Swan Lake returns to Toronto at the National Ballet
James Kudelka's Swan Lake is a ballet that plays between different binaries - light and dark, hard and soft, masculine and feminine, oppression and liberty - whose opposition contributes a potent narrative structure to the drama. The gracefulness of the dancers drive these necessary forces together, which results in a layered and emotional tale of woe.
The National Ballet's production continues to delight due to the timelessness of Tchaikovsky's score, a beautiful design from master Santo Loquasto, and, above all, a dark and moody treatment, both in dance and in tone, from choreographer Kudelka.
A prologue with a large, traveling moon illuminates the lake on which the swans glide. The natural world transitions to the birthday celebrations for Prince Siegfried (McGee Maddox), where members of the court make merry. This hyper-masculine environment is full of wonderful contradictions. The men of the court dance with grace and aplomb, until the group's pent up energy forces a "wench" off stage where presumably unspeakable behaviour occurs.
After his mother interrupts and demands he choose a bride at the upcoming ball, Siegfried and his companion take off on a hunting expedition. It's in the following scenes where the ballet is at its most classic. Here, Siegfried meets Odette (Xiao Nan Yu), who has been spell trapped by the sorcerer Rothbart (Etienne Lavigne) rendering her and her fellow maidens swans by day.
The moments where Yu dances and then is joined in ensemble will satisfy those looking for Swan Lake magic. There's very little here that's out of the ordinary and Kudelka does right to preserve the production's original spirit.
The third act, in which Siegfried is forced to consider a bride and is tricked into choosing the black swan Odile, builds towards the epically staged climax. The positioning of solos from the potential brides-to-be, as well as the masculine energy that rears its head yet again, elevate these scenes, throwing them slightly off-kilter.
Yu is captivating both as the desperate and vulnerable Odette and as the sleek Odile. Her technical skill is complemented with a frantic, impassioned energy. Maddox is a strong partner and the two are paired well together, but his Price Siegfried broods for far too long, never reaching an emotional reality fitting of the character.
Kudelka negotiates the terrain between classic and contemporary artistic choices. There's just enough of both that the production doesn't fail to comfort and also surprise.
Swan Lake, choreographed by James Kudelka, runs at the Four Seasons Centre until November 17.
Photo: Xiao Nan Yu, Etienne Lavigne and McGee Maddox with Artists of the
Ballet in Swan Lake. Image by Aleksandar Antonijevic
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