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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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Valerie Harmon and Ryan Martin in Milwaukee Ballet's "Swan Lake."
Valerie Harmon and Ryan Martin in Milwaukee Ballet's "Swan Lake." (Photo: Brian Lipchik)
Luz San Miguel and Valerie Harmon in Milwaukee Ballet's "Swan Lake."
Luz San Miguel and Valerie Harmon in Milwaukee Ballet's "Swan Lake." (Photo: Brian Lipchik)
Valerie Harmon and Ryan Martin in Milwaukee Ballet's "Swan Lake."
Valerie Harmon and Ryan Martin in Milwaukee Ballet's "Swan Lake." (Photo: Brian Lipchik)

"Swan Lake" satisfies

The Milwaukee Ballet’s 2012-13 season began in October with a never-before-seen work (Michael Pink’s "La Boheme") and ends this weekend with what is arguably the most recognized ballet production in the history of the art form.

Michael Pink’s interpretation of "Swan Lake" is at times joyful, at times melancholic, but always physically sublime. There is no better ballet to show off the skill and grace of a company of world-class professional dancers, and that’s exactly what Pink does: he shows them off – or rather, parts of them. Some dances emphasize the beauty of the dancers’ legs, like Alexandre Ferreira’s gleeful jetes in Act I, or the naked limbs of the swan corps as they hover, shiver and flutter as one unified entity.

Other dances are all about the arms, like the pas de deux at the end of Act I with the human Prince Siegfried and cursed swan Odette as he struggles to keep her from spreading her wings and flying away from his embrace.

There were plenty of little touches here and there that I thought made this production truly unique and a real treat to watch. The audience saw a softer, more natural swan corps than usual; like I said before, if I’m not mistaken, Odette & Co. were not wearing tights, and the aesthetic of the hazy lighting against their varying skin tones really highlighted their underlying humanity (they are, after all, not just swans but cursed women).

Their hair was also not in the traditional bun, which was an interesting look and allowed for a lot of movement.

I have to mention the lighting, which perfectly mimicked the hazy glow of twilight. It made the dances where the swans come back to human form so much more enchanting.

Timothy O'Donnell played a fantastic Rothbart and frankly, I wish the character would have had more stage time. The audience responded well to his cape-swirling drama and his great chemistry with Odile. 

The lack of the traditional pancake tutu on the swans, who instead wore a more romantic short skirt, was something I wrote about a few days ago, and I was very interested to see how it played out onstage. It took a little getting used to, but I think this bold choice was the right one. The Milwaukee Ballet mentioned on Twitter that the skirts were supposed to have a "wet" look, which is appropriate for these wilder and more natural swans. Altogether, everything - the choreography and costuming alike - had less of a "polished" feel, which I think was pretty effective.

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the tutu-less look – it seemed to compromise the juxtaposition between Odette and Odile, the Black Swan conjured by Rothbart to seduce Prince Siegfried. They’re usually portrayed as opposite sides of the same coin. But by the end of the second act the peerless onstage personality that is Annia Hidalgo (who played Odile) had completely changed my mind. That girl is fierce, and it seemed fitting that she was the only one in a tutu. How about all the ballerinas in the world just give their tutus to Annia Hidalgo? That seems fair. 

One aspect that I found disappointing was the quickness of the ending. I remember in 2006 that some people said they were brought to tears by the dramatic conclusion of the ballet, but this audience seemed relatively unaffected. What was more, the traditional "dying swan" dance was short and tidy almost to the point that you missed it.

It wasn’t an anticlimax, per se, but it just felt strange when so much time had been devoted to the deeply emotional love affair of Siegfried and Odette. I felt like the audience needed to mourn her a little bit more. Her exit was crying out for just a little more embellishment.

Any fan of classical music, ballet enthusiast or not, should see this performance. I doubt you will hear a more moving rendition of Tchaikovsky's iconic score than the one presented by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra. 

"Swan Lake" runs through Sunday at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. For more information, visit milwaukeeballet.org.

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