Imagine being trapped, for the rest of your life, in a swan’s body. Webbed feet, feathery wings, lakeside nest, the whole bit. Would you resign yourself to this “fowl” existence or refuse to accept your fate – no matter the consequences?

Cory Stearns in Swan Lake © Gene Schiavone
Cory Stearns in Swan Lake
© Gene Schiavone

Swan Lake is about one woman, Odette (danced by Veronika Part), in this fantastical situation. She is a woman who finds the courage and strength to take charge of her own destiny while falling in love with her soulmate. But Part also performs the role of Odette’s evil nemesis, Odile. This complicated relationship between characters and within Part’s performance add another dimension to Swan Lake that make it a beloved, classic ballet.

Swan Lake began charming audiences when it premiered in Russia in 1877. Its second incarnation was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in 1895. This version has endured, with notable performances around the world in the 1940s, 1980s, and 1990s. Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie choreographed the current production for American Ballet Theatre after Petipa and Ivanov’s rendition. Peter Tchaikovsky’s score has stood the test of time and one cannot see an image from Swan Lake without thinking of Tchaikovsky’s famous melody. Just hearing this music performed by a full orchestra, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, is enough to take your breath away.

Although McKenzie has left his mark with the staging, the grandeur of a traditional multi-act epic ballet is overwhelming. Two different party scenes, complete with ornate sets and costumes (Zack Brown), fully immerse the audience in the world on stage. No detail is left to the imagination.

Cory Stearns is innocent as the young Prince Siegfried. In the first scene he is certainly more excited by his new crossbow than the thought of finding a wife. His friend Benno (Daniil Simkin), however, stands out, bounding across the stage with great leaps as soon as he’s allowed. Odette and Siegfried’s first encounter at the lake is beautiful. Part plays the scared swan well, her feet a blur as she skitters away from Stearns. Her arms, floating like wings, seem to have grown longer for this performance.

While Stearns keeps the focus on his ballerina during their partnering sections, he steps into the spotlight easily for his solos. He executes the brilliant jumps, spins, and beats one looks forward to from a leading man, but he maintains a certain sweetness while doing so. Stearns stays in character, keeping his ego in check. For the Black Swan pas de deux, as it’s come to be known, Part flexes her vicious side. As Odile, the wicked von Rothbart’s daughter, she seduces Siegfried with bold dancing, challenging and teasing him. Marcelo Gomes is the quintessential villain as von Rothbart. He throws the women he partners into a frenzy before an outstanding solo that concludes with him seated on the prince’s throne next to the queen. And he does it all in thigh-high purple boots.

McKenzie’s interpretation ends with Odette and her prince throwing themselves in the lake, thus stripping von Rothbart of his power. Despite the main characters’ deaths, Swan Lake has a happy ending: the lovers are united in heaven for eternity. American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake is a classic you don’t want to miss this season.