Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Swan Lake," with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Kent Stowell with staging by Francia Russell, is a triumph with costumes, casting, dancing and spectacle all coming together to create the ideal iconic ballet.
"Swan Lake" is the story of a beautiful queen, Odette (Carla Korbes), who has been turned into a swan by a sorcerer, Baron von Rothbart (Otto Neubert). The swans become human by night and one night they appear at a lake where young Prince Siegfried (Karel Cruz) has gone hunting with friends for his 21st birthday.
Astonished at seeing the swans become young women, he dances with Odette and they fall in love. The spell over her can only be broken by Siegfried's faithfulness and he swears a vow of undying love to her as dawn breaks and she becomes a swan once more.
Back at the palace, the Queen Mother (Louise Nadeau) has planned a Grand Ball to celebrate her son's birthday, but she has also given him an ultimatum, telling him it is time for him to choose a bride. Despite having many young women from different lands from which to choose, Siegfried can only think of Odette.
Then Baron von Rothbart appears at the ball with his daughter, Odile (also danced by Carla Korbes). Odile seems so much like Odette that Siegfried is fooled by her and introduces her to his mother as his bride. Odette appears at the window and Siegfried realizes his mistake, following her back to the lake. Siegfried, however, has broken his vow and there is nothing for him to do but dance with her one last time before she flies away leaving him alone.
As with any story ballet, there is plenty of the ridiculous dance pantomime used to tell the story. "It's time for you to get married" becomes pointing at an imaginary watch and sliding on an imaginary wedding ring. Then there are the parts of the plot that make no sense at all. Why would a sorcerer turn a woman into a swan? And why couldn't Siegfried simply tell his mother he had met Odette, avoiding the ball altogether? And why do all balls in ballets involve dancing visitors from other countries? We will simply never know the answer to these questions.
But it doesn't matter, because "Swan Lake" is all about spectacle and spectacular dancing. The set (designed by Ming Cho Lee and lit by Randall G. Chiarelli) involves ghostly bare-limbed trees arcing over the stage, a courtyard which is sometimes indoors and sometimes outdoors, a gentle fog flowing over the stage indicating a misty, moonlit lake and the moon itself hovering large and full in the sky. The lack of distinction between indoors and outdoors creates the feeling that we are in the presence of something magical.
As frequently happens with "Swan Lake" the dancing of the bevy of swans is a highlight of the production as they flock and swirl together. If you've ever watched a flock of birds gathering through the air to land as a group, or taking flight all at once, you have a sense of the feeling of the dance, and Cruz as Siegfried beautifully expresses how overwhelming yet enchanting it can be to be in the midst of a flock of birds.
The costumes (designed by Paul Tazewell) are worth a note as well with the white swans in stark contrast to the rich and colorful clothing of the people, making the swans all the more ethereal and emphasizing their uniformity as a group against the individuality of the people.
Ballerinas have long established their reputations by how they interpret the roles of Odette/Odile. In this case, Carla Korbes is sweet as Odette but almost entirely otherworldly. Her life experience as an enchanted swan is so much larger than that of this 21-year-old boy prince who comes to woo her.
As Odile, on the other hand, she is bright and beckoning with a quick sharpness to her movements, teasing Siegfried with an easy smile and giving a flirtatious edge to her dancing. It is absolutely clear each time Korbes transforms from swan to woman and back again.
Karel Cruz as Siefried is stunning. A tall and leggy dancer, he is a regal yet boyish and rock solid presence in the part of the prince, floating above the stage in his jumps and steady as a partner to Korbes. I was charmed to see his delighted grin at the end of Act Two when he has won his love and seems to be in astonished disbelief at his good fortune.
Five different principal casts will be performing during the run of the show so if you go more than once, you may get very different interpretations. But do go at least once to enjoy this classic and classically beautiful ballet.
"Swan Lake" runs through Apr. 21 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. in Seattle Center. For information or tickets, call 206-441-2424 or visit pnb.org.