"Swan Lake" has been a work in progress ever since its first 1877 Moscow version (now lost), with each new generation adding to — and sometimes undermining — its evolving richness and depth. The great pleasure and power of the 2012 staging by Los Angeles Ballet comes from the many historical-national traditions it incorporates while always remaining true to the work's Romantic vision and mighty score.
On Saturday, company artistic directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary brought their production back to UCLA — again with recorded music and borrowed scenery from Oregon Ballet Theatre. Now in its ninth season, the company met the challenges of this masterwork gamely and successfully, though decent principals and a strong corps didn't always compensate for uneven dancing at the midrank, soloist level. What's more, three endless intermissions, reportedly needed to solve scene-shifting problems in Royce Hall, gave the dancers the task of renewing interest in the ballet after every prolonged break.
Mostly based on the peerless Petipa/Ivanov choreography of 1895, this homegrown "Swan Lake" sometimes proved most impressive where other American companies falter — in the thrilling Spanish and Hungarian group dances of Act 3, for example. Classical showpieces didn't always fare as well, with the Act 1 pas de trois especially problematic except for Julia Cinquemani. Playing the Jester (a character added to the ballet during the Soviet era), Robert Mulvey wasn't always technically reliable but he did nail a spectacular series of high-speed pirouettes.
Bianca Bulle and Cinquemani brought polished technique to the Act 3 Russia Dance (an interpolation), though their flimsy costumes didn't look especially Russian and putting any of the so-called national dances on pointe is a miscalculation of their function in the ballet.
As Odette and Odile, Allyssa Bross met every test — dramatic and choreographic — faultlessly but dimly, as if reluctant to go for broke even when the steps and score cried for more than her skillful modesty. Yes, her White Swan offered supremely serene balances in extension and her Black Swan commanded smooth double fouettés. But she danced Saturday as if on approval, and she's much, much better than that.
As her Prince, Kenta Shimizu soloed gracefully and partnered unerringly without adding much dramatic heat to the proceedings. Much of Zheng Hua Li's portrayal of Rothbart was lost in the dark, but he looked suitably menacing whenever you could see him. Neary mimed authoritatively as the Queen Mother.
Although the first ensemble in Act 4 seemed strictly by-the-numbers, the swan corps usually danced beyond mere neatness to a level of soaring musicality that threatened to outclass the subdued principals.
These days nearly every company tries to add its own unique spin to "Swan Lake," and the Los Angeles Ballet edition contains one disastrous example: its "so what?" ending. It does dispose of one major character (none too convincingly) but otherwise resolves nothing, like those films that arrange plot points inconclusively to set up a sequel. So unless Christensen and Neary have a "Swan Lake II" in the works, they might well rethink this needless innovation.