The Los Angeles Ballet’s “Swan Lake” found its wings after a rocky start.
The ballet performance Thursday at Royce Hall featured elegant costuming and special effects that transported the audience into Odette’s world. Though the dancers occasionally struggled with timing, the production delivered the story with just enough pageantry as to not distract from the movements.
“Swan Lake” follows the tragic love story of Prince Siegfried, portrayed by Tigran Sargsyan, and Odette, portrayed by Petra Conti, a young maiden cursed to be a swan by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart. The spell can be broken only if someone swears their love for her, but struggles arise when Von Rothbart tricks Prince Siegfried into proclaiming his love for Odile, Odette’s evil counterpart.
The ballet opened with what was supposed to be Prince Siegfried’s joyous 21st birthday celebration. However, many performers portraying villagers failed to smile, detracting from the cheerful tone the scene is meant to create. In the midst of the revelries, a female dancer fell but quickly got to her feet, and Prince Siegfried struggled with a simple turn. But despite shortcomings in dance technique, dancers Laura Chachich, Jasmine Perry and Kim Jeong-kon redeemed the first act with their breathtaking depiction of a trio of unnamed villagers called the “pas de trois” in classical ballet.
Chachich, Perry and Kim executed their physically demanding pas de trois with precision and ease, elegantly passing through movements that could have easily become frantic. Kim’s solo concluded with a series of turning split jumps, each identical to the last, displaying consistency in his performance. The trio appeared effortless in their technique, ending the otherwise dismal first act on a high note.
Costume choices also improved the first act, helping the audience easily identify Prince Siegfried, who donned a black shirt and tights among background dancers who wore white and orange. The Prince’s attire matched Odile’s black tutu and bodice, seemingly alluding to his eventual mistake of declaring his love for her. Other standout costumes included that of the Queen, portrayed by Colleen Neary, whose ornate purple gown and elaborate headdress quickly identified her as royalty.
The first act’s costumes also contrasted with the ballet’s scenery, which included stone grey castle walls and a table holding goblets. The physical set pieces around the stage’s perimeter were rather simple, allowing the audience to focus more on the dancing while still communicating the setting. In contrast to the first act’s drab but purposeful scenery, the second act opened to a backdrop of a lake and trees with a glowing orange moon, setting an enchanting, mysterious tone.
The corps de ballet had a much stronger performance in the second act – the dancers made much better swans than party guests, donning gorgeous white tutus and feathery headpieces. Their peaceful facial expressions and delicate movements allowed them to resemble sorrowful swans.
Later in the act, Conti entered as Odette, displaying nervousness but eventual trust in Prince Siegfried with her admirable acting skills. However, her movement appeared stiff at times. She visibly tired over the course of the act, her balances decreasing in duration and her arm shaking at one point. But as soon as she embodied Odile she appeared revitalized instead of worn out.
Because the same dancer traditionally plays both Odette and Odile – two characters with contrasting styles of movement – the role is one of the most technically demanding in ballet. Traditionally, dancers tend to excel at either Odette’s gentle mannerisms or at Odile’s beguiling dance. Conti further fulfilled the trend: Her coy expressions far surpassed her ability to embody Odette’s innocent spirit. At the end of the third act, when Odile successfully seduced Prince Siegfried, Conti exploded into a maniacal laugh that was both terrifying and heartbreaking, exhibiting her incredible ability to perform the darker role.
The following act opened with another serene yet melancholy portrayal of the corps de ballet as swans: The dancers stood in small groups, their heads bowed, slowly moving their arms to resemble wings. The combination of the slowly billowing smoke on set, the dancers’ elegantly simple movements and the background of a lake left the audience feeling immersed in the mystical scene. However, shortly after, Siegfried disrupted the tranquility when he chased Odette and killed Von Rothbart with a pitiful tackle.
The lovers end the show standing together above Von Rothbart’s dead body, implying a happier ending than that of some “Swan Lake” iterations, in which the two jump off a cliff in a Romeo and Juliet-style lovers’ suicide. The music changes from its dramatic, fast pace to a gentle progression of notes, dissolving the residual tension from Prince Siegfried and Von Rothbart’s fight. Though it was not played by a live orchestra, as is typical in most ballet productions, the music did not detract from the performance at all.
Combined with the scenery, the recorded music created a spellbinding background for the incredibly talented dancers to perform feats of the human body well beyond the capabilities of the average person. Although they didn’t provide the most consistent performance, both Conti and the corps de ballet demonstrated an enviable balance of technique and artistry, making the show an engaging experience overall.