I’ve seen Swan Lake many times, but Pacific Northwest Ballet’s opening night presentation (it runs through April 21) of this famous and familiar work has to be one of its best performances ever. Everything came together, and by the start of the second act, the audience was so energized that applause came regularly, starting with a big ovation for conductor Emil de Cou and the orchestra.
The principals Friday evening were Carla Körbes as Odette/Odile, two opposites in one body, one pure and loving, the other hard and calculating; and Karel Cruz as Prince Siegfried.
Körbes is not only a beautiful dancer, she can also act, and acting is essential to flesh out this story. Her hesitant acceptance of the Prince’s ardor at first, her unreserved acceptance later, and her sadness at losing him at the end, all came through in subtle gestures, particularly of her head and upper back. She used the same, slightly different, to intimate Odile’s flirtatious behavior and truiumph at snaring the Prince. Using her arms throughout as though jointed like wings—easy to look at, not easy to do continuously—her swan-ness was also a constant of her performance.
Cruz has taken a while to get there but he has now arrived at danseur noble status. His slow turns were a marvel of balance, his superb leaps and every other step he took showed him in complete command of his long legs and arms, using them musically and expressively to further the action. It doesn’t hurt that he is tall, dark, and handsome, the typical criteria for a prince. He and Körbes danced together as one in a magical duet of partnering.
Had this been the only stellar part of the performance, it would have been worth seeing, but they were supported by a cast uniformly strong. The corps deserves particular mention. Never have I seen PNB’s corps so perfectly synchronized, so light on their feet. When you have 24 swans all with their arms, their legs, their movements, their gestures at exactly the same angle and height at the same moment, it’s a miracle to see.
Add to this fine performances by Kiyon Gaines as the over-imbibing friend of the Prince, Benjamin Griffiths as an ebullient jester, and many other duets or trios from different dancers, plus well-trained charming work from the several children involved.
Then there’s the atmospheric set, especially the huge moon in the forest, and lavish court costumes to set off the simplicity of the swans’ white tutus, Tchaikovsky’s music, and the Petipa/Ivanov/Stowell choreography and you have a landmark production.
As the curtain came down, the audience raved, with bravos, whistles, and roars of approval.