrated, isn’t very patient with court conventions but has unsatisfied longings and is a seeker. Von Rothbart’s magic with its limited power over the swan maidens seems related to that of Klingsor over Kundry and her companions in “Parsifal”.
As the Siegfried, Marcelo Gomes spans space. He is big on stage and well built – a Heldentaenzer – and yet credible as somewhat of an innocent, a seeker after something he knows not quite what until the end. Gomes’s size and the scale of his dancing don’t intimidate because pliancy suffuses the leg and foot work, and there is a still youthful eagerness in the carriage of his upper body. Siegfried’s soulful solo in Act 1 starts already at his birthday party in the garden of his royal mother’s palace and continues into the forest where he has gone to hunt. Though the change of scene can be distracting, Gomes’s adagio was focused and held ones attention. The role of Siegfried’s opponent, magician Von Rothbart, has been split in McKenzie’s version into parts for two dancers. Thomas Forster was the beastially garbed one and Alban Lendorf the magician in courtly human guise. In Act 3, it was Lendorf who had substantial steps to deliver and character to display. Coming to ABT from the Royal Danish Ballet’s tradition of acting, he established a Von Rothbart right away who is both attractive and cruel. Lendorf has a compact frame that doesn’t expand the space through which he moves but, instead, keeps his contours strongly etched, expressing the magician’s power through constancy.
The dancing of the swan corps maidens seemed somewhat heavy, but Act 3’s national dancers had zest. Ballerina emerita Martine Van Hamel juggled a grand manner and motherly ways as the queen. Ormsby Wilkins, conducting the Kennedy Center’s Opera House Orchestra, didn’t neglect the music’s Wagnerisms. Devon Teuscher dances Odette and Odile again on Sunday afternoon, January 29 with much the same cast. That would have been her scheduled debut but for the injury which prevented Gillian Murphy from appearing this evening.