You’d think there’d be nothing new in “Swan Lake.” But such is the magic of this ballet, and of the artistry of the passionate, committed PNB dancers, that it’s new, every time.
You’d think there’d be nothing new in “Swan Lake.” The ballet’s been around since the 19th century and a mainstay at Pacific Northwest Ballet since the company’s early days, in a version choreographed by founding artistic director Kent Stowell based on the Imperial Ballet’s 1895 production by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.
Pacific Northwest Ballet, through Feb. 11 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $30-$190 (206-441-2424 or pnb.org).
Its current production, redesigned in 2003 with sets by Ming Cho Lee, costumes by Paul Tazewell and lighting by Randall G. Chiarelli, pops up regularly every few years. So why, on Friday’s opening night, was I once again thoroughly dazzled; believing, if only for a moment, that pointe shoes could take flight?
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Blame it on, perhaps, the dark magic of Tchaikovsky’s score, wafting up from the PNB orchestra pit under Emil de Cou’s energetic baton. Or the eerie beauty of Lee’s sets (the vaguely sinister, slightly askew castle; that enormous pale-orange moon hanging in the black); the haunting twilight of Chiarelli’s lighting; the soft warmth of Tazewell’s peasant costumes in sharp contrast with the swans’ sparkling white. (Tazewell is represented well in Seattle this week; he also designed the costumes for “Hamilton,” opening Tuesday at the Paramount.)
All of these, though undeniably lovely, are familiar; what makes them ignite are passionate, committed dancers who seem to be creating the roles anew as we watch. On opening night, Jerome Tisserand’s courtly Prince Siegfried showed off both beautifully light jumps and a touching emotional arc; Kyle Davis, as the Jester, reminded us of how he can thrill with a spin; and the trio of Leta Biasucci, Benjamin Griffiths and Angelica Generosa, in Act I, was charm and grace personified.
But “Swan Lake” comes down to the woman at its center. The dual role of white swan Odette (the ballet’s heroine, bewitched by a sorcerer’s spell) and black swan Odile (one of its villains) is perhaps ballet’s most challenging; those taking it on must convey, with equal conviction, fragile vulnerability (Odette) and flashy wickedness (Odile). Lesley Rausch, on opening night, had both in droves — and some dazzlingly speedy fouetté turns, too.
The Act II pas de deux, with Tisserand, became a study in rapture and capture; his arms trying to contain her, as she seemed to slip from swan to woman. In Act III, as Odile, softness vanished into sharp lines and quicksilver movement, a head thrown back in silent, mocking laughter. And the beautiful, wistful Act IV finale (unique to Stowell’s version, and perhaps the choreographer’s finest work) featured Rausch lifted high in arabesque, seemingly in flight — and, in its final moments, the heartbreaking sight of the spell taking over, as her movements became stunted, birdlike, anguished, the woman disappearing into the bird. Such is the magic of “Swan Lake” — and of this ballerina’s artistry — that I believed every minute, and didn’t want it to end. It’s new, every time.