By Joel Benjamin
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s choreographer-director, Jean-Christophe Maillot has re-thought the traditional Swan Lake. As with his Romeo and Juliet which the troupe brought on its last appearance at the NY City Center, the results were uneven, but in the end, quite touching and illuminating.
In the original Swan Lake scenario a Prince has to marry because he is of age. Maillot uses that but has added several back stories, first revealed in an awkwardly made video showing the Prince falling in love with a pretty young maiden who will become the White Swan. But the young Prince is thwarted by Her Majesty of the Night who forces her daughter, the Black Swan on him. Things get even more complicated when it is implied that the Black Swan is the daughter of an assignation between Her Majesty and the King, father of the Prince, a fact that perturbs the Queen, his wife, throughout Lac, leading to some suggestive trios, full of nasty glances and feisty stances, and the uneasy thought that the Prince is actually wooing his half-sister at the tragic end of the story.
The Prince has a good buddy called the Confidant played by the boyish Joseph Hernandez, who is both playmate and conscience, who mirrors the original, too. Also on hand are a bevy of Pretenders aka perspective fiancées, all lovely ladies in colorful dresses with distinctive personalities (The Vain One, The Indifferent One, The Libertines and the Voracious One—all with distinctively explicit choreography).
The Prince woos the White Swan, is deceived by Her Majesty of the Night when she substitutes her daughter, the Black Swan, camouflaged in white, in a plot twist that leads to tragedy when the real White Swan sees the Prince kissing the other swan. In the end all the bubbling frustrations and emotions boil over and lead to tragic loss of life.
Mr. Maillot’s main intention appears to be adding psychological depth to the fairytale and he succeeds, although some of the psychological undertones are a bit heavy handed. His choreography excels in revealing inner emotions, but fails in comparison with the original, particularly in his use of the “White Swan” Pas de Deux music, a triumph of 19th century dance making, which he uses in a far more pedestrian fashion with lots of walking about and warm embraces. Also, it’s quizzical that he chose to set his plot in a distant, but undefined, period. It might have worked better if he had placed the action in today’s world where the sexual innuendos and mix-and-match couplings would have read as truly revealing. The chronological distancing makes Lac merely another fairytale.
As Her Majesty of the Night, April Ball was properly over the top, baring her teeth, kicking and squirming, held back and helped by the two Archangels of Darkness, the darkly handsome Christian Tworzyanski and Ediz Erguc who wore their flowing black pants and black feathered headdresses with aplomb. As the King, Gabriele Corrado was forced to dance between his wife and Ms. Ball’s character while tending to finding a wife for his naïve son. He was a manly presence, moving with gusto. His wife, the Queen, was played by Mi Deng who was all sinuous malice.
Lucien Postlewaite’s Prince was wide-eyed and sweet. He displayed a smooth technique and an ardency that was quite appealing. His true love, the White Swan was danced with delicacy by Anjara Ballesteros. Noelani Pantastico’s Black Swan was tough yet subtle.
The costumes by Philippe Guillotel kept to the indefinite period theme and were a mishmash of formal wear for the men, pretty layered dressed for the perspective brides and short black or white outfits for the Black and White Swans, flecked with feathers. A nice touch was the headdresses of pointy feathers and arm-length gloves that ended in feathery tips. The only lapse was the costumes for the chorus of Swans who looked as if they were wearing white bathing suits with odd decorations.
The sets by Ernest Pignon-Ernest varied between three very plain, square stylized thrones backed by panels of white cloth and a craggy version of tiny mountains with a cave entrance in the middle.
I wish the Monte Carlo troupe could have stayed longer and offered a least one more ballet, but the company made a good impression this visit and will always be welcome.
Photos: Alice Blangero
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo – March 14-16, 2014
Lac (after Swan Lake)
New York City Center
131 West 55th St. between 6th & 7th Aves.
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-581-1212 or www.nycitycenter.org
More Information: www.balletsdemontecarlo.com