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Kent Stowell's Swan Lake a dreamy tale of love and loss

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(L-R) Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers Malena Ani, Yuki Takahashi, Madison Rayn Abeo, and Clara Ruf Maldonado in Kent Stowell's Swan Lake — Photo by Angela Sterling
(L-R) Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers Malena Ani, Yuki Takahashi, Madison Rayn Abeo, and Clara Ruf Maldonado in Kent Stowell's Swan Lake — Photo by Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet
Kent Stowell's Swan Lake
Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
McCaw Hall
February 3, 2024

The last time Pacific Northwest Ballet staged Swan Lake was two years ago — of course, there was a pandemic... But now that the danger has abated, we're delighted by its return, so we can return to McCaw Hall to see this great dream of dance, story, and music.

The opening night on February 3 was as beautiful and exciting as ever, with many new dancers joining our company favorites. The house was packed with an excited and appreciative audience.

Composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's music is familiar to most of us as orchestral pieces, but until you see the ballet it was written for, you haven't experienced the total magic of the maestro's work. Choreographer Kent Stowell built dances on the original foundation of the first choreographer, Maurice Petipa, who commissioned Tchaikovsky's dance music down to the last measure in service of the story he envisioned.

Set in an imaginary kingdom — brilliantly evoked by Paul Tazewell's fabulous costumes and Ming Cho Lee's cleverly classical sets — Swan Lake is the tale of an evil sorcerer who turns a princess and her ladies into swans condemned to wander until they are released by true love. The story includes an army of courtiers, brides, swans, and supporting players, including a jester (Kuu Sakuragi), whose twinkling, airborne dances are delightful.

In Act 1 of this tale of love and loss, we see the handsome Prince Siegfried (Jonathon Batista) at his coming-of-age birthday party. The elegant Queen Mother (Lily Wills) insists that he choose a wife from among the princesses she has invited, but Siegfried just wants to do is go hunting with his courtier buddies.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Angelica Generosa and Jonathan Batista in Kent Stowell's Swan Lake — Photo by Angela Sterling  

While doing that, he sees a flock of swans land on a lake and turn into beautiful women, led by Princess Odette (Angelica Generosa). Since this is a fairy tale, he falls instantly in love with her and proposes, but he is warned away by a wicked sorcerer (Otto Neubert). In the next three acts, the prince and the swans search for each other, are thwarted by an imitation princess (Generosa as the black swan, Odile), and are ultimately parted as the flock is compelled to fly away, leaving Siegfried heartbroken. Woven through this tragic fantasy are dance after dance of dramatic and beautiful expressions of love, optimism, and despair.

The most famous moments come at the entrance of 24 swans hopping and fluttering in sinuous curves, wearing white costumes that cleverly express the presence of wings. Later, in the dance of the cygnets, four young women face the audience, holding hands lattice-style, and execute two minutes of the most precise dancing imaginable, including 16 consecutive pas de chats, crossing ankles while airborne as they move sideways across the stage.

Madison Rayn Abeo, Malena Ani, Clara Ruf Maldonado, and Yuki Takahashi did a wonderful job in this iconic piece, which often heralds the emergence of future stars. Case in point: in the 2015 PNB production, one of the little cygnets was Angelica Generosa, who danced this evening's star turn as Odette/Odile. Likewise, this current revival of Swan Lake is a showcase for a new generation of PNB dancers.

Going to the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle is a lot more casual and fun than in other cities with major dance companies. The audiences are dressed both up and down — from flowing gowns to tattered jeans — and they come in all ages, from toddlers with booster seats to elders with walking sticks. The lobby and promenades of McCaw Hall are full of attendees who represent a wide range of races and nationalities, and PNB's company of dancers have come to reflect that variety themselves. On opening night, the audience saw much more variation: curvy figures; flowing, braided, and knotted hair; tall dancers; short dancers; and a broad range of ages and origins.

How refreshing to see dancers who look more like us, no matter what we look like. We can imagine ourselves transported into that magical world more easily.

I also appreciated Stowell's choreography for very young dancers — pages following the Queen, an Indian princess with four smiling attendants, a ceremonial poesy of little girls in flowing white dresses.

Don't miss this wonderful ballet at McCaw Hall through February 11, 2024. Tickets are at https://www.pnb.org