American Ballet Theatre Spices Up Tchaikovsky’s Classic With Different Dance Teams
Five different couples will perform when American Ballet Theatre brings its acclaimed production of Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky’s 19th-century ballet about a prince who pledges his eternal love to a maiden cursed to take the form of a swan, to Downtown Los Angeles for five shows this week.
“It’s one of the hallmarks of the strength of ABT that it has such a diversity of principals,” said Kevin McKenzie, the New York-based company’s artistic director since 1992. “Many companies tend to have a few stars or headliners, whereas our strength is that we’ve always had a number of interesting principal dancers that really take things and make them their own.”
Four different male principals will take the stage as Prince Siegfried, and five female principals play the dual role of Odette, the white swan under a sorcerer’s spell, and Odile, the black swan whom the evil Von Rothbart uses to seduce the prince into betraying his vow to Odette. Performances are at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion March 27-30.
“It’s one of the joys for those who might come to the ballet. If they love it enough to see it twice, they’ll have a very different experience seeing another cast doing it,” said McKenzie, who was a dancer with ABT between 1979 and 1991. “It’s a one-time event every time.”
This production, which the company premiered in 2000, features choreography by McKenzie (after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s 1895 revival, still the standard for Swan Lake) and sets and costumes by Zack Brown. ABT has been performing it for the past eight years at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House and on its tours, which have the dancers traveling 10-12 weeks each year, or longer when there are international shows.
McKenzie remembered when he and Brown discussed ideas for the set. “He wanted 18th-century Russia; I wanted it longer ago and further away,” McKenzie said. The designer balked at the dark color palette he’d be stuck with when McKenzie suggested medieval. The compromise ended up resembling “a pre-Raphaelite painting.”
“He came at me with these designs that were just so glorious. It is really sumptuous,” McKenzie said. “The outdoor scenes are breathtakingly fresh in the first act, the lakeside scenes are mysterious with dimension, and the ballroom just takes your breath away.”
Against that backdrop of elegant and ornate scenery, the dancers in the 65-year-old company steal the show. McKenzie praised the performers’ versatility, but above all he thinks the ABT’s diversity is what makes it such a treasure – its dancers, he noted, hail from 27 nations, including Spain, France, England, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela and, of course, the United States.
Epic Love Story
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which premiered in Moscow in 1877, is an undisputed gem of classical ballet, an epic story of attraction and betrayal, good versus evil and the redemptive power of love.
ABT takes the romance to another level on Friday, March 28, by casting two dancers who are really in love as Prince Siegfried and Odette/Odile. Maxim Beloserkovsky and Irina Dvorovenko have been married for 13 years and dancing together even longer than that. Both were born and trained in the Ukraine. He joined ABT in 1994, she in 1996; both were named principal dancers in 2000.
But that added chemistry doesn’t make their jobs any easier. “It makes my life three times harder because your partnership goes beyond technical aspects. It goes much deeper,” Beloserkovsky said from Miami, where ABT was doing five performances of The Sleeping Beauty before traveling to Los Angeles. “Because you know the person so well, you dig a little deeper in terms of emotion, understanding of the role. You ask so much more from your favorite partner.
“When you work with someone for such a long time, you need to reinvent yourself, you need to find what it is about your partnership that people are raving about and find something else every time. You need to stay fresh,” he said. “I’m 36 and she’s 33. We’ve danced together our entire lives, and I don’t think we’ve ever had two of the same shows in terms of emotions.”
Beloserkovsky said his role in Swan Lake is something like a marathon that has the Prince constantly running after Odette. But it’s even more demanding for his partner, he said, because she must perform two completely different roles in one ballet. The climax of the performance is the black swan pas de deux (dance for two). “There’s a lot of jumping, a lot of turning, and it’s all emotions flying all over and people screaming, and it’s all this anticipation,” he said breathlessly. “She needs to win me to the purpose, she has to win my heart, and she only has 10 minutes.”
Equally demanding, at least emotionally, is the final scene when Odette throws herself into the lake and the Prince follows, and Von Rothbart is destroyed by their act of love.
“In the last couple beats of the music, you will see me hugging her, but we’re not in reality,” Beloserkovsky said. “So it gives you this pleasing feeling that love is forever. Maybe in a different world, on a different planet, at a different time, people could reunite and be loved.”
That ending follows the Western tradition of the lovers reuniting after death, rather than the Eastern version where Odette takes her human form after Von Rothbart is destroyed. It’s not exactly a picture book happy ending, but it’s “still uplifting and a little mysterious,” Beloserkovsky said.
“Swan Lake is a little fairy tale for me,” he said. “You transform from a regular person for two hours a day and become a prince. You have your own castle, your own kingdom. You have your queen mother, you’re wealthy, everything is taken care of. I mean, what can be better than that?”
American Ballet Theatre presents Swan Lake March 27-30 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., (213) 972-0711 or musiccenter.org/dance.html. For tickets, (213) 365-3500 or ticketmaster.com.