As Ballet Austin danced through a mist of blue, 'Swan Lake' cast its spell once more
Reviewed by Ann Ciccolella, Fri., May 20, 2005
Bass Concert Hall, May 15
Lots of women brought their little girls to the final matinee of Ballet Austin's Swan Lake, and as the company danced through a mist of blue, this classic story ballet that relishes the dark and bright sides of women with extraordinary Romantic imagination cast its spell once more.
Under the direction of Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin continues to demonstrate its growing technical assurance from the corps to principals. In the dual role of Odette/Odile, Gina Patterson beautifully expressed the fragility of the maiden transformed into a swan, as well as the bold coquetry of the magician's daughter who tricks the hero into betraying his love. Patterson is herself a choreographer of modern ballets, which shows how the world has changed for women in the 128 years since Swan Lake premiered, but the ballet still makes darker dreams come to life, depicting men destroying what they love most by misjudging them. It's a contemporary paradox, like the athleticism that the men and women of the company must possess to create the archetypal fantasy of delicate beauty.
Mills' staging took the story into a somewhat later period than usual, but that neither hurt nor benefited his interpretation. The production values here were a bit stock, particularly in the two-dimensional scenery at the second act party, but Tony Tucci's lighting unobtrusively came to the forefront. In Act 2, when Frank Shott's Siegfried lifted Patterson's exquisite Odette in black tutu, her body arched, high above him, they both shimmered. The images of Swan Lake are perhaps the most identifiable of any classical ballet, but it is hardly bloodless. Its lush music by Tchaikovsky was brought to life with power and polish by the Austin Symphony, led by Peter Bay.
The magician Von Rothbart, perhaps the most powerful force among the characters of Swan Lake, was acted with entertaining villainy by Allen Abrams. The company was shown to good advantage in lively partnerings for the dances at Siegfried's party: Spanish (Margot Brown and Eric Midgley), Italian (Jaime Lynn Witts and Paul Michael Bloodgood), and Russian (Anne Marie Melendez and Anthony Casati).
In Act 3, the corps embodied what classical ballet does best: longing for the unattainable. Back at the lakeside, in the blue mist, the swans return for a final dreamlike sequence in which Odette must leave her love forever. As they gaze at our own Town Lake not far away, and our own swans, perhaps the girls and their mothers will recall that grace they desire requires strength and agility.
Ballet Austin is now known for creating new contemporary ballets, such as Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project. Swan Lake is a traditional fantasy, its charms endure in each lift and leap and turn. Unlike a cliché, it transforms and transcends historical periods to speak to our souls in a longing for beauty.