Continuity of tradition dominates the ballet world — and so does the new ways tradition can be embodied, reinterpreted and sometimes undermined year after year.
Last performed in 2014, the Los Angeles Ballet “Swan Lake” returned to the company repertory Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, with most of the cast new to their roles. The level of dancing remained skillful throughout a long evening — one made longer by three painfully long intermissions — but the result seemed cooler, more restrained and formal than in past L.A. Ballet performances. Only the swan-corps consistently danced at the imposing scale of the recorded Tchaikovsky score, and high-Romantic fervor stayed conspicuously absent.
You could argue that the company needs a dramaturge to prevent the work from becoming a classical exercise, for everything from the carefully coached but small-scale Goblet Dance in Act 1 to the passionless final reunion of the lovers three acts later took refuge in a bland technical proficiency.
The problems proved most damaging at the top of the roster. If you looked very closely you could see that company stalwart Kenta Shimizu had developed a detailed and thoughtful interpretation of Prince Siegfried. But his insights stayed so subdued that they created little emotional force. As usual, his unerring partnering prowess and reliability as a soloist earned him pride of place, but his rapport with his swan queen needed development.
In her first season with the company, Italian principal Petra Conti displays the ideal proportions and technical mastery for Odette/Odile, but on Saturday she seemed more attuned to Black Swan bravado (including a spectacular unsupported balance in extension) than White Swan suffering. When she laughed as Odile, you could feel her taunting scorn, but when she cried as Odette no real pain supported the conventional ballet pantomime. Conti was never less than admirable but never remotely heartbreaking, delivering the steps but not the soul of “Swan Lake” lyricism.
As Rothbart, Zheng Hua Li did what he could with a mindless stalk-and-swirl character-concept, though the final curtain fell directly onto him, adding an unintended coda to his performance. Although his mugging during the Act 3 fanfares looked desperate, Akimitsu Yahata made a spirited, flashy Jester. As Benno, Tigran Sargsyan brought his big, easy jumps to the Act 1 pas de trois, though the partnering wasn’t yet effortless. Laura Chachich and Jasmine Perry danced faultlessly in this and other showpieces, while Bianca Bulle, Magnus Christoffersen and Alyssa Harrington deserved more than their relatively minor assignments.
Once again, company directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary based their choreography on the classic Petipa-Ivanov “Swan Lake” of 1895 and as before, their staging borrowed sets and costumes from Oregon Ballet Theatre.
The program synopsis promised a tragic finale (“the curse remains eternal”), but ticketholders who made it to the final tableau saw a happy ending. Obviously tradition continues to evolve at L.A. Ballet, but some real dramatic heat is needed to keep this valiant remake of a masterpiece from growing heartless.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd. Also 7:30 p.m. March 15-17 at Royce Hall, UCLA.
Tickets: $36-$104 (subject to change; at last check, May 10, 16 and 17 performances were sold out)
Information: (310) 998-7782, losangelesballet.org
Running time: About 3 hours, 15 minutes (with three intermissions)