Boston Ballet’s 51st season opened on Thursday with artistic director Mikko Nissinen's new production of Swan Lake. With a history dating back to 1895, many have molded Tchaikovsky’s score, and the Petipa-Ivanov choreography to suit company needs, and audience desires, with varying levels of success. It is clear from Thursday night’s long standing ovation that Mikko Nissinen’s production is a victory, both in showcasing the company’s talent and in rising to modern audience desires to be awed by the sublime, yet still be in bed before midnight. With a usual running time of over three hours - with four acts, and three intermissions – perhaps Nissinen’s finest  revision is to condense the four acts into two, therefore cutting down the ballet to two hours and thirty minutes. The resulting production feels cohesive and immersive.

Misa Kuranaga as Odette © Rosalie O'Connor
Misa Kuranaga as Odette
© Rosalie O'Connor
Energy seemed a bit low in the opening act of the performance – from the corps up through the principals. Jeffrey Cirio, as Siegfried – the melancholic prince charged with swiftly choosing a wife – seemed to struggle slightly to find his legs in his solo. However, when principal dancer Misa Kuranaga, made her entrance in the second act, everything seemed to be aligned by her stunning portrayal of the shy and vulnerable Odette, Siegfried’s ill-fated object of desire. Kuranaga's technique is top notch, but what makes her performance superb is her total immersion into the character and music. She fills every note with swan-like grace, and oozes into the intricacy of Tchaikovsky's score. The audience’s captivation with Kuranaga was palpable when the solo violin played the soaring notes of the White Swan Pas de Deux over a silent crowd.

The corps de ballet was very well-rehearsed – from the waltz in the first act to the final flutter of the swans’ arms as the curtain closed – the dancers moved harmoniously.  Principal Lasha Khozashvil commanded the stage as the evil Von Rothbart. With fewer parts for the male principals to play in this ballet, it is a delight to see Von Rothbart expanded from what tends to be strictly a character role, to include a few significant solo passages which Khozashvil relished. The one piece that I wish Nissinen had left out of the ballet is the Pas de Cinq at the beginning of the third act – it felt disjointed from the other character dances that make the majority of the scene, and did not contribute to the plot.

Seo Hye Han and Eris Nezha were joyous to watch as the lead dancers in the Czardas (or Hungarian dance), and the eight dancers of the Mazurka created an energetic lead-in to the Black Swan Pas de Deux. Kuranaga, switching personnas to play Odile – Odette’s flirty and feisty imposter – was assured and virtuous as the black swan. Cirio was wholly in control during his solo variation, firmly landing his tours and pirouettes, and Kuranaga went above and beyond, executing triple pirouettes into triple attitude turns, where most relyon a clean double turn into a single attitude turn. Kuranaga doubled nearly all of her fouettes in the coda, thus decisively sealing her performance as perfect.

Misa Kuranaga as Odile, and Jeffrey Cirio as Siegfried © Rosalie O'Connor
Misa Kuranaga as Odile, and Jeffrey Cirio as Siegfried
© Rosalie O'Connor
Adding to the immersive quality of the production are the sets designed by Robert Perdziola: As well as rendering the grandeur of the castle’s tapestry draped interior, and the otherworldly majesty of the lake, the sets allowed Nissinen to use the full depth of the stage. This was particularly noteworthy in the opening prologue where Odette is kidnapped by Von Rothbart, and pulled under the back of the set, disappearing eerily into the darkness of the lake. Perdziola also built a system of fog machines which were used to stunning effect at the opening of the fourth act – when the swan maidens rise out of the mist on what appeared to be an empty stage –  and in the closing moments of the ballet –when Siegfried and Odette throw themselves into the misty lake.

Cirio and Kuranaga are slated to reprise their roles at the Thursday and Saturday evening performances.