Last year the American Ballet Theatre women had problems in the more technical parts of the Odette/Odile role in Swan Lake, particularly in the fouetté section of the Grand Pas de Deux. Not so in the three ABT Swan Lake performances I saw this week that featured top-notch work from Christine Shevchenko (Wednesday matinée, see my review in the previous article ); Devon Teuscher (Thursday); and Gillian Murphy (Friday). See my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com for curtain call photos.
Gillian returned to the Met stage Friday in Swan Lake after withdrawing due to injury last year. She danced the role with great command and authority, with no signs of slowing down after 22 years with ABT. Her technique was rock solid like her dancing the last time ABT released a full performance DVD in 2005 with Angel Corella (I will rant about the lack of ABT DVDs after the season). But it wasn’t just a tour de force technical display; she exhibited great emotion as a frightened swan in the Lake Scene, her fear palpable. As Rothbart’s daughter Odile, she was a sly seductress on a mission to destroy Siegfried. Their eyes met and he was transfixed by her beauty. Mission accomplished.
Technically, Gillian was stellar. Her Act I Odette was smooth, with effortless and expressive bird-like arms. Her Act II work included triple pirouettes, unusual for the solo. Her Grand Pas de Deux solo consisted of difficult triple pirouettes (starting en face-directly facing the audience) to a double pirouette in attitude, both rock solid. Gillian’s fouettés were first-rate as always. In previous years, she did single turns mixed with double pirouettes with arms up in a “V” position overhead. On Friday, she opted for single fouettés, broken up with difficult and rarely done triple fouettés.
Devon Teucher’s Odette was understated Thursday, not the most expressive I’ve seen, with low extensions and arabesques in the Act II Lakeside Scene. I enjoyed her sinister Odile more, which plays to her strengths, turns and balances on pointe. Her solo had beautiful triple pirouettes to double turns in attitude done en face (facing the audience). Her fouettés were a bundle of energy starting off with about 10 (I think) fast double fouettés followed by rapid single turns. Her finish was probably the best I have seen, with four turns that slowed to a stop on the fourth turn in an exciting finish. It must be very difficult to finish a fouetté sequence with all that energy going on after 25+ rotations; many dancers have great turns only to have the sequence ruined by a sloppy finish. Devon’s control at the finish was very impressive.
I previously reviewed Christine Shevchenko’s Wednesday top-tier performance. Christine and Devon, along with Skylar Brandt and Cassandra Trenary form a group of impressive young dancers at ABT. Hopefully, ABT will put them to good use in prime-time performances next year
James Whiteside was Prince Siegfried Wednesday afternoon and Friday, subbing for the injured Alexandre Hammoudi. James deserves overtime pay as he danced the lead three times in four days including Saturday evening. Magnifying the difficulty was his pairing with three different lead women. James and Cory Stearns, who paired with Devon Thursday, played the Prince similarly in an understated and subdued manner, allowing the bulk of the attention to shine on Odette/Odile. This contrasts with previous Siegfrieds by ABT greats Julio Bocca, José Manuel Carreño, and Angel Corella, whose star power competed with Odette/Odile.
Cory was muted in the Act I birthday party, but picked up the energy after seeing the beautiful Odile. He was particularly expressive in the Lakeside final act, filled with great angst. James also picked up the pace in the Act III Great Hall, fueled by Gillian’s technical prowess. Cory and James were solid but not spectacular in their solo work. Both struggled a bit on a difficult double tour to arabesque sequence, which requires a quick weight shift upon landing on one foot and proceeding to arabesque. Give ABT men credit; the New York City Ballet men opt for a diagonal of wimpy assemblés, nothing more than boring music filler.
The most impressive Act I Pas de Trois was Thursday with Blaine Hoven/Catherine Hurlin/ Katherine Williams. Blaine showed nice control, with smooth quad pirouettes. Catherine Hurlin showed off nice beats while Katherine Williams displayed high leaps. On Friday, Cassandra Trenary exhibited great timing and praising, adding an additional dimension to the role. In the Neapolitan dance, Sung Woo Han and Joo Won Ahn were the most entertaining duo, with energetic turns and leaps in synch.
Thomas Forster had an evil edge as Rothbart Thursday, more so than Aran Bell on Wednesday afternoon and Friday.