SINCE ITS 1895 premier, Swan Lake has become a kind of template for choreographers to create their own vision of ballet. Some productions have pared down the narrative elements until the ballet was nearly abstract. Others played on certain themes, stressing psychological relationships or class issues.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's new version (playing through Sun., Oct. 5, at McCaw Hall, 206-292-ARTS) pushes the metaphoric, dreamlike elements, while adding a plethora of naturalistic details, so we're dealing in multiple worlds most of the time. For this story of a young prince in love with an enchanted princess who takes the shape of a swan, renowned theatrical designer Ming Cho Lee has blended the palace and the lakesidetrees seem to be growing among the columns and walls, all of it tilting to the left as if the wind were about to topple it. Artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell have moved the traditional setting forward in time and slightly to the right geographically, shifting it to Eastern Europe around 1820. This allows for some beautiful Asian references in Paul Tazewell's costume design, but puts the ballet in a world less conducive to magic or fantasy. There is a great deal of stage business with props and costumes in the first actshrugging out of coats to dance with friends, only to put them back on quickly when company comes in; young girls giggling when the prince looks their way; the ubiquitous quaffing from goblets.
The performances of the major characters seem to take direction from these multiple levels. On opening night, Patricia Barker and Stanko Milov danced in a universe of their own. Her Odette was elegiac and tender, yearning for love while still caught in enchantment. As the evil double Odile, all she had to do was sharpen her attack on the movement to change a caress into a trap. Barker has always been technically skilled, but with this role, she uses that power to support the dramatic intent.
Later in the week, Kaori Nakamura and Olivier Wevers delighted in the details. Wevers plays Siegfried almost as an adolescent, swinging between callow gawkiness and passion. When his mother hands him the crossbow, he shows it to his friends like a new GameBoy, but when he puts it down later to reassure Odette that he won't harm her, he treats it like the deadly weapon it is. As Odile, Nakamura calculates every move, pinning him with her gaze and reeling him in with each whipping turn.
Among the rest of the casts, Paul Gibson and Jonathan Porretta were excellent as court retainers, creating specific characters from devilishly hard dancing. Kylee Kitchen brought great aplomb to a "Persian" variation that could easily devolve into camp. And the cast of the Czardas reveled in their bright red boots, clicking their heels with relish.