Lauren Lovette and Harrison Ball made their debuts as leads in New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake Friday in a very mixed performance with some high moments and very low lows
The Highs: Lauren was effective dramatically, particularly as the frightened swan when she first encountered Prince Siegfried. Her fear resonated throughout Koch Theater on her meeting with the Prince in addition to her vulnerability and steely resolve as she battled the evil Von Rothbart. Her solos were smooth in the Act I Lakeside scene, aided by her effortless and supple backbends. Lauren, as Odile, was a sly seductress, expressive and sinister when she tricked the dumfounded Siegfried into swearing his love to Odile. The final lakeside scene was heartfelt as she remained a swan forever as she bid farewell to the Prince.
Harrison was a reliable partner in his debut, providing robust support to Lauren. His solos were fine, although not distinguished with reasonable beat steps and pirouettes. His shining moment was on his turns in second position, with rapid single turns, which ended with a controlled quad pirouette. Dramatically, he complimented Lauren well.
NYCB final bows are boring. Other major companies view bows as an extension of the performance with numerous bow variations depending on the production and dancers; NYCB bows are all the same, with the leads barely acknowledging each other. There was some drama in Lauren and Harrison’s bows. On the second bow in front of the curtain, Lauren anticipated Harrison would join her. He did not, leaving her for a solo bow in her debut in the role. She looked meekly into the curtain opening as if to say Harrison!…Harrison!…HARRISON! She gave up and proceeded with a solo bow. A class touch from Harrison, allowing Lauren to bask in solo glory.
The Lows: A dancer must be highly technically proficient, particularly on turns, to pull off the demanding Odile role. Odile must shine technically by dazzling Prince Siegfried into a state of extreme desire, enticing the Prince to break his vow to Odette. My disagreement with ABT Swan Lake casting is not putting the most technically skilled turners in the Odette/Odile role with 3-4 slots reserved for dancers that struggle with the choreography, in particular fouettés. The NYCB casting of Lauren seems similar as she struggled in her Odile solos. She had turn problems in her first solo, but most problematic was her fouettés. She started with a double pirouette and quickly traveled downstage. It was apparent her turns were not sustainable and she attempted a turn in second position, similar to ABT’s Christine Shevchenko. That did not go well and Lauren aborted the turns in favor of piqué turns with arms flailing.
Lauren will dance the role again Sunday. Will be interesting to see if she makes adjustments to her solos.
Wednesday: Tiler Peck and Joseph Gordon
Great to see Tiler Peck back in action after a severe herniated disc in her neck that kept her out of action for seven months. Gia Kourlas of The New York Times explains that most doctors Tiler consulted recommended disc replacement or fusion surgery. She opted to rest, hoping her spine would heal on its own. After taking off the summer from physical activity and not moving her head much for six months, an MRI showed improvement. In November, she was back dancing the Sugarplum Fairy in Nutcracker and Balanchine’s challenging Allegro Brillante in January.
Tiler was understated in her Odette solos Wednesday with low arabesques and penchés, understandable given what she has been through and the rigorous demands of the role. She unleashed her considerable technique in her Odile solos with controlled turns, particularly on her fouettés with a series of double turns and finished with a series of singles. In his debut, Joseph was impressive in the lakeside scene after a sluggish start at Siegfried’s birthday party. Joseph is technically strong and sailed through his solos. Notable was his multiple turns with very rapid and hard spots, evincing excitement. Joseph has established himself as by far the best male dancer at NYCB.
Check back in a few days with my final thoughts on NYCB’s Swan Lake.