Entertainment » Theatre

Swan Lake

by J. Autumn Needles
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Feb 5, 2018
A scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Swan Lake."
A scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Swan Lake."  

Peter Boal, artistic director for Pacific Northwest Ballet, describes "Swan Lake" as one of the two ballets any person would name as one they've seen, coming second only after "Nutcracker." The hauntingly familiar musical score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the image of a sorrowful swan maiden dancing with her prince are practically synonymous with ballet itself.

When we approach such a ballet, we come with that love of the imagery and the tradition, but also with the fear that this time the fragile beauty of the dance will sink under the weight of its past. Luckily, Pacific Northwest Ballet's production breathes into its history and creates a magical evening with the dancing swans.

The night I attended, Lesley Rausch took on the twinned role of Odette/Odile. Her interpretation of the enchanted woman doomed into a half-life as a swan by the villain Baron von Rothbart (William Lin-Yee) was of a woman drooping with sorrow, who almost seemed more comfortable in her role as a swan, removed from human life. Rausch was marvelously bird-like in her movements and also conveyed beautifully that suspicious and flighty side-eye that only a bird can give.

As Odile, endeavoring to seduce Prince Siegfried (Jerome Tisserand) away from his vow of faithfulness to Odette, Rausch is all smiles and sparkles, flirting her way through the night. When she succeeds in capturing Siegfried's love, her laughter is clear in her dancing.

While Rausch absolutely nailed the signature multiple fouette turns in Odile's solo, I found myself more enamored by the small and subtle moments in her dancing: the tiny preening movements in her head and neck, her rock-solid precision in her feet, and her expression of emotion through movement whether as the skittish Odette or the gleefully triumphant Odile.

As part of the colorful court around Prince Siegfried and his Queen Mother (Margaret Mullin), Kyle Davis as the Jester is worth pointing out for his laser-sharp jumps and delightful character.

The colors and richness of the costumes, designed by Paul Tazewell, play a large role in the pleasure of the audience. The queen's court and the visitors to her ball look like they've been drenched in all the colors of fall, which makes the stark whiteness of the flock of swans stand out even more as something otherworldly. The set, designed by Ming Cho Lee with lighting by Randall G. Chiarelli, is a pure fairytale.

I still found myself asking all the same questions about the underlying story I always do during "Swan Lake." The story of a maiden sentenced by a sorcerer to live half her time as a woman and half her time as a swan unless a man can be faithful to her love is romantic nonsense, and the fact that her chosen man, after falling in love with her in an hour, can't make it through one evening, seems not so much tragic as suitable for a cynical eye roll. Maybe Odette is better off with her swan lady friends.

But the heart-stopping beauty of a flock of swan maidens wheeling and turning against a misty moonlit sky as the tale of love and loss plays out to its inevitable conclusion wins me over every time.

"Swan Lake" runs through Feb. 11th at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. in Seattle Center. For info or tickets, call 206.441.2424 or visit pnb.org.

J. Autumn Needles lives in Seattle where she writes and teaches yoga and fitness.


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