The gorgeous and iconic 1877 ballet “Swan Lake,” a signature of the classical dance repertoire composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, will be presented by Dayton Ballet beginning Friday, March 9, at the Schuster Center.
Seen for the first time on the Schuster’s Mead Theatre stage accompanied by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, the romantic and epic “Swan Lake” tells the enchanting story of Odette, a princess transformed into a swan by a sorcerer’s curse who falls in love with Prince Siegfried.
The Dayton Ballet production notably retains the outline of the original story, but choreographer Septime Webre, former Washington Ballet and current Hong Kong Ballet Artistic Director, has changed the setting to New York’s high society circa 1912.
The production will reportedly delve deeper into the ballet’s psychological themes, specifically Siegfried’s internal struggle, the battle between good and evil, represented by the white and black swans he imagines in his dreams. The production will also incorporate the full corps of 16 swans in the famous White Acts.
“First and foremost this ballet features one of the most beautiful scores,” said Dayton Ballet Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke. “It’s also a ballet that provides one of the most ultimate challenges for a dancer, particularly the corps work for women overall and the women who play the roles of Odette and (Black Swan) Odile. ‘Swan Lake’ is a show that people simply have in their head as to what classical ballet is perhaps even more so than ‘The Nutcracker.’ You hear the music in this show and you imagine the swans and the tutus. The ‘Black Swan’ film also helped people reference ‘Swan Lake’ to a greater degree in recent years.”
“I think this is the piece where Tchaikovsky really became Tchaikovsky,” added DPO Artistic Director and Conductor Neal Gittleman. “As much as I like his pre-‘Swan Lake’ music, it can have a tendency to go on and on. I suspect the strict discipline of writing short and medium-length pieces for the choreography helped him figure out how to be a better composer. The ‘Swan Lake’ and beyond pieces, beginning with the Fourth Symphony, are his real masterpieces, and I think this ballet was the catalyst for that development. By the time of ‘Swan Lake,’ Tchaikovsky was well aware of what Wagner was up to. So, he understood Wagner’s idea of using the orchestra to portray the inner emotional life of characters on stage and he did something very similar in ‘Swan Lake.’”
Burke particularly describes Webre’s original choreography as ‘extremely energetic and challenging” with a clear variation between two central ideas.
“Septime has great style,” she said. “There are moments which are off-center and very sexy with a lot of hip movements such as the Party Acts, but the Swan Acts are classically on-center, containing true traditional ballet you’d expect. His Party Acts recall the work of George Balanchine. It’s a very abstract approach.”
“The original story is kind of goofy, but Septime Webre’s scenario for the non-swan scenes has a very compelling physiology to it and the emotional power of the music really animates and reinforces that,” Gittleman added. “The set pieces for dance are all perfect for the choreography and the dramatic and narrative passages, such as the final scene, are absolutely masterful. Seeing all those swans at once is absolutely mesmerizingly beautiful.”
Burke and Gittleman discussed collaborating on “Swan Lake” in the past, but Burke didn’t feel it was the right time for Dayton Ballet. She’s pleased the artistic stars have finally aligned for the company to showcase the grace and athleticism of its talented dancers to full effect. In fact, Dayton Ballet Rehearsal Assistant Sharon Neumeister is helping set the ballet. During her 10 years as a dancer with Dayton Ballet, she memorably portrayed Odette, the White Swan, in 2007.
“The role of Odette is one that every little girl who studies ballet dreams of one day performing,” Neumeister said. “It is technically demanding and artistically challenging. Having the opportunity to perform as Odette was a dream come true, and now to be able to coach other dancers in that role is truly an honor.”
“This production shows our versatility,” Burke reminded. “It shows that a lot of our young dancers in the corps are really stepping up. To see our women be able to dance neo-classical and very jazzy at one point in a party scene and turn around and do the exact opposite by putting on a classical white long tutu and make sure every head, finger and toe is pointed the right way, is a challenge. You have to have certain mature seasoned dancers among the women within the company to be able to pull that off. We knew this was the season for us to do ‘Swan Lake.’”