Karen Kain’s “Swan Lake” soars on romantic wings

First of all, the new vision of “Swan Lake” by Karen Kain of Hamilton for the National Ballet of Canada is a triumph.

Telling the story of a young woman, trapped like a swim by an evil wizard, then falling in love with a handsome prince, she suggested a ballet territory she knows well, having danced this role in major capitals. dance world.

Kain, who grew up in Ancaster and drew pictures of swans in a school notebook, comes to this ballet with a powerful knowledge of its dramatic potential.

Reflecting on the ballet’s moody past, it also looks forward, suggesting a bolder feminist look at the work’s dramatic central core.

There was one thrilling moment in Erik Bruhn’s 1967 production of this work that made you gasp. Palace walls disappeared, tangled trees rose up like fearsome giants in the moonlight, and you were whisked away to a ferocious and magical lake, where an evil black queen held a tragic group of enslaved women like white swans.

This breathtaking staging, and all it suggests, has now been replicated in the captivating new production of Karen Kain’s ballet at the Four Seasons Center in Toronto.

Choosing to put a more human face on this elegant old warhorse, Kain retained such moments of magic from Bruhn’s dramatic vision. In a program note, she says she wants us to “leave the theater moved by the romantic nature of the play.” In this she succeeded brilliantly.

Eschewing the blatant, sometimes stark imagery of choreographer James Kudelka’s 1999 Old National Ballet version, which included a disturbing rape scene and the erotic image of a wizard biker, Kain lifted unnecessary darkness, restoring a enlightening sense of romance.

In her desire to give ballet a new, less formal face, she teamed up with designer Gabriela Tylesova, whose elaborate, glittering sets, and sometimes fussy costumes, suggest a world of glamor and extravagance.

If one feather on a hat is enough, Tylesova adds four. These wandering swan feathers become an intriguing motif, appearing everywhere, including on the shoulder pads of Prince Siegfried’s jacket.

The costumes often have a layered appearance, scalloped with painterly motifs. Most of the time, these excesses work, with the exception of the scintillating masquerade ball, where there is a collision of color and kitsch.

Any truly effective swan lake, of course, must ultimately be judged on its choreography and dancing. Here is wonderful news.

Wisely, the lake scenes do not stray from tradition, with a staging based on what is known from the originals by Ivanov and Petipa for the Maryinsky Theater in Russia in 1877.

The dance is ultimately beautiful.

The synchronicity of the gang of tortured swans, the breathtaking love story between the swan queen Odette and her eager prince Siegfried are exquisite dance images.

If you’re not moved by what you see here, you’re probably heartbroken and brain dead.

Jurgita Dronina (Odette-Odile) and Harrison James (Siegfried) dance beautifully, with unity of style, delivering performances of porcelain purity.

Jurgita Dronina plays the role of Odette-Odile in the National Ballet of Canada's production of Swan Lake.

If there’s one caveat, it’s that none of these performers have much dramatic depth.

In the Black Act, where the evil wizard Rothbart tricks Prince Siegfried with his temptress Odile, Dronina lacks fire. She does the 32 whipping tricks, those difficult whipping tricks that crush a lot of Odiles, but her performance is too docile.

On Saturday matinee, dazzling Svetlana Lunkina and her siegfried, young Brendan Saye, took care of those dramatic necessities in a searing, unified performance that sent shivers down your spine.

Where Bruhn’s choreography has been interpolated in Kain’s production, such as in the first act Pas de Trois, superbly directed by Siphesihle November in the matinee, and Naoya Ebe on the night of the premiere, things are astounding.

The same goes for Prince Siegfried’s first act, Erik Bruhn solo, suggesting Siegfried’s youthful desire.

The steps imagined by the choreographers Robert Binet and Christopher Stowell, to glue this production, take over where Bruhn, Ivanov and Petipa end and where the invention must begin.

There is an interesting question about storytelling. In Bruhn’s controversial version, he used an evil black queen to suggest the ballet’s malign force. Kain avoided this in favor of a traditional male wizard, Rothbart. In some ways, this challenges Bruhn’s thinking. Perhaps Kain is suggesting something more palatable in a world seeking kinder, gentler female power roles.

Spencer Hack’s Rothbart was dramatic throughout, his face often still and motionless, his eyes telling.

In quieter moments, the always impeccable Tomas Schramek and the glorious Rebekah Rimsay, remind us why ballet companies need refined character dancers to add a measure of truth to what’s on stage.

Kain was never much fond of Kudelka’s version of Swan Lake, preferring the romantic idealism of Bruhn’s imagery. She once told me that Kudelka’s vision lacked romance.

Well, she’s corrected that here in what is her beautiful ballet swan song as she transitions into Artistic Director Emeritus for the company she led until her retirement in 2021.

Swan Lake

Who: National Ballet of Canada

Where: The Four Seasons Center Toronto

When: June 16-17-18-19 and 22-23-24-25 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings, June 18-19 and 25-26 at 2 p.m.

Tickets: $45 to $204 at 1-866-345-9595 or national.ballet.ca

Protocols: wearing a mask is mandatory

About Keith Johnson

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