Kent Stowell’s “Swan Lake,” set to Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous Op. 20, has magnificently stood the test of time. The opening night performance at Pacific Northwest Ballet was utter magical perfection — and the most spellbinding rendition of the company’s Swan Lake my companion and I had seen yet. Pretty good for a ballet that was considered a failure when it premiered in Moscow, Russia in 1877.
Following Tchaikovsky’s death, Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa devised new choreography, while conductor Riccardo Drigo took an editing knife to the cumbersome score. Their successful revival of, “Swan Lake,” in 1895 has been the foundation for most productions.
In 1981, Francia Russell and Kent Stowell remounted in Seattle the, “Swan Lake,” they fashioned in 1976 for the Frankfurt Ballet. Russell researched and staged the 1895 production’s original choreography, while Stowell re-choreographed significant portions, including revamping a previously anticlimactic Act IV.
The current version updates the 1981 production, with new designs and reworked staging spearheaded by Stowell and Russell to celebrate Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2003 move to the new McCaw Hall.
In “Swan Lake’s” dramatic plot, Prince Siegfried falls head over heels for the beautiful Odette, cursed by the wicked sorcerer Von Rothbart to live as a white swan by day and a woman at night. Only true love will set her free. Of course, the sorcerer schemes to block the budding romance and sets his daughter Odile, who is Odette’s doppelganger, to bewitch the prince.
Stowell’s Swan Lake demands show-stopping solo work and hypnotic synchronicity, both of which the company’s gifted dancers delivered.
As the principal ballerina in the taxing dual role of Odette and Odile on opening night, Lesley Rausch distinguished the characters of Odette and Odile while conquering the roles’ considerable technical hurdles — including Odile’s grueling 32 fouettes that immediately follow a mercilessly elaborate pas de deux. Rausch’s Odette had a reticence, a fluttering birdlike nervousness, and a sweet nobility. In contrast, her more muscular Odile had an in-your-face enjoyment of her own evil seductiveness and her triumph over Siegfried and Odette. Jerome Tisserand’s Prince Siegfried matched Rausch in technical prowess and dramatics. His imploring anguish as Odette leaves forever puts the seal on the ballet as the ultimate heartbreak hotel.
Just as essential to Swan Lake’s success is the performance of the corps de ballet. On opening night, the company’s corps was in uncanny swanlike sync, from their movements to their sensibilities. The unity of small groups of dancers was equally breathtaking. One such moment was the Pas de quatre in Act II in which Madison Rayn Abeo, Leta Biasucci, Angelica Generosa and Carli Samuelson cross-linked arms and danced with phenomenal, exact rapidity. The Pas de trois in Act I is rife with challenging moves that felt light and charming as executed by Biasucci, Generosa and Benjamin Griffiths.
Tchaikovsky’s music soared, dipped and expanded into luxuriously rich detail in the hands of conductor Emil de Cou and the company’s talented orchestra.
Ming Cho Lee’s leaning palace walls and moon-drenched forest of tilted pallid trees are suitably unsettling. Enhanced by Randall G. Chiarelli’s moody lighting, they set the scene for the tragedy to come. Paul Tazewell’s costumes harken back the Regency era as well as the mythical elements of the story.
This “Swan Lake” richly deserves the passionate standing ovation it received on opening night, and you shouldn’t miss it.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Swan Lake” performs at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.) through Sunday, Feb. 11. Ticket prices range from $37 to $194, with some under-age-25 discounts available. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit www.pnb.org or call 206-441-2424.
MAGGIE LARRICK is a freelance writer who lives in the greater Seattle area.