Dance: Tutu Trade-Offs

A rotating cast makes for shifting interpretations of a PNB classic.

Appreciating PNB's current production of Swan Lake practically requires higher mathematics. This is the company's third time around with Kent Stowell's 2003 version of the classic ballet. Six pairs of dancers are taking turns performing the main roles of Siegfried (the prince looking for a wife), and the dual part of Odette/Odile (the young woman transformed into a swan and her evil counterpart). Four of those pairs danced last weekend, bringing significantly different interpretations to the stage, alongside almost 50 other performers. Siegfried is often seen as a kind of playboy. Stanko Milov and Karel Cruz both seem to take this route, with their natural self-confidence translating into an innate sense of royal command. That this Siegfried seems to be in control of his world makes his eventual betrayal and fall even more tragic. Lucien Postlewaite's Siegfried, meanwhile, comes from the same gene pool as his Romeo—young, unsure of himself, but ready to be knocked out by love. His hopeful nature is counterbalanced by Kaori Nakamura, whose pensive bearing makes her seem the more mature of the pair. Dancing with Milov, Carla Körbes—who became a PNB principal dancer in 2006—displays continued development as an actress as well as a technician. In an art form that makes extraordinary demands of the legs and hips, she is always very aware of her upper body as well, phrasing her movement carefully to make a complex rhythmic interplay. She takes the signature swan gestures—the shivering head and preening arms—and imbues them with softness as Odette, but sharpens her accents as the scheming Odile. Even in the most academic work, Louise Nadeau has a kind of instinctual wildness, which shows up most in her transitional gestures: The final tableau may match any number of photographs, but the journey to get there is often highly eccentric and mysterious. This plays right into the magical elements in Swan Lake. As Siegfried opposite Nadeau, Cruz is dumbstruck by this version of Odette, rushing after her again and again as if he is afraid she will disappear if he blinks. When her duplicity is revealed and he realizes his colossal error, his whole body seems to sag and he lashes out, striking his friends as he rushes after his ideal. Mara Vinson makes a technically assured but dramatically subdued debut, opposite Seth Orza. A dancer's first go at this iconic role can be very intimidating. Vinson puts most of her energy and attention into the considerable technical challenges, while her interpretation of the character is less developed. Her initial meeting with Siegfried seems to be a careful one, though she loosens up as the Black Swan in Act 3, gloating when she manages to deceive the hero about her intentions. Orza is also new to the role of Siegfried in this production. Eventually he will likely be more of a roué than a dreamer, or at least that's the direction in which he's currently heading. The supporting cast—a busy court and a lake full of swans—is full of astonishing moments and some outright kitsch. Carrie Imler, who will dance Odette/Odile in the second week, makes the Queen Mother into a Freudian nightmare, controlling Postlewaite's Siegfried with a flick of her well-manicured hand and fawning over the court jester. As the Jester, both Jonathan Porretta and Benjamin Griffiths combine virtuoso technical tricks with a sunny disposition. This part is a more recent addition—the original 19th-century version of the ballet didn't include it, but Soviet revisions of the work added this bravura part. Jodie Thomas, who like Nadeau is leaving at the end of the season, pops up everywhere, from a bevy of foreign princesses to the tricky Neapolitan Dance, full of commedia dell'arte references. She excels at the fast and complex, but is also a graceful presence on stage. Stacy Lowenberg and Kari Brunson each smolder leading the Czardas, digging into the ground and throwing themselves into deep backbends. Partnering them, Jerome Tisserand and William Yin-Lee border on Valentino territory. They are both new to the company, but have distinguished themselves quickly. Almost everyone will dance multiple parts during the ballet's run, peasant girls doubling as swans and servants as masters, but one of the best combinations belongs to Jordan Pacitti. A tipsy fop in the first act, becoming increasingly drunk during the party, he returns in the third act in the Spanish variation, an over-the-top pastiche of every Warner Brothers cartoon and Carmen production you've seen. In tight pants with a shiny bolero jacket over a Seinfeldian puffy shirt, a shocking blue scarf at his waist, he stalks and pounces as his partner glides through a tour de force of faux flamenco steps. When he bourrées in place, the tiny steps vibrate though his whole body and the fringe on his scarf shimmers around his hips.

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