Tonight was the opening of the spring run of Pennsylvania Ballet's Swan Lake. What, to me, stood out in this performance, was some careful narrative detailing. The story came across as more genuinely felt and developed than is often the case with this classic. For instance, the early depiction of the indulged prince, with more than a little taste for coiffing and the ladies, was neatly done. Needled by tutor and mother about his lifestyle to little effect, Arian Molina Soca came across as a convincing commitment-phobe. By Act III, a lonelier, mature figure surveyed the court scene, having, in the interim, done the unaccountable by actually falling in love – how could have his hidebound mama have imagined? – with a  swan-lady, not quite from his social scene. Soca's was a plausible and evolving character, and his story was another anchor in the whole, apart from those swans.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in <i>Swan Lake</i> © Alexander Iziliaev
Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Swan Lake
© Alexander Iziliaev

Davesi Torriente was also a very convincing dance storyteller as Odette/Odile. There was an early readable mime of her most unusual life-story, but best of all, was a brilliant choreographic choice, as she clinched the deal as seducer in Act III. While leaning into the final pose, she clasped the smitten Prince’s hands closely, stared gloatingly into his eyes, as if to say ‘I’ve got you where I want you’, before arching back in triumph. Only the love-lorn prince would not have recognized the gesture’s magnificent malice, which, for the audience, was a moment of superb drama. Given technical excellence and expressive grace (which she undoubtedly has), it is sometimes the smallest of details that make a performance stand out, and this particular moment was inspired. It reminded me just how so much in performance is about nailing the timing – the confidence to dwell a micro-second longer than required for the posture in question, just to make a dramatic point.

Besides narrative skill, Torriente gave a very serious, very beautiful rendition of ballet’s most famed double role. Her lines were magnificent, her extensions effortless. She seemed to exist in her own space as Odette, an other-worldly creature indeed, except for the occasional crushing of her tutu – a reminder of the human reality of her strange experience.

Dayesi Torriente (Odile) and Arian Molina Soca (Siegfried) in <i>Swan Lake</i> © Alexander Iziliaev
Dayesi Torriente (Odile) and Arian Molina Soca (Siegfried) in Swan Lake
© Alexander Iziliaev
Sterling Baca had a captivating manic quality as Von Rothbart – his leaps and the span of his arms boasted a free wildness, and what is not to love about a damask silk cloak of such voluminous proportions that it swallows up a whole portion of the stage? His measly end – dead and shriveled on a rock – is a bit miserable for one so explosive, but that is what happens if you are going to be the exciting baddie in classical ballet.

The corps de ballet were lovely to behold, and dazzling in their togetherness. This was most strikingly illustrated by another sharply-defined narrative moment that actually elicited a surprise chuckle from the audience. The Prince’s friend, a boyish Peter Weil, with the casual confidence of a man in power, made as if to touch one of the swans, and collectively all hands dropped to the heart, a gesture of resistance as much as self-protection. It was as if they had spoken, ‘don’t you dare’. Once again, immaculate timing is what makes this stand out. A fraction off, and it doesn’t quite work. But this was so crisp that, as I say, the audience gasped.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in <i>Swan Lake</i> © Alexander Iziliaev
Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Swan Lake
© Alexander Iziliaev
I should not fail to mention, in passing, a simply riotous Neopolitan dance with Zecheng Liange and Ashton Roxander which provided an electrifying few minutes of leaps with tambourines. Sets, courtesy of Benjamin Tyrrell, were variable. I thought the backdrop for the outdoor birthday scene was a perfectly anodyne example of whatyou could call ‘ballet boring’. By that I mean the most generic and least engaging nod to the countryside. A bit more Fragonard if you please, to capture the spirit of a true fȇte champȇtre! But when the spectral trees appeared behind the curtains for Act II, and later, with the curiously surreal hanging branches, I thought this felt far more authentic – by that I mean that the trees had dark, twisted personality and reminded one of those ever evocative Arthur Rackham illustrations. It might be only a small nod in the direction of something a little different, a little quirkier, but it does help a production greatly, especially of a work that we all know so well. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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