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New York City Ballet - Swan Lake
-Onstage with the Dancers

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Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children's Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Andrea Quinn
Manager, Press Relations, Siobhan Burns

Conductor, Andrea Quinn

New York State Theater, Lincoln Center

Review by Dr. Robert E. Zlokower
Originally Published on
May 11, 2003

Swan Lake (1999): Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky, Choreography by Peter Martins after Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, and George Balanchine, Scenery and Costumes by Per Kirkeby, Costumes realized by Barbara Matera, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conducted by Andrea Quinn, Performed by Maria Kowroski, Philip Neal, James Fayette, Eva Natanya, Adam Hendrickson, Benjamin Millepied, Carrie Lee Riggins, Pascale van Kipnis, Alexandra Ansanelli, Lindy Mandradjieff, Abi Stafford, Jonathan Stafford, Rachel Rutherford, Jason Fowler, Janie Taylor, Sebastien Marcovici, Aesha Ash, Saskia Beskow, Stephen Hanna, Henry Seth, Amanda Edge, Antonio Carmena, and the Company.

This was truly a new and different Swan Lake, without the classical feel, the feathers and fog, the mist in the morn, with a tranquil lake setting, midst high cliffs and a castle. This was a disturbing interpretation, with Per Kirkeby's speckled and splotched backdrop that changes from black, blue, red, and gray imagery that matches his splotched decorated costumes, with heavily textured and dark, flounced skirts and pants. This was Swan Lake, as a more dissonant orchestral version, as a Tschaikovsky gone wild. It was an abstract takeoff to a very conventional ballet. Martins, Kirkeby, and Stanley have collaborated to create a most fascinating approach, to a tale of a Prince, who is to betroth a princess, but falls in love with a swan, bewitched by a demon, who will keep her as swan, unless she finds true, unwavering love. It is also the tale of a split personality, Odette-Odile, the white swan, all innocence and vulnerability, and the black swan, all venom and vamp.

Philip Neal was perfectly cast as the abstract Siegfried, as he has mastered the technical and dramatic skills, and does not have to be the classic, passionate victim of unrequited love, that the traditional Swan Lake requires, but can be the actor, the almost campy Prince, who emerges in this dreamlike scene with characterization, absent the need for charisma. Philip Neal is best in an avant-garde setting, such as this. Maria Kowroski, as well, was magnificent in the dual roles, with wary affection, turned to obsessive seduction and betrayal, turned to disintegrating swan waif. James Fayette, as Rotbart gone wild orange and black, like a Halloween motif, darted around the stage as a black bat or a velvety orange sorcerer, a demon without disguise.

Eva Natanya was a magnificent Queen, with a Gustave Klimt styled gown; kudos to Kirkeby. Adam Hendrickson, as Jester, a new element for my Swan Lake experiences, was outstanding! I had pinpointed Mr. Hendrickson in the Fall Season, as one to watch, and watch we did. He has charisma, charm, virtuosity, high leaps, long extensions, personality, and presence. I look forward to watching the rise of Mr. Hendrickson's career, from Corps on up. The role of Jester was like a one-man Greek Chorus, who seemed to foretell the change in mood and fortune. Benjamin Millepied as Benno was buoyant and focused, as he performed in bravura fashion, to the delight of the audience.

The famous Pas de Quatre, with Ms. Ansanelli, Mandradjieff, Stafford, and Mr. Stafford, was shining and sensational. The ethnic dances, which entertain the Prince and his family, before he hopefully chooses a bride, were brilliantly performed with exotic appeal and dramatic dynamism. Ms. Rutherford and Mr. Fowler were wonderful in the Hungarian Dance, and Ms. Taylor and Mr. Marcovici, as Russian Dancers, are a couple to watch. I see them paired quite often, and they are perfectly matched for physical and emotional style and chemistry. The Spanish and Neapolitan dances were very effective, and the children from the School of American Ballet, as small swans and village children, were technically skilled and very poised and professional. The Six Princesses, including Deanna McBrearty danced in an evocative and endearing manner.

To return to Ms. Kowroski and Mr. Neal, Odette-Odile and Prince Siegfried, they often defied gravity, as they swooned and swayed, while Ms. Kowroski seemed to lean over toward the stage floor, in a charismatic (Black Swan) and cherished (White Swan) demeanor. I had been prepared to spend my birthday at New York City Ballet's matinee, enjoying a serendipitous Swan Lake adventure. I was not only not disappointed, but I was extremely excited and engaged, as I experienced Mr. Martins' brilliant, yet dark, interpretation of a traditional and classic, full-length ballet. Kudos to Peter Martins.

Ballet: Swan Lake
Choreography by Peter Martins after Petipa, Ivanov and Balanchine
Dancer: Maria Kowroski
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at