Houston Ballet's Swan Lake reminds us just why we love this ballet of love, betrayal and death. It will make balletomanes swoon and novices sit up in their theater seats and gape.
What thrills isn't really the story about the cursed Odette, swan by day and princess by night who can only be saved by true love, nor the choreography, although many of the classic dances, usually modeled in some fashion after the Petipa/Ivanov version, are stunners. In truth, it's Artistic Director Stanton Welch's production, first seen here in 2006. It's easily one of the best around, and to date his best full-length work.
Welch cuts the old-fashioned mime stuff, streamlines the ballet from four acts to three, and recombines the incredible Tchaikovsky score, cutting and adding from the original music. Performed by the Houston Ballet Orchestra and conducted opening night by Martin West, the music was a surge of soaring feeling emanating from the stage.
Add to that the pre-Raphaelite look of the sets and costumes, inspired by John William Waterhouse's painting The Lady of Shalott and designed by the late, great Kristian Fredrikson, along with the glorious mood lighting of Lisa J. Pinkham, and you've got a modern classic. It's one to add to the list of Ten Ballets You Must See Before You Die.
Opening night, the guys in the forest in Act I were virile and athletic in their dancing, a tribute to the depth of the corps. The ensemble numbers were fast-paced, and opening night's Prince Siegfried, Connor Walsh, displayed a princely demeanor and some damn showy turns. But it's the female lead who was remarkable. Longtime company member Sara Webb took on the role of good-swan-bad-swan Odette/Odile with the added task of portraying the roles of both human and swan. A brilliant technician and extremely gifted actor, she embodied a delicate maiden, a fluttering white bird and a decidedly evil decoy, whipping out those fouetté rond de jambe en tournants like a spinning machine.
But the ah-ha moment was still when the 24 swans took the stage and moved in glistening white unison, arms arched for flight and feet beating like bird's hearts, dancing and dancing and dancing. These birds will take your breath away.
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