The last program of the Carolina Ballet’s 2018-19 season is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic Swan Lake, featuring live music by the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle. Swan Lake is such a favorite of ballet-goers that the program is offered in the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, rather than the usual A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater. It feels like the perfect end to this season, and it’s a respectful nod to the end of an era, as well.
The Carolina Ballet’s CEO/artistic director Robert “Ricky” Weiss announced during his introduction that he’s stepping down after 20 years of building his legacy, and passing the responsibilities on to co-artistic director Zalman Raffel, who’s been part of the ballet since 2005, as both choreographer and dancer. Weiss’ mark on the company has been substantial and he’ll continue working as choreographer, so the change is not a sad one but a natural move. It is the same type of passionate love and natural passage of time that is an undercurrent theme in Swan Lake.
From the first woodwind notes of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s music, the audience visibly settles in to their seats to experience the enchanting ballet. It’s the story based on a German folktale about Prince Siegfried (danced by Richard Krusch) and his love for the swan princess, Odette (danced by Margaret Severin-Hansen), who’s under the spell of a sorcerer (danced by Marcelo Martinez) and destined to remain a swan unless she finds someone who’ll love her forever.
Tchaikovsky originally wrote the ballet in 1877 for his nieces and nephews; but through the years, he made changes; and the 1895 version is the one most often danced on today’s stages. Other choreographers have adjusted the story, putting their own mark on the dancing; but the music remains the same. The Carolina Ballet’s performance incorporates Robert Weiss’ choreography.
This is a ballet with plenty of dramatic solos and romantic pas de deux, both by the principal characters, as well as friends, family, gypsies, and visiting royalty, and, of course, swans. Its stars (Krusch, Severin-Hansen, and Martinez) are all brilliant in their roles. Krusch is elegant and regal, Severin-Hansen moves her body in a way that provides the illusion of her swan wings and long arched neck, and Martinez’s leaps actually make him look like he’s flying across the stage.
Some of the secondary characters who support the three principals, and sometimes the other dancers, are fabulous, while others could be more polished. Lara O’Brien plays the Queen (the Prince’s mother); and, as always, she commands the stage when she does her pas de deux with her son, played by Krusch. And both Kiefer Curtis, who plays the Prince’s friend, and his Betrothed (Courtney Schenberger), dance energetically and do a nice job with their own pas de deux.
On Thursday, May 16th, there were times during the performance that opening-night jitters appeared to infect the female dancers. Some of them had little slip-ups, while others seemed determined to upstage their peers. The men, on the other hand, were coordinated and strong. Several shone and drew the eye, including the sophisticated Keenan English and the strong partner Bilal Smith.
The true star of the show is the inimitable Margaret Severin-Hansen; and as the Swan Princess, she dominates the stage, truly becoming the large bird with her expressive body embodying the swan, both as the white swan, as well as the black. Though her dances with her love (and husband, in reality) the Prince, are lovely, passionate, and believable, it is the violent dance where she fights for her life and is almost torn in half by the Magician and the Prince, which really stands out.
The culmination of the battle results in a move that takes the breath away, with Severin-Hansen physically thrown from one man to the other. Because both men are powerful partners and Severin-Hansen is petite, the dramatic pass succeeds.
Whether you’re a Swan Lake fan or are a ballet virgin with a curiosity about the ballet, now’s the time to visit the Carolina Ballet. According to the schedule for next year’s season, Zalman Raffael will introduce some new, exciting ballets, as well as offering a nod to the classics, but Swan Lake will not be one of them. So, see it while you can! Swan Lake shows at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium through Sunday, May 19th.
SECOND OPINION: May 8th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/swan-lake/.
The Carolina Ballet presents SWAN LAKE at 8 p.m. May 17, 2 and 8 p.m. May 18, and 2 p.m. May 19 in the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369155/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/season-tickets/tickets/group-rates/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/swan-lake1, https://www.facebook.com/events/288401561706394/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/swan-lake-carolina-ballet.
THE MAY 16TH CAST: https://www.carolinaballet.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/WEB_Swan-Lake_5-16-19Thurs_8pm.pdf. 2018-19 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/season-tickets/.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Swan Lake (1895 Russian ballet): https://www.britannica.com/topic/Swan-Lake-ballet-by-Tchaikovsky (Britannica.com), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/swan-lake-8448 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Lake (Wikipedia).
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian composer, 1840-93): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pyotr-Ilyich-Tchaikovsky (Britannica.com bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/peter-ilyich-tchaikovsky-12486 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyotr_Ilyich_Tchaikovsky (Wikipedia).
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet‘s artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_(choreographer) (Wikipedia).
Zalman Raffael (Carolina Ballet‘s co-artistic director and Carolina Ballet‘s choreographer-in-residence): http://zalmanraffael.com/ (official website) and https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/dancers-entry/zalman-raffael (Carolina Ballet bio).
REVIEWER: Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.