The most remarkable aspect of tonight’s performance of Swan Lake was, pleasingly, the Swan in question herself. Kaleena Burks gave a very distinguished performance as Odette, so distinguished as to move one. She has not been so much on my radar before this evening; I was thoroughly impressed by the way she projected both vulnerability and strength in her every move – the shivers of ruffled feathers, the yielding melting into bends, lifts and arches with fabulous smoothness and ease. It was as if she was playing it for real and there was something of personal terror in falling in love and throwing her lot in with this random human male: small finely observed details conveyed this, not least in Act 4, when lowering her arms from fifth, she briefly covered her face, as if in despair. It’s rare for a dancer to acquit themselves equally convincingly in the dual roles of Odette and Odile. And it is true that Burks’ Odile was not quite as smouldering as her Odette was genuinely moving. Nonetheless, it was a very good performance, with dramatic power, sharp angles and lines, triumphant fouettée turns, and – at the last – a final gesture of flinging a bouquet of white roses like an explosion at the suddenly cognisant Siegfried, and laughing at his evident misery.

Liang Fu, Kaleena Burks and Kansas City Ballet Dancers
© Brett Pruitt | East Market Studios

Siegfried is one of those parts it can be difficult to inject character into; it must feel as if one is a mere lean-to for lovelier, more interesting female roles (what’s a prince to do when all eyes are on the swans anyway?). I feel it is possible, however, and would be an asset to the narrative – something more could be of his persona as disaffected, spoiled playboy in Act 1 perhaps, as well as his dizzy response to preternatural encounters with swans-who-are-actually-women, both the angelic and the femme fatale variety. A more believable prince figure, at first jaded, then entranced, later naïve and ultimately desperate, would make the whole more dramatically captivating. But tonight, Liang Fu whilst correct and courtly, adopted a somewhat colourless royal persona and his acting seemed formulaic. Even the tiny comic gesture of hiding his wine glass at his alcoholic-fuelled 21st birthday party, away from the prying eyes of Mama, came across as staged rather than authentic (by contrast, the tipsy Tutor figure, Christopher Rudd, seemed fairly real, not least when he was baited in a dance-off with the court ladies).

Swan Lake
© Brett Pruitt | East Market Studios

Cameron Thomas was the pantomime villain as Von Rothbart, with strong leaps and a kind of macabre majesty. The corps de ballet as the array of beauteous maidens had a steely strength to them; I’ve often seen them played like that recently, less waifs and more a sisterhood. Or does the difference lie in the way we behold them and not in the way they dance? They closed like a steel trap, for protection of themselves and their Queen; there was even a moment, in Act 4, where they held to each others arms, and Odette was supported – very much one of them, and not merely their Queen. Synchronicity was good overall. As Devon Carney’s choreography opted for a double suicide at the end, and an other-worldly apotheosis, the couple was saluted by the corps of swan maidens, as precisely arrayed as a military division, free at last from malfeasance and as ever, strong as steel.

Cameron Thomas
© Brett Pruitt | East Market Studios

Pleasingly strong performances also from Lilliana Hagerman, Taryn Mejia and Craig Wasserman in the first movement pas de trois, and the female aspirants to Siegfried’s hand in Act 3, simpering and unsuccessful, Amanda DeVenuta, Georgia Fuller and Whitney Huell. Credit to Peter Cazalet for attractive scenery especially the Renaissance Great Hall, and sweeping staircases set to the side, useful always for dramatic entrances and exits; Cazalet was also behind the very charming costumes, with the full quota of brocade and trims: there is little more pleasing than tasteful Ancien Régime courtly attire. The Kansas City Symphony under the baton of Ramona Pansegrau settled into the lush richness of the score after a somewhat stolid start, although I felt, at times, that there could have been more build-up to the climaxes from a place of eerie restraint.