NYCB Swan Lake Final Thoughts

New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake was largely mixed for the four casts I saw (missing Teresa Reichlen/Peter Walker and Ashley Bouder/Jovani Furlan) with no all-around great performances. Some had segments that were very good offset by parts that were lacking. Here are general themes starting with the high points.

  • Joseph Gordon has established himself as the best NYCB male dancer-with nobody close in second place. In his Prince Siegfried debut, Joseph was impressive in the lakeside scene with strong technique that allowed him to sail through the difficult parts. Notable was his multiple turns with very rapid and hard spots, evincing excitement.
  • It was great to see Tiler Peck back in action after a severely herniated disc in her neck kept her out of action for seven months. 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 flurry of singles.
  • As I noted in my first Swan Lake article last week, I am not a fan of the Jester role, a gimmick that detracts from the story. However, it is a guilty pleasure when done well, with many pirouettes, turns in second position, and beats. Daniel Ulbricht owns the role, having performed it for over ten years. He was expressive and on the mark in two performances I saw. A tough act to follow, but Spartak Hoxha and Roman Mejia were also outstanding with both providing effortless turns and leaps.
  • Among the female leads, Sara Mearns gave the most complete performance with a smooth Odette portrayal followed by a sinister Odile while Megan Fairchild was technically strong. Lauren Lovette’s Odette was dramatically sound, showing both vulnerability and strength. Her turning skills let her down in the Odile segment, with problems on pirouettes and fouettés (Lauren’s Instagram summary is interesting). In general, I question the wisdom of not casting proficient turners in the role given its treacherous parts. I have made similar comments on American Ballet Theatre’s casting; three of the seven Swan Lake performances in the upcoming Met Season are slotted for dancers known to struggle with the steps, while Skylar Brandt and Sarah Lane sit on the sidelines. I do not think that fouettés are everything; this is not an ice skating competition, but the skill is correlated with other complicated steps in the Odile solo.
  • Aside from Joseph Gordon, the other men were fine but not distinguished. While other ballet companies sometimes struggle with Balanchine works, the NYCB men are like a fish out of water in classical Petipa full-length roles. This is understandable; aside from the annual Nutcracker, the week surrounding Valentine’s day with Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty (broken up by Romeo + Juliet some years) are the only opportunities in full-length roles. I missed seeing Jovani Furlan, formerly a Principal Dancer at Miami City Ballet. He could provide heft in the Cavalier parts.

On to the final week of the NYCB season. I look forward to the premier of Justin Peck’s Rotunda Wednesday, his collaboration with contemporary composer Nico Muhly. Look for thoughts and photos later this week.