Big pond, little pond

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  May 7, 2008

Boston Ballet’s Swan Lake (which it’s presenting at the Wang Theatre through May 11) continues to evolve, sometimes in puzzling ways. Last time out, in 2004, artistic director Mikko Nissinen added a pas de cinq to the beginning of the third act and a “new resolution pas de deux.” The 2008 production has new sets (courtesy of Ballet West), no second intermission (the transition from act three to act four being facilitated by the new sets), and a new ending. Peter Cazalet’s set design leans to the brown and burnished. There’s a hazy Romantic aura to the garden, the tall cypresses framing what looks like a Norman keep, with its crenellated turret. The gloaming lakeside is crepuscular but not gloomy; the castle interior, with its massive Romanesque columns and windows, seems early Renaissance if not mediæval. There’s a lot for the eye to wander over, but nothing intrudes.

Ponomarenko is, once, again, the backbone
of the company’s Swan Lake.
It didn’t all take flight opening night. A misread lighting cue during act three caused the castle backdrop to rise when Odette should have been revealed fluttering in the window. And then during her 32 fouettés, Larissa Ponomarenko momentarily stumbled off pointe. The weekend was marked by cast substitutions and talk of injured dancers; the scheduled opening-night couple, Lorna Feijóo and Yury Yanowsky, didn’t go on at all, and it was apparent that some of the principal players were dancing hurt.

Bobbles notwithstanding, Ponomarenko has been the backbone of the past three Boston Ballet Swan Lakes (1994, 1998, 2004), and she still is. Her Odile is mischievous rather than menacing, and it’s not in her nature — or these days, perhaps, her technique — to turn the fouetté sequence into a spectacle of hand-on-hips double turns. But there’s no flailing of arms and legs; she’s like a tree with everything radiating out from the roots and then the trunk. It’s that centeredness that gives her aristocratic Odette such meticulous detail. She starts out in high dudgeon, not just a swan but a proud swan, and in the course of the second act her body softens, nestling into her Siegfried, developpéing out into arabesque like a rose in time-lapse photography, the entrechat/passé/relevé sequence of her variation imperial rather than imperious.

The rest of the weekend wasn’t quite on this level. Ponomarenko’s Siegfried, Roman Rykine, tends to pull in his head and lift his shoulders, and his acting can verge on melodrama. He’s not a virtuoso soloist, either: his first-act tours-jetés-into-arabesque landed with a thud, and after two good double tours in his third-act variation he smudged the third one. Ponomarenko was relaxed and expressive dancing with him, however, so put that down to his no small credit.

Friday night, Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal substituted for Ponomarenko and Rykine. Cornejo, who wouldn’t have got to do Odette/Odile as a soloist at American Ballet Theatre, was a coy, lambent, impulsive Odette and a mercurial, predatory Odile (with the trademark Alicia Alonso backward sautés), fire to Ponomarenko’s air. The arc of her split jumps was restricted, and in her fouettés she got turned around so that her back was to the audience. I suspect she wasn’t at her physical best, but this also looked like an interpretation in progress. Madrigal likewise seemed below par; he didn’t attempt elements he would normally do, and his concentration was spotty, as it tends to be.

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