The classical repertory is a never-ending temptation for ballet choreographers to revise to suit their visions. But something fetid happens when updating “Swan Lake,” to Peter Tchaikovsky’s 19th century musical masterpiece.
The rare successes notwithstanding (think Matthew Bourne’s male swans), each succeeding generation aims low, then sinks lower. The shock values pile up for no purpose other than their own sake.
And so this weekend at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, we had “Lac,” Jean-Christophe Maillot’s 2011 production with an unrelentingly nasty story dreamed up by Maillot and French author Jean Rouaud. They give us marital infidelity, incest and double murder via an unpleasant royal family, its over-sexed friends, thuggish swans, two ghoulish porters and Her Majesty of the Night, who has an oral fixation that makes Miley Cyrus look like a teething babe. Added to that is a crude introductory film prelude and a chopped up and rearranged Tchaikovsky recording.
This disappointment was all the more painful because the dancers in Maillot’s company, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, are fantastic performers. Explosive and expressive, light and lightning fast, they shifted from one fully articulated movement to the next with ease and precision. Yet, as gorgeous as they were, they were unable to redeem the crassness. They did exude a pure joy in the act of dancing, and that was the value to retrieve from this two-act, 2.5-hour production.
Stephan Bourgond was the sympathetic and appealing prince, trying mightily to find his true love and escape the bad influence of his browbeating father the king, the impressively roguish Alvaro Prieto. Mimoza Koike, who was the lovely fairy godmother in Maillot’s warm and humanistic version of “Cinderella” seen at the center in 2012, was wasted in the sketched-out and clichéd part of the Queen.
The white swan, Anja Behrend, was also given short shrift. She appeared after intermission, wearing feathered gloves (costumes by Philippe Guillotel) a signal of her magical prison. Once changed into a woman, Behrend and Bourgond danced an uplifting duet, a game of near-touching and fondling, savoring the sensuality of tactile senses.
Jeroen Verbruggen was charming as the prince’s confidant, while his physical prowess cried out for him to have an even larger role.
Ah, but the ballet’s anti-heroes were overpowering: Maude Sabourin with her snakelike arms and sharply pointed feet as Her Majesty; April Ball as the wily black swan; and Asier Edeso and Bruno Roque as the evil queen’s porters.
Ernest Pignon-Ernest created a spare set of thrones on platforms, rectangular hanging columns and boulders by the “lake,” with Maillot and Samuel Théry’s lighting designs bouncing off the surfaces to set the mood. The ballet’s final trick was its most impressive: a giant swirl of black fabric that took the ill-fated couple to a better place. The ballet’s end.