A leap forward is what can best describe the presentation of Swan Lake this weekend at the Gallo Center for the Arts. A first for Central West Ballet, Swan Lake is the last of the essential classics to be pioneered by the young ballet company. Central West has taken major steps in recent years to establish itself as a professional ballet company.
It was clear over the weekend performances, that Swan Lake's success relied on a solid Swan Corps de Ballet and taste in presentation. One could tell a lot went into bringing essential details to the production, including correct hair styles and classical grooming. Acts II and IV, which is what defines Swan Lake and is what any production of this heavy weight of classics is judged by, was danced with expertise and honesty by Central West Ballet. A healthy number of twenty Swans filled the stage with convincing allure. Set by CWB Ballet Mistress Leslie Ann Larson, the purity of the Acts was permeating the audience and the exactitude of the corps lines was mesmerizing. Larson's work as Ballet Mistress is world class and deserves the highest of commendations.
Although with just enough dancers to fill the stage, the opening first act had energy and spirit with the birthday festivities of Prince Siegfried. Performed by Brandon Phelps on Opening Night, the role of Siegfried was in good hands with command and an attractive presence. Phelps handled the pressure of carrying the show with honor and valiant dancing. On Sunday, Joseph Adkins took the stage in full Prince mode, bringing his impeccable stagecraft to the role. The opening Waltz, featuring a CWB ensemble, was appropriate, with the group of subjects dancing in unison. Although slightly fragile at times and uneven in certain places, the dancers made up for any weaknesses by delivering the dance with good port de bras, épaulement and emotional content. The role of Benno, danced by First Soloist Brian Leonard, was portrayed with enthusiasm and with Leonard's easy elegance. The Queen Mother, a key role in carrying the story line, was portrayed by the guest appearance of Cassie Aiello. Beautiful and graceful, Aiello, who fares well at a height of six feet, was perfectly cast as the Queen, commanding the stage with surprising power for the young artist. Aiello's performance gave the scenes believability. On Friday, a Pas de Quatre with Principals Nicole Firpo, Elease Stice and Nathan Champion, joined by Phelps as Siegfried, was the first main attraction of the evening. Lengthy and difficult, the dances were handled with diligence and purpose. Firpo's variation reflected her grace and elegance, with a sense of correct classism. Her long legs and feminine charisma brought special atmosphere to the stage. Champion stepped onstage with great élan and energy in his solo, giving the audience many technical combinations and fireworks in his dancing. Stice was her usual charming self in her variation, handling intricate rhythms and fast moving angles with ease and flair. Phelps performed with a powerful presence in his dancing. Sunday's Pas de Quatre was performed by Principals Gabriella Moore, Alyssa Milano, Nathan Champion (repeating his role of Friday) and Joseph Adkins as Siegfried. Moore, who stepped onstage in her first featured variation as one of CWB's newest Principals, gave a finely tuned performance with a solid technique and artful movements. Moore also showed a fearless attitude in performance. Milano, in good form, delivered her variation with accuracy. Flowing to Tchaikovsky's music, she brought to the solo an attention to detail and quality reminiscent of a Balanchine dancer. Adkins, in fine shape, moved about the stage like a tiger in his solo.
On Friday, a short but pretty duet followed, danced by Soloists Adelina Milano and Noelle Im. Dancing with meaningful poses and genuine happiness, the two dancers were a breath of fresh air as they covered the stage. Sunday, it was up to Artists Amy Milano and Rena Mian to perform the Village Duet. Both dancers worked as a charming tandem, dancing with assurance and genuine excitement. Friday's Swan Lake Act I Pas de Trois followed, danced by Principal Gabrielle Barton and Soloists Kylie Welch and Brian Leonard. The trio was in good form and performed with care the many traditional passages of the dance. Welch was shining in her variation, giving a charming and picturesque performance. Leonard was well cast in his solo, with precise lines and effortless jumps. His multiple turns were smooth and his elegance showed in Leonard a great leading dancer in the making. Barton was in perfect shape as she entered the stage. Her variation was clearly performed, with clean pointe work and secure technique. Sunday's cast was handled with charisma by First Soloists Liana Yates and Errika Reenstierna-Cates, with Brian Leonard repeating his role. Yates was never more appealing, with a youthful energy and originality in her dancing. Reenstierna-Cates filled the air with her grand movements and fearless attack. also delivering an energetic performance. Friday's and Sunday's Celebration Dance got a good presentation with the addition of Principal Character Dancer Bethany Phelps, leading the ensemble with both Phelps and Adkins respectively. Act one finished with a soliloquy, performed on Friday by Phelps as Siegfried and on Sunday by Adkins. Phelps covered the stage with power and care, giving his character a genuine charisma that made one care for the Prince. Adkins beautifully flowed across the floor with instinct and total grasp of the perennial adage solo.
