The New York City Ballet opened its 17/18 Season Tuesday night with a revival of the seminal ballet, “Swan Lake,” with reconstructed choreography by Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins. “Swan Lake” is one of the 61 ballets the company will be performing over the next 21 weeks at its home base, David H. Koch Theater.
The story is a classic. A girl, Odette, is turned into a swan and needs true love to break the spell. She falls for Prince Siegfried, but he, in return, falls for the wrong girl — her evil alternate Odile — and subsequently kills herself.
Marking its almost-dozenth revival in the past decade, the show’s central shared-role, Odette/Odile, was danced by tenured ballerina Sara Mearns, who debuted the role 11 years ago as a wide-eyed 20-year-old in the corps de ballet. The role today, as senior Principal Dancer, feels like “her own,” according to the dancer in a New York Times interview.
“I’m comfortable with eyes on me,” Mearns said. “Come and see me dance. Be in this world with me.”
Mearns’ comfort on stage is prevalent in her performance – a standout artistically and technically among the corps of 30 swans that frame her. Her technicality and commanding presence were noteworthy, representing a mastery of the famous 19th Century choreography, and the Black Swan’s daunting 32 fouettes, at impressive, new speeds. Mearns was never herself, appearing removed from the audience and the dancers around her, fully in her head, fully Odette/Odile.
Mearns separates herself from common tropes of Balanchine ballerinas, embodying both artistry and athleticism, often compromised by the former to showcase technical heights over emotional depth.
The characters at the story’s core — courtiers, villagers, swans — however, are more keen to athleticism than story-telling, appearing more as a company class than a royal court.
The first act’s Pas de trois, danced by soloists Erica Pereira, Brittany Pollack and Joseph Gordon, demonstrates, evidencing technical mastery over character work, a preference in 21st Century ballet — New York City Ballet in particular. Current principals, even Swan Queens, have tackled this choreography, too, but always seemed out of place. They were eventually promoted to the ballet’s more demanding roles, like Siegfried, the Jester and the Hungarian, Russian, Spanish and Neapolitan leads.
Tyler Angle and Daniel Ulbricht, the Prince and Jester, are exceptional in their respective roles, nailing every classical step in their seminal variations, appearing far from surface level.
The costumes and set, true to the Company’s neoclassical roots, are designed by Per Kirkeby. Kirkeby’s designs of red-veined swans and neon Prince Charmings are very Brothers Grimm meets Warholian experimentalism, representative of the dynamic dancers wearing them.
NYCB’s reimagined and remixed “Swan Lake” runs at the David H. Koch Theater until Sunday, Oct. 1, continuing its season with George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker,” a three-week Jerome Robbins Centennial, and several world premieres by Lauren Lovette, Justin Peck, Troy Schumacher, and Peter Walker. Tickets can be purchased at nycballet.com, with student tickets priced at $30.
Email Ryan Mikel at [email protected].