At the Orange County Center for the Performing Arts American Ballet Theatre's "Swan Lake" is an interesting production with some very unique touches. This company really gets you in the mood with their curtains. For this there is a marble proscenium arch with vines entwined around it, and a curtain of a lake that has more atmosphere than most anything this side of Claude Monet. Rothbart appears behind the scrim and Odette skitters across the stage. He lifts her, spins her around his head, disappears, and comes back holding a struggling swan. Kevin McKenzie uses two von Rothbarts. There's the usual character actor, Brain Reeder who has this green mossy cape with white make-up, and looks like some sort of swamp thing. Marcelo Gomes is a dashing young Rothbart, very athletic, and looks like any Mephistopheles portrayed by Samuel Ramey.

The curtain rises on the celebration. It's a vibrant setting and everything about it has a rustic feeling, even the aristocrats. The only real royalty here is Siegfried. He surveys the scene making grand, sweeping gestures. His solo is power and grace as he leaps high and scissors, clicking his heels. There's a sextet of guys who are joined by a group of girls. They dance around a pole, holding long streamers, and Siegfried jumps upon the shoulders of two guys and surveys the scene.

The pas de trois is spectacular. Erica Cornejo, Xiomara Reyes, and Herman Cornejo sizzle. They're athletic and elegant. The guy jumps high, spins the girls and they fly around the stage. This is one of the most exciting first acts I've seen, and the rustic feeling of it reminds me of Rubens' peasant celebration in his painting "La Kermesse."

Act 2 has a castle in the background with an orange glow in the sky. The lake is implied behind some rocks, and steam roils off it to the front of the stage. Julie Kent steals the show as Odette. Everything is slow and sensuous. Her legs churn and her arms move in elegant sweeping motion. She hardly seems to move, but rather glides. She's perfectly in tune with the music, and her whole body is like a violin string bending with it. She wraps herself around the sound, chases another. She hardly seems to move, but is in constant motion. She throws her head back, leans back more than usual, and does a lot of flutters. Julie Kent is probably the most feminine Odette I've seen, and is simply spectacular.Rothbart spreads his arms or wings, or whatever you want to call them, and Odette is drawn towards him. The high stepping swans kick their legs out in front of them. There's almost a hint of can-can in it, but oh so elegant and graceful.

This act is always choreographed after Petipa, but the real good ones add their own touches. Kevin McKenzie here, moves the large groups of swans out to the sides and has the small groups in the center. Helgi Tomasson, on the other hand, moves everyone through the center, meshing and dancing through each other, with the smaller groups and soloists more toward the front. Odette slides down to the floor, stretches forward, and touches her toes with her head. Siegfried raises her up, and they do a slow, amorous pas de deux. The Cygnettes are always a favorite and these are crisp and lively