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'Swan Lake': A classic lives again on the Houston stage

Swan Lake

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The ballet classic, "Swan "Lake" premiered last night on the Houston Ballet stage. Audiences clapped and cheered in appreciation for this production with its amazing sets, costumes, skillfully played orchestra and of course the beautiful dance performances.

Dancer(s): Connor Walsh. Ballet: Swan Lake. Choreographer: Stanton Welch
Dancer(s): Connor Walsh. Ballet: Swan Lake. Choreographer: Stanton Welch
Photo: Amitava Sarkar

"Swan Lake" dates back to 1877 when it was first performed in Moscow. Evidence of its Russian influence were obvious especially in Act II with a few key choreographed dance moments and moves. Although originally not well received with its first performance, on March 1, 1984, Act II of the ballet, choreographed by Lev Ivanov, was performed for a Tchiakovsky memorial. Following the performance on January 27, 1985, at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, this became the ultimate version.

Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet Stanton Welch choreographs this reimagined production. His choreography is complemented by the outstanding set and costumes designed by the late Kristian Fredrikson. For each act, the set designs become more elaborate and impressive, transporting audiences from a dark wood to the edge of the forest to the castle ballroom then beside a lake in the forest. Not only are the dancers telling us a story but also the sets create the ideal backdrop to complement their performances.

(SPOLIER WARNING: Discussion of plot)

"Swan Lake" tells the story of Odette (danced by Sarah Webb), a young maiden who while in the forest is captured by the evil knight Rothbart (danced by James Gotesky) and is cursed. He turns her into a swan and she will remain that way during the day yet will be transformed back into a maiden at night. Prince Siegfried (danced by Connor Walsh) and his entourage arrive in the forest to celebrate a successful hunt and his mother, the Queen, pulls him aside to remind him of his duty to select a bride. Four eligible princesses are displayed for his choosing although he appears disinterested in the whole process.

Ballet is an art form that is beautiful and appealing to the eyes with the elegance and grace of each dancer. As each princess is introduced to the Prince, each ballerina dances in varying styles that both set each apart yet encompass all of the best aspects of the ballet. Walsh is impressive with his ability to flow across the stage appearing as if he is floating on air and his definite movements with his body and facial expressions help the audience to experience all the emotions from the lack of interest to the later scenes when he falls in love and suffers due to his choices and actions.

Scene III introduces us to Odette, the curse and the ultimate love between her and the Prince. It’s a tender moment in the ballet that highlights the strength of each dancer Walsh and Webb as they gracefully fall in love. Despite Odette urging the Prince to leave, she transforms before his eyes into the swan she was cursed to be, when the Prince’s company returns and attempts to kill Odette and the other swans. The Prince must confess his love for her in an attempt to save her.

Act II and III are jovial, intense and dark. The castle set design is simply stunning and breathtaking as is the design for the final scene around the lake. Our love struck Prince must chose his bride and at the castle, Odile arrives, who is a mirror image of his true love, Odette. The Prince falls for the deception and gives his heart to her, unbeknownst to him that he is being deceived. Once Odette finds out, she is heartbroken and flees. This leads to the dramatic conclusion which highlights the strength of both principle dancers Walsh and Webb. Audiences experience each moment with these dancers as they go from love to heartbreak in a one of kind ballet experience.

This ballet has a rich history that drives the audience appeal. In May, the Houston Ballet even hosted a showing of the movie “Black Swan” which was a movie adaptation and interpretation of the ballet. Stanton adds a simple scene for the male company in this staging, despite being beautifully executed, it feels a bit unnecessary. “Swan Lake” is a powerful, dark, emotion filled production that combines all elements together in order to tell the story of this unlikely pairing. The success of this production is in the amazing dancers, outstanding sets and the carefully orchestrated music.

Don't miss your chance to see this worldwide celebrated ballet. "Swan Lake" runs now through June 15th. For ticket information, visit www.houstonballet.org/, call 713-227-2787 or stop by the box office located at 501 Texas at Smith St., Monday-Friday 9 am to 5 pm. Be sure to see what is coming up for the 2014-2015 season as well.