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A Beautiful Swan

by Jules Becker
Thursday Jun 2, 2022

Viktorina Kapitonova as Odette and Lasha Khozashvili as Siegfried in Boston Ballet's presentation of "Swan Lake: Rosalie O'Connor Photography
Viktorina Kapitonova as Odette and Lasha Khozashvili as Siegfried in Boston Ballet's presentation of "Swan Lake: Rosalie O'Connor Photography  

Swan Lake, Boston Ballet, Citizen Bank Opera House, through June 5. Virtual stream June 9-19. or 617-695-6955

It is hard to believe that Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" (1875-76) was initially regarded as a failure after its original Russian staging (1877). Only when French choreographer Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov collaborated on a new edition two years after the composer's death (1893) did the now internationally popular ballet begin to receive recognition as a truly great work.

Now Boston Ballet has returned to the Petipa-Levanov conception; it premiered in 2014 in a grand revival with additional choreography by company artistic director Mikko Nissinen. The result—exquisitely danced at the Citizen Bank Opera House by the corps as well as the leads—is hauntingly breathtaking.

Nissinen may feel that the ballet's scenario is as mysterious as the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart. Theories abound about what may have originally been a folk tale with supernatural elements. Could Bavarian King Ludwig II (whose life was thought to be marked by the sign of the swan) have been the prototype for focal young Prince Siegfried?

Such questions aside, choreographer Nissinen has strikingly established Von Rothbart's hold on the swans very early on and given him his due as a pivotal character—particularly as danced with slithering moves by Tigran Mkrtchyan opening night (casts alternate throughout the run).

Of course the essential story begins as disarmingly as ever with Siegfried relatively carefree at the castle gardens. Ji Young Chae, Chisako Oga and especially quick-turning Derek Dunn bring fine form and sweet jauntiness to the pas de trois. Lasha Khozashvili, properly love-struck with Odette, has the right day-dreaming demeanor here.

Corps members are exuberant in the goblet dance and lantern sequence. Khozashvili makes expressive turns with the crossbow given to him by the Queen Mother (properly regal Kathleen Mitchell).

As Siegfried meets Odette at the lake, she understandably reacts with reserve. Still, their romance begins. Even so, the prince must endure the well-meant match-making attempts of the Queen Mother. Khozashvili's non-committal partnering with six princesses quickly establishes the futility of those efforts.

Before the dramatic entrance of Von Rothbart and his daughter Odile, there are high energy ethnic groupings—Spanish dance, Czardas, Neapolitan and Mazurka (sporting designer Robert Perdziola's colorful outfits).

Traditionally the ballerina who dances the role of white swan Odette also dances the role of black swan Odile. Viktorina Kapitonova demonstrates the expressiveness of an actress as well as the technique of a superb prima ballerina. She has all of Odette's vulnerability and Odile's seductiveness. That seductiveness is all the more stunning when Siegfried appears to be spellbound by Odile's enticing solo dance. Kapitonova's electrifying turns and amazing form make the deception instantly convincing.

With the final return to the title lake in the fourth act, a humbled Siegfried seeks redemption. Music director Mischa Santora—powerfully leading the Boston Ballet orchestra in the softer and louder passages of Tchaikovsky's entrancing score—captures the dominant if sometimes soaring sadness of Siegfried and Odette's reunion.

As riveting as that reunion is the movingly synchronized ensemble of the corps members dancing as Odette's fellow swans. Their strong work on pointe and their sharp hand and arm gesturing demonstrate the high caliber of the company as much as the work of the leads.

In Nissinen's playbill letter, the artistic director refers to the Boston Ballet's "Swan Lake" as the season's "grand finale." Considering the beauty of this revival, that designation is unquestionably an understatement.