Opening Nights: Swan Lake

Swan Lake

McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 441-2424, $28–$173. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Fri., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 & 7 p.m. Sun. Ends April 21.

This is the fourth time out for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s current production of Swan Lake. The company premiered this version of the 19th-century classic in 2003 and has been bringing it back since. While some of the design elements, like the symbol-laden tilted walls of the palace, have not really aged well, Kent Stowell’s choreography, based on the Marius Petipa/Lev Ivanov original, remains strong. With this series of performances we get to see multiple casts, with dancers at various career stages returning to this challenging work.

Opening weekend had four couples rotating in the lead roles, alongside 50-plus dancers playing courtiers and servants. Kaori Nakamura, dancing with Seth Orza, and Carla Körbes, partnered by Karel Cruz, are both returning to the double roles of Odette/Odile. After their success in Roméo et Juliette earlier in the season, both women bring similar skills to this classical part. Nakamura zeroes in on the specifics of each moment as the Queen of the Swans, who falls in love with Prince Siegfried but is betrayed when he’s tricked into swearing his love for another. Körbes gave a lovely performance on opening night, but really came into her own at the Sunday matinee—it seemed as if the entire theater held its breath during her time onstage. Her legato sense made the trajectory of the plot appear inevitable. Both ballerinas bring an incredible maturity to their interpretations.

Maria Chapman and Lesley Rausch each debuted as Odette/Odile last weekend, a significant milestone in their careers. Chapman, whose partner Jerome Tisserand was also dancing his first Siegfried, was able to step beyond the part’s considerable technical challenges in several beautiful sequences, especially as the gentle Odette. Rausch danced with Batkhurel Bold, a veteran Siegfried who offered her the best kind of support in their duets. Like Körbes, Rausch has a powerful sense of sustainment in slow passages, and made excellent dramatic use of that skill. All four couples will perform the second weekend, joined by Carrie Imler dancing with former PNB artist Casey Herd.

Let’s not neglect the supporting cast, which is full of riches. In the past, Jonathan Porretta shone as the virtuosic Jester; he’s still just as sharp, but in this run he shares the role with Kyle Davis, Kiyon Gaines, and Benjamin Griffiths. Both Gaines and Ezra Thomson gave first performances as the fussy tutor Wolfgang, and both developed a wide variety of stage business for the tipsy character—now much more distinctive than the usual “companion to the prince” role. Finally, Laura Gilbreath danced the “Persian” solo with incredible aplomb, making a figure that could easily devolve into kitsch into a demigod.

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