There was one real-looking swan prop in the prologue to Kevin Mackenzie's Swan Lake. That’s the only one in the director's interpretation – for the rest, they are in their feminine incarnation. McKenzie’s choreography keeps up the momentum of the story (some might argue that it is a little too pacy), although, like with the prologue cutting into the overture, there are a few odd moments. In the first act, the Prince is given a sad solo, alone among the happy country swains and lasses; in theory, I approve of anything that adds a deeper psychological dimension to the often neglected male character in classical ballet, but it seemed out of place here, musically and in terms of the overall dance context.

Misty Copeland (Odette) © Gene Schiavone
Misty Copeland (Odette)
© Gene Schiavone

Herman Cornejo’s Prince Siegfried was not a mere foil for his princess-turned-swan, but a likable, buoyant stage presence in his own right, and Cornejo has excellent elevation in his leaps. In the first act, it must be said, his friend (Jeffrey Cirio) caught the eye, with his whipping turns, and his communication of joyous energy in the Pas de Trois. It was a very neat characterization of a minor part.

Misty Copeland was tonight’s Odette/Odile, and it is a role in which she projects strength and confidence. Good girl, bad girl: it is hard for a dancer to be both, or to be both to an equal degree. It is true that Copeland was not the most vulnerable or delicate of Odettes; her trembling footwork was more substantial than fragile, but her line and angles were true and precise. Hers was not a heart-throbbingly poignant portrayal but it had an integrity of its own, an integrity vital to who she is as a dancer. And in any case, that glorious violin solo, to accompany the famous pas de deux, is such a thing of beauty in itself that the whole did attain to lyricism.

Copeland’s strength came into its own in her appearance as Odile, where she conveyed mastery and malice, through the very arch of her foot, and those dangerously high extensions. Anyone would fade beside her, and clever lighting made Cornejo particularly pallid here, as he fell for the trick played upon him and was haplessly seduced.

© Gene Schiavone
© Gene Schiavone

Von Rothbart, who had two different incarnations performed by Patrick Ogle and Alexandre Hammoudi is given a fuller profile in McKenzie’s choreography than in some other versions. Of particular note was Hammoudi’s appearance in Act II. There, in the Great Hall, in purple thigh-high boots, he stole the show, immediately dominating the stage and the attention of the courtiers, garnering sly laughs from the audience, as first the Queen (and we thought butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth) and then all the princess-hopefuls melted before his gaze. Cue: the latter dance around him dizzily. He, in due course, took a seat (the Prince’s seat) beside the Queen, with her smiling assent. There was some nice narrative detailing here, which brought this stock-villain thoroughly to life. He didn’t remain in the realm of the preternatural and I liked that humanisation very much.

Zack Brown’s sets were appealing, most of all the Great Hall of Act II which was quite gorgeously Renaissance with its tapestries, patterned papers, pilasters, and candelabras. The final scene which saw the death of Von Rothbart, crumpled in a tree, and the swans paying homage to the rising sun, in which could be seen the reunited lovers, was lovely. Yes, the whole story is pretty silly, if you come down to it, but as theatergoers, we need to feel taken in and indeed taken up into another realm, and the choreography and set got it just right. Brown was also behind the sumptuous costumes, all soothingly pastel, apart from the diachronic black-and-white of the forces of evil and of good.

The great ensemble dances were vibrantly performed. If one were to cavil, one might mention that the corps de ballet were somewhat more corporeal than ethereal. These were swans who, as it were, might have been to the Women’s March here in DC last week, rather than fragile pre-feminist victims of cruel transmogrification. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.