Quintessential and Charismatic Swan Queens.
The appearance of Odette, the Swan Queen in Act II, was interpreted by Principal Dancer Sarah Weaver on Friday night. Weaver, in her first dramatic lead role, revealed herself as a great Ballerina with power to convey such a demanding role. With beautiful lines and the presence of a young Makarova, Weaver was fascinating to watch as she moved in a bird like manner through Act II. The partnership of Phelps and Weaver was pristine in the famous Act II Pas de Deux and Weaver's Swan solo moving and beautiful. On Sunday, new Principal Dancer Cerissa Urry stepped onstage as Odette with charismatic vitality and one of the strongest technique in the Company. Urry, a very petite dancer, managed to carry the role with length in her movements and great intelligence. With Adkins as her partner, Urry was in the best of hands, and the couple delivered an emotionally satisfying performance with sensitive moves and careful relation.
The world famous Cygnets dance was a show stopping moment, not only because it was well performed by Elizabeth Campbell, Kylie Welch, Noelle Im and Rachael Jensen, but it was also danced in its most difficult approach, with traveling échappés and full stage crossings. On Friday, the Two Tall Swans dance was performed in grand fashion by Principals Alyssa Milano and Gabriella Moore, adding class and distinction to the famous White Act. Sunday's cast of Nicole Firpo and Elease Stice was just as effective, with broad movements that filled the stage with artistry. The role of Sorcerer Von Rothbart was believably portrayed by Second Soloist Aaron Gulevich, who filled the stage with menacing moves and stature. Gulevich, who delighted audiences as a Stepsister in CWB's Cinderella showed another side of his abilities as a character driven performer with impressive stage presence and confidence.
Act III was effective and here again well devised in lieu of a smaller number of dancers overall, and the dancing was top notch. Early on Nathan Champion as the Jester delighted the audience with another show of exciting dance pyrotechnics. The Spanish Nobles were accurate in their dancing, with Friday's Spanish Lead Gabrielle Santos, giving a superb performance and Sunday's cast of Brittnie Cudo, who managed to bring in spirit in her dancing. The famous Princesses dance was exquisitely performed by Soloists Liana Yates, Erikka Reenstierna-Cates, Noelle Im and Artists Amy Milano, Kateri Ransom and Rena Mian.The Czardas was a hit with Principal Character Dancer Bethany Phelps and First Soloist Brian Leonard in the lead. Phelps was in superb form and expressive, with Leonard as a well matched partner. The Czardas ensemble was a delight to watch. The Neapolitan dance was vivaciously delivered by Principals Elizabeth Campbell and Joseph Adkins, who lit up the stage with charisma and energy on Friday and Kylie Welch and Brandon Phelps on Sunday, with Welch bringing onstage her exciting personality. The popularity of the Black Swan Pas de Deux was anticipated, and on Friday, Weaver in the dual role of Odile, showed how far she has come as a Principal dancer. Weaver succeeded in portraying a completely different character with passion and fierce energy. Phelps as Siegfried and Weaver as the evil Odile delivered another great moment of the evening. Adkins and Urry were a show stopping act in technique and style. With appeal and confidence, Adkins and Urry's Black Swan Pas de Deux was thrilling. Aaron Gulevich showed again great command as the evil Sorcerer Von Rothbart.
Central West Ballet has raised the bar even higher with pioneering this first production of Swan Lake. It is a commendable effort in building stronger foundations for the Company's future.