Everyone knows what to expect from Swan Lake. After all, it’s a classic ballet, composed by the master composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-93) in the Victorian age (1876). Everyone who has ever taken a ballet class longs to be either the white swan or the black swan. The Carolina Ballet knew that they had an immense challenge if they wished to launch a production that was both new and exciting as well as sure to satisfy ballet aficionados who want to see (and hear) the classic that they know and love. Last Saturday night, Durham Performing Arts Center’s audience responded enthusiastically to this year’s stunningly beautiful imagining of the love story between a romantic prince and an enchanted princess.
The evening begins when principal dancer Lara O’Brien welcomes the audience, promising them a night filled with magic and underscored by live music from Alfred E. Sturgis, conducting the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle. It’s truly lovely to hear instruments tuning up at DPAC; and as much as the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater is a warm and intimate setting, the Durham Performing Arts Center gives Swan Lake the panache it was meant to have.
A backdrop of a painted swan motif appears to glow as the conductor takes his bow and the ballet begins. The first notes of the flute begin to weave an ethereal magic as a group of angelic creatures in flowing gold and white robes come to life behind the scrim. The woman weave and connect with each other, hardly paying attention to the Sorcerer (Marcelo Martinez) when he flits and leaps through the group. One can see his face fluctuating with the evil plans he’s concocting as he watches the women and chooses his victim. Martinez’s energetic leaps and the extension of his legs color his character with power and evil magic. The lighting dramatically darkens as the Princess Odette (Margaret Severin-Hansen) falls to the enchantment the Sorcerer weaves. Severin-Hansen’s brilliance is the way her limbs extend as though she has the ability to grow with each movement. With one wave of his hand, the Sorcerer weaves his spell; and as the Princess and her Ladies become swans, we are led into the heart of the story.
We leave the forest and join a party at Prince Siegfried’s (Richard Krusch) court. He is a happy, fun-loving monarch with a loving (though imposing) mother (Alicia Fabry) who wants him to enjoy the romantic relationship his friend (Rammaru Shindo) enjoyed with his betrothed (Jan Burkhard). The atmosphere at the party is appropriately light-hearted and the dancers embody that positive energy. Shindo joined the ballet in 2014, so he is a fairly new member of the company; but this performance should solidify his place in the Carolina Ballet as a male lead. He is engaged and animated and an excellent partner for principal dancer Jan Burkhard, whose strength is often her ability to move from a serious role to a more folksy one as she plays in this performance.
Krusch’s prince is benevolent and commanding, an aristocrat who loves his people, his friends, and his mother. His solo is full of light arabesques, not a domineering dance but an authoritative one.
At the end of the party, the Queen presents her son with a magnificent bow and arrows, so that he might enjoy his favorite sport: hunting. During his hunt, the Sorcerer stalks him; and Krusch’s solo with his bow in the midst of the forest foreshadows the magician’s hold on his swan princesses. When Martinez dances with the swan, he reminds one of Rumpelstiltskin, both sinister and fatherly, seductive and fatal. His splendid, elongated leaps spread an imaginary cloud of malevolence that is echoed by the moving scrims of trees. The Princess begs for mercy; and as she cries, the Sorcerer lifts her as if her body is a swan’s feather, controlling her as he does the other swans.
Whenever Severin-Hansen is onstage, all eyes watch her. Her hands and arms become the feathers. Her body mourns, the flow of her arms and expressiveness of her movements mystical and otherworldly. She is both fragile and powerful. No one dances like she does. She’s not just a star of the Carolina Ballet’s company; she’s the solar system.
As Princess Odette/the Swan and the Prince dance their pas de deux, she swoops and flits, the most elegant and tragic swan this reviewer has ever seen (rivaling Dame Margot Fonteyn). Severin-Hansen’s moves are truly complex and the partnering between Krusch and her is effortless. When Martinez launches himself back onstage, he must put every ounce of his energy into his performance to keep up with their perfect performance—and he does. Some of his leaps rival Mikhail Baryshnikov’s in height and athleticism; but during others, he appears to play it safe. However, his athleticism does bode him well when partnering with Severin-Hansen, lifting her much more easily than Krusch.
The act ends when the Sorcerer and the Prince fight over the Princess, an extraordinarily well-choreographed fight sequence that appears difficult but is done well.
After intermission, the Prince’s court comes alive once more; but this time it is somber and reflective. The Queen still wants her son to marry, but he is depressed by the memory of the Princess/Swan he met in the forest. Krusch carries himself with gravitas in this scene, more stern and somber. No matter how many princesses attempt to flirt with him during their solos, he’s unable to lift himself above the heartbreak.
All of the princesses are costumed in rich pastel, Josephine-style dresses; and their dances are delightful, each individual and filled with personality. Still, the Queen must exhort her son to choose one of them; and when he sighs, she knows she has lost the fight.
During the second act, the audience meets Odile, the Black Swan, also portrayed by Severin-Hansen. She becomes as evil as the Sorcerer, tempting the Prince and brilliantly becoming the alter ego in a shimmery black Empire dress. She and the Sorcerer exchange glances and appear to challenge each other with turns and leaps. She entreats and entices, seductively elongating every twist and turn as the scene moves into the vision of the swan princesses and their entrapment. The Sorcerer and Prince battle for the soul of the white swan.
The Sorcerer does not want to admit defeat and Martinez stages one last high-flying leap across stage as the music swells in the familiar tragic refrain. The lovers try to find each other, yet the Sorcerer continues to rip them apart. The dancers command the stage, and Severin-Hansen lays her heart and soul on the boards as the swans become princesses again, swathed in golden light, and the lovers are once again together.
DPAC‘s stage allowed the dancers to fly effortlessly during this magnificent retelling of the classic ballet; and they filled the space with their grace and beauty in a way that would have made Tchaikovsky quite proud. The Swan Lake ran April 16-19 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and on May 2nd and 3rd at DPAC.
SECOND OPINION: April 29th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Karishma B. Desai: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/carolina-ballets-streamlined-swan-lake-celebrates-its-10th-anniversary-at-the-durham-performing-arts-center/Content?oid=4392614; April 20th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/04/true-love-conquers-all-carolina-ballets-swan-lake/; and April 11th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article18281840.html.
SWAN LAKE (Carolina Ballet, April 16-19 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and May 2 and 3 at the Durham Performing Arts Center).
Raleigh: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/swan-lake, https://www.facebook.com/events/319485761533022/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/swan-lake-4150.
Durham: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/swan-lake-dpac, https://www.facebook.com/events/860554747301396/, and http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/carolina-ballets-swan-lake.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/memorial-auditorium.
Durham Performing Arts Center: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
Swan Lake (1876 ballet): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Lake (Wikipedia).
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian composer, 1840-93): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyotr_Ilyich_Tchaikovsky (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.