REVIEW: American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake

Written by | Entertainment

ABT performs Swan Lake this week, and this is an especially good time to see it.

By Matt Gurry

Photo by Gene Schiavone

The Swan Lake American Ballet Theatre has used since since 2000, staged by Kevin McKenzie after the Petipa/Ivanov revival of 1895, is a warhorse. Maybe it doesn’t bring anything new to the story, but it’s reliable, and considering how well ABT has been dancing this season, it’s a solid setting for a strong company.

Last night, it well served the strengths of its leads, whose commitment and chemistry were at times chilling. Hee Seo as Odette/Odile and Roberto Bolle as Siegfried show an impressive trust in each other, pushing the limits of his last possible second to successfully catch her. In her solo work, Seo brings a special excitement to Odette’s moments of transition, her magic time between swan and woman. It’s in the choreography for her arms to convey the metamorphosis, but Hee Seo’s character comes from an animated use of the face. Her Odette conveys a cautious though confident energy, which she in turn negates perfectly with the mischief and pyrotechnics of Odile. (“Holy pirouettes, Batman!” my friend whispered to me. She’s a little cheesy, but you get the reaction.)

Hee Seo and Roberto Bolle (photo by Gene Schiavone)

Bolle, meanwhile, has been building a worldwide brand as ballet’s matinee idol with his “Roberto Bolle and Friends Gala” and a coffee table book of portraits out now from Rizzoli. From the neck up, his boyish face is all naive prince. From the neck down, it’s all man. Seeing him is a bit of a one-two punch. His handsomeness distracts at first entrance; but, his dancing quickly replaces that superficial joy with an appreciation of his skill. He sustains long lines midair with ease, but then becomes a gracious partner who brings a generosity to the pas de deux. It’s an exciting thing to watch.

In fact, Bolle is why I chose the performance I saw, but ABT’s company, especially its women, are dancing so damn well right now, that the Act II swans wrestled my attention. Their feet were crisp, but last night it was their arm work especially that drew focus. The 18 women’s cohesion in the port de bras created one single, frightening flock. The iconic pas de quatre is unforgivingly precise choreography that ballet queens know all too well and are ready to seize one, and it makes you wonder what kind of misogynist Marius Petipa was. While the four women who danced it Tuesday may have fatigued a bit in their 16 pas de chats – “catlike jumps” – (…he said like he could perform them any better), they pulled it together to finish, feet solid throughout.

This exciting dancing was at times tempered by Ormsby Wilkins’s conducting, though. I heard him at The Sleeping Beauty two weeks ago, when his tempos leaned sluggish. But key moments of his Swan Lake just plain dragged. It was especially noticeable in the first scene, scored allegro giusto (“strictly brisk”), which he led at a relaxed idle. Moments like these were downers, but he kept the greatest-hits moments generally in tact.

Still, the company as a whole is having a great year. Many of the soloists are doing marquee work, and the corps – especially the women – are dancing very well together. Given this very happy convergence, it’s a good time to revisit to Swan Lake specifically, which highlights both facets.

Swan Lake runs through June 27, with ABT’s Met season continuing to July 4. Tickets here.

Last modified: October 8, 2019