Reviewed by Barbejoy A. Ponzio, Fri., Sept. 17, 1999
Bass Concert Hall
As Dmitry Mikheyenko's Prince Siegfried effortlessly lifted the Swan Queen Odette, played by Inga Loujerenko, high in the air, a child in the audience exclaimed with wondrous delight, "Look, Mama, she flies!" Yes, during the "White Swan" pas de deux, Loujerenko moved so exquisitely, transforming herself through graceful undulations of her arms and subtle, quivering flutters of her torso, that she gave viewers the haunting illusion of a majestic flying creature moving onstage.
More than a century after Swan Lake's successful debut at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ballet Austin chose this classic ballet in the Marius Petipa-Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky Trilogy to honor the timelessness of its art form while introducing its new artistic director, Stephen Mills. In presenting the folk tale of maidens transformed into swans by the evil magician von Rothbart (villainously feigned by Edward Moffat), the production's superb lighting, set design, and costumes bewitchingly whisked viewers away to another world and time. The musical score, performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, provided a stirring, memorable underpinning to the action-filled variety of striking scenes.
But it was Mills' unique sense of the marriage between movement and music that gave heart to this Swan Lake. His innovative ideas brought a lightheartedness, and also a stirring, haunting magic, to this moving fairy tale. The tempo of his choreography kept the audience involved with the fantasy. Mills' clever inclusion of six couples round-dancing during Prince Siegfried's birthday celebration in the opening scene was a delight to watch. A familiar do-si-do to a grand right-and-left circle-mixer adorned with rhythmic claps picked up the interest level of the pantomimic calling card of classical ballets. From the merriment at court to the supernatural world of a lake populated by a corps of enchanting feathery creatures longing to be human again, Scene 2 displayed the liquidly smooth connection between Mikheyenko and Loujerenko. Giving the impression of an effortless execution of complex movements, both dancers masked the tremendous amount of skill, strength, and rhythmic continuity it takes in partner maneuvering.
Act II revved up the stage once again with an array of robust character dances akin to those of The Nutcracker: Six women embellished balletic movements with white-feathered fans; two couples, one dressed in black and the other in white, performed a passionate flamenco dance; four couples energetically executed a national folk dance which captivatingly incorporated a zesty heel-and-toe polka punctuated with a knees and toes turned-in pose; and another couple danced a joyous mazurka which was amusingly comprised of double arm turns sweetly sealed with a quick kiss.
The most dynamic indicator of talent for both dancers and choreographer was the duality that existed in the presentation of Odette/Odile, performed by Loujerenko. Odile's emphatic, sharp angular arm movements beautifully contrasted with the poetic, endearing swan-like movements of Odette. Mikheyenko and Loujerenko engaged in one-upmanship of virtuosic technique. Mikheyenko commanded a breathtaking execution of leaps and tours en l'air (full turn in the air). Loujerenko upped the ante with numerous fouettes, unforgiving whipping turns. Dazzled and hypnotized by her virtuosic display, Siegfried falls in love with Odile and Odette is doomed.
This romantic story ends on a sad note, but the dramatic action, especially the struggle between von Rothbart and Prince Siegfried over Odette's fate, and the outstanding talent of the corps de ballet, notably the dance of the four swans, closed the performance with accolades of applause. Ballet Austin's Swan Lake was an unforgettable dance drama and a wonderful eye-opener promising a new season filled with inventiveness and a distinctive style of unbeatable balletic expression.