The BLOG: Culture

Boston Ballet inspires awe with an elegant Swan Lake

Addie Tapp in Mikko Nissinen's Swan Lake; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet.

Addie Tapp in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet.

When Boston Ballet premiered Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake in 2014, it was clear that this ballet would soon become special in the hearts of its audiences. With stunning moments that inspire gasps of awe without fail, Nissinen’s Swan Lake once again proves truly extraordinary. The company will perform the ballet through May 26.

In Boston’s two-year-old production, Nissinen reinvents the classic Swan Lake story and iconic Pytor Ilych Tchaikovsky score with a fresh take on the ballet, highlighted by tasteful artistic design and inventive choreography. Boston’s dancers bring this vision of Swan Lake to life with elegance and expertise.

Principal Dancer Misa Kuranaga danced an inspired Odette/Odile on opening night, accompanied by the New York City Ballet’s Principal Gonzalo Garcia. It was a treat to watch Garcia assimilate into the company; his performance was confident and first-rate.

Kuranaga’s emotion in the role was compelling, and her precise technique impressive. It seemed that she was fully absorbed in her performances as both Odette and Odile, with animated ports de bras and a striking arched back that beautifully captured the image of a swan. Kuranaga’s Odette was thoroughly lovely, but her Odile was the real showstopper. In a black tutu glimmering with gold sparkle, she was sharp, strong and intense.

Nissinen’s best creation in this production is his transformation of the villain, Von Rothbart. While most versions cast the sorcerer as a character role who is more of an actor than a dancer, Boston’s Rothbart is arguably the best male role in the entire ballet.

Like at last year’s opening night, Principal Dancer Lasha Khozashvili danced the role with unparalleled energy. His Act II entrance was especially memorable as he burst onto stage with leaps reaching great speed and height. His acting, too, was outstanding. In fact, he seemed to relish the diabolical role so much that it was almost unfair to everyone else onstage — swishing his cloak and grinning devilishly, Khozashvili gave a vastly entertaining performance.

It was a stark change, then, to see him dance the role of Siegfried in another cast on May 1. Instead of lurking about menacingly, he was a charming prince, the perfect partner for Principal Lia Cirio as Odette/Odile. She brought unique depth to the role, emphasizing Odette’s strength of will. Though still vulnerable and sorrowful, her Odette was driven and passionate. Together, Cirio and Khozashvili are even more stunning. Their careful eye contact and communication emits an emotional connection between the characters, creating magnetic chemistry. Boston’s leads demonstrated what it means to be a principal dancer.

Guest Artist Gonzalo Garcia and Principal Misa Kuranaga in Mikko Nissinen's Swan Lake; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet.

Guest Artist Gonzalo Garcia and Principal Misa Kuranaga in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet.

Of course, in Swan Lake, heavy responsibility rests on the swans, danced by the ballerinas of Boston Ballet’s Corps de Ballet. They were a mesmerizing sight from the moment of their first entrance, a dizzying swirl of feathery white tulle. As always, the four Cygnets are the crowd favorite. Opening night’s set of dancers, Diana Albrecht, Maria Alvarez, Jillian Barrell and Corina Gill, especially impressed with their unison in the classic quick and technical footwork.

And as the two lead swans, Lauren Herfindahl and Addie Tapp set the standard for skill by detailing their choreography with excellent timing and characteristically soft gestures in their hands and feet. The swans’ dances — even just their presence onstage, surrounded by mist — are haunting and atmospheric.

But strangely, even after watching two performances of Swan Lake, it is not the iconic fluttering of ballerinas in white that most prominently sticks in my mind, but rather a superbly designed Act III ball remains the most vivid. This act, full of character dances, pas de deux and drama is embellished with particularly stunning costumes and energetic music.

The Pas de Cinq is perhaps the highlight, showcasing excellence in every aspect of a ballet. Five dancers take the stage in silvery shades of blue and white, with gold embellishments, the three women shimmering with sparkles and tiaras as they glide through Nissinen’s inventive choreography. The artistic director’s choreographic intelligence shines in the Pas de Cinq. He used the music in truly interesting ways that are unexpected, avoiding clichés.

In both performances Principal Dancer Dusty Button, Corps de Ballet dancers Lauren Herfindahl and Addie Tapp, and First Soloists Paul Craig and Patrick Yocum danced the Pas de Cinq with elegance. It was a joy to watch each dancer: Craig and Yocum were particularly vibrant and energetic; Herfindahl and Tapp proved themselves as promising rising talent, young but capable and impressive. It was easy for Button to dazzle in her solo, upstaging the choreography itself with the makings of an Odette/Odile.

The rest of the Act III character dances boasted exquisite costumes in lush fabrics of rich reds and blues, which were even more eye-catching against the backdrop of a ballroom in muted and sophisticated earth tones. The dancers, too, contributed to a memorable Act III. Soloist Sabi Varga and Corps de Ballet Dancer Ekaterine Chubinidze danced an especially fiery Spanish Dance with exaggerated fluidity and attitude in their arms and posture.

Like these dances, the Act I Pas de Trois is an opportunity to show off some of Boston Ballet’s strongest talent. On opening night it was Second Soloist Junxiong Zhao with First Soloists Seo Hye Han and Ji Young Chae who danced the delightful variations. In these dynamic pieces, I was amazed by Zhao’s lightness — his leaps were high and seemed effortless thanks to his ability to land softly. Though Han’s choreography was more interesting, both ballerinas were charming and skilled.

Although Nissinen’s Swan Lake is comprised of four acts and only one intermission, the ballet rushes by quickly. The visual splendor, fine dancing and choreographic excellence make the Swan Lake experience overwhelmingly rich.

Boston Ballet will perform Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake through May 26 at the Boston Opera House. For tickets, visit the Boston Ballet webpage.

Mary Hierholzer

Mary Hierholzer

Mary Hierholzer is a freelance journalist and Gordon College graduate.