Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
A new take on classic flies with all-encompassing beauty
|Joffrey Ballet Chicago presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Sumptuous, unexpected and breathtaking, the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago’s Swan Lake is a sublimely executed and unexpected interpretation of the classic ballet. In Christopher Wheeldon’s telling of the tragic romance, the fairy-tale aspects of the piece merge with the impressionistic aesthetic of Degas and Toulouse-Latrec. The result is imbued with the magic of masterpiece paintings come to life, a kinetic banquet of color and movement, the latter defined by a corps with the strength of steel and the winged lightness of fluttering feathers.
Wheeldon’s opening scene is a complete departure from the traditional Swan Lake. Rather than dropping his audience into an enchanted world reminiscent of a Grimm’s fairy tale, he begins in a ballet studio where dancers are stretching and warming up for rehearsal. Within moments, the stage takes on an eerie, gossamer-delicate familiarity. There’s a sense of déjà vu to the opening scene, a sense that quickly gives way to recognition as the Joffrey dancers create a living replica of Degas’ famous paintings of ballet dancers. The result is lovely and startling, the brushstrokes of iconic artwork come to life.
Crafting a ballet-within-a-ballet, Swan Lake follows a company rehearsing a production of the ballet. Within the studio on stage (dominated by a massive, gilt-framed mirror), elements of fantasy come swirling in like clouds of sparkling pixie dust. This rehearsal is enchanted
With a sonic backdrop of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous, haunting Swan Lake score (lushly realized by a full orchestra under the baton of conductor Scott Speck) , the Joffrey spins into the mesmerizing narrative. The story is simple enough: Prince Siegfried – here seen as the principal male dancer in a ballet company performing Swan Lake – falls in love with the ethereal Odette, the innocent, white swan queen. Trouble threatens, as Odette falls under the Manchurian Candidate-like mind control of the evil sorcerer – here played as a menacing patron of the ballet. Thanks to the malevolent hocus-pocus of the patron, Odette transforms into the black swan Odile, whose sexually-charged seduction of Siegfried has the terrible beauty of a destroyer.
Wheeldon merges the worlds of reality and fantasy into a seamless whole. The ‘real’ world of the ballet studio and, later, an opulent masked ball into a dreamworld dominated by a silvery gray, rippling lake where a corps of white swans flicker and dance. At the ball, a raucously jubilant parade of dancers take center stage: Can Can dancers kick up their heels and swirl their intricate petticoats with sensual abandon, Russian dancers twirl with dazzling zeal, Spanish dancers virtually flame with passion. Ultimately, the fete melts into the lake which fades eventually away into the ballet studio. Throughout, Wheeldon’s intricate, intensely demanding choreography define a world where fantasy bleeds into reality, blurring the lines between the two.
The principal and featured dancers in the piece vary depending on which performance you catch, but it’s safe to assert that the technical brilliance and artistic expression of the Joffrey is breathtaking no matter who happens to be dancing the solos on any given night.
At the performance I attended, April Daly and Miguel Angel Blanco danced as Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried, both performers achingly beautiful with their long, graceful lines, soaring leaps and precise technique. At the party scene, Erica Lynette Edwards, Elizabeth Hansen, Caitlin Meighan, Jacqueline Moscicke and Amber Neumann light up the stage with a fiery can-can extravaganza. Anais Bueno, Cara Marie Gary, Yoshihisa Arai, and Rory Hohenstein are flawlessly bird-like in the iconic pas de quatre while Fabrice Calmels’ predatory, statuesque Patron infuses the stage with menace and mystery.
The production values are gloriously atmospheric. Jean-Marc Puissant’s costumes are intricate, character-defining interpretations of gloriously graceful birds and lavishly attired Victorian ladies and gentlemen. Adrianne Lobel’s set design uses fire and water imagery to create stage pictures of primal beauty. And Natasha Katz’s lighting bathes the stage with the dark/light nuance of a masterpiece oil painting.
In all, the Joffrey’s Swan Lake is a production to bask and luxuriate in. It doesn’t matter whether you know first position from an arabesque. It’s evocative, breathtaking and all-encompassing.
Swan Lake continues through October 26th at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. (map).. Tickets are $32-$170, and are available by phone (312.386.8905) or online at Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Joffrey.org. (Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes two intermissions)
Photos by Cheryl Mann
dancers (roles vary depending on performance)
April Daly (Odette/Odile), Miguel Angel Blanco (Prince Siegfried), Fabrice Calmels (patron, Von Rothbart), Gerard Charles (ballet master), Erica Lynette Edwards (the Queen), Cara Marie Gary, Anastacia Holden, Alberto Velaquez (pas de trois) Amanda Assucena, Anais Bueno, Caitlin Meighan, Jacqueline Moscicke, Amber Neumann, Wan Yue Qiao, Mahalia Ward, Johanna Wozniak, Yoshihisa Arai, Edson Barbosa, Guillaume Basso, Raul Casasola, Eliveton das Gracas, John Mark Giragosian, Graham Maverick, Aaron Smyth (ladies and gentlemen of the court), Sara Falstad, Quinby Kasch (ladies in waiting), Zoe White (seamstress), Amber Neumannm, Amber Neumann, Alexis Polito (big swans), Amanda Assucena, Cara Marie Gary, Anastacia Holden, Caitlin Meighan (cygnets), Anais Bueno, Sara Falstad, Camila Ferrara, Elizabeth Hanson, Dara Holmes, Brooke Linford, Jacqueline Moscicke, Wan Yue Quiao, Promise Smith, Mahalia Ward, Joanna Wozniak, Kara Zimmerman (swans), Anais Bueno, Cara Marie Gar, Yoshihisa Arai, Rory Hohenstein (pas de quatre), Amanda Assucena (Russian dance), Anastacia Holden, Elivlton das Gracas, Aaron Smyth (Spanish dance), Alexis Polito, Dylan Gutierrez (Czardas), Erica Lynette Edwards, Elizabeth Hansen, Caitlin Meighan, Jacqueline Moscicke, Amber Neumann (Can-Can dancers), Derrick Agnoletti, Edson Barbosa, Guillaume Basso, Ogulcan Borova, Raul Casasola, John Mark Giragosian, Graham Maverick, Paulo Rodrigues, Lucas Segovia, Alberto Velazquez (gentleman patrons), Camille Ferrara, Dara Holmes, Quinby Kasch, Brooke Linford, Promise Smith, Mahalia Ward, Saori Yamashita, Kara Zimmerman (Ballerinas), Sara Falstad (vision/Odette), James Floyd, David Turnell (waiters.)
behind the scenes
Christopher Wheeldon (choreographer), Jason Fowler (staging), Ashley Wheater (artistic director), Scott Speck (music director and conductor), Nicolas Blanc, Graca Sales (ballet masters, principal coaches), Jean-Marc Puissant (costume design), Adrianne Lobel (scenic design), Natasha Katz (lighting design), Christine Binder (lighting recreation), Cheryl Mann (photos)