Dance review: PNB's 'Swan Lake'


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Principal dancers Carla Korbes and Karel Cruz bring new talent to the classic roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried during PNB’s opening night performance of “Swan Lake.”

Photo by Courtesy photo

There are a lot of things that keep audiences across the globe coming back to see “Swan Lake.” But at this point it’s safe to say that it’s not to be surprised. 

The Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) has been performing its own version of the ballet, choreographed by founding artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, since 1981. In 2003, Stowell created another version that became the new PNB standard.

In this year’s performance, the chemistry of the principal dancers, illustrious choreography, and musical score distinguish it from a past myriad of other productions. 

The ballet itself, along with its Pyotr Tchaikovsky score, has been on stage for two centuries. Like Stowell, choreographers have changed details to suit their companies. But the storyline hasn’t changed.

The ballet follows the romance of Prince Siegfried and Odette, a woman trapped in the body of a swan by a sorcerer’s spell. To be set free, Odette must be given an oath of true love; but this is made difficult by the cunning and beguiling Odile, the sorcerer’s daughter who is sent to trick Siegfried and doom Odette.

Played by the same female lead, Odette and Odile represent opposing personalities. Embodying the two characters — convincing the audience that they are of separate moods, of drastically different personas — is no small feat. 

So what sets each performance apart? Clocking in at a solid three hours, with two intermissions and a five-minute pause, the performance could easily feel tedious. With lackluster orchestra members or one-dimensional dancers, the classic masterpiece could quickly descend into nothing more than an extended princess story with too many party scenes.

But this was not the case on the opening night of this year’s “Swan Lake” at PNB. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Of the five rotating casts, the opening night’s performance featured Carla Korbes as Odette and Odile, and Karel Cruz as Prince Siegfried, both principal dancers for PNB.

The beautiful thing about “Swan Lake” is that every leading dancer creates something a little different from the last. In the case of Korbes and Cruz, their symmetry, especially in the pas de deux of the second act, was ethereal, moving in a syrupy, delicate fashion that is at once classical and unique. More importantly, the interaction is done with an intensity and honesty that’s difficult to fake.

Korbes then transformed effortlessly to embody Odile in the third act; becoming sharp, elaborate, and utterly detached from the quiet grace of her Odette counterpart.

Alive with rolling fog and a huge, yellow moon as background for the famous pas de deux in act two, the set is as grandiose and fantastical as the fairytale narrative it depicts.

And of course, there’s the brilliant Tchaikovsky score that’s either made or destroyed by the orchestra performing it. Like the dual female lead of Odette and Odile, the score requires a carefully constructed mood and a deeply apparent contrast; both of which are excellently executed by PNB’s symphony orchestra.

These specifics are what make this piece worthy of its three hours length, they’re what make the long-winded party scenes and simplistic narrative worthwhile.

A successful “Swan Lake” can pin down a moment, between dancers, audience, and orchestra, where everything stands completely still, which the PNB rendition accomplishes.

The Verdict: Through artistic chemistry in its performance, PNB’s “Swan Lake” breathes life into a simple fairytale.

Reach Photo Editor Alisa Reznick at arts@dailyuw.com Twitter: @AlisaReznick

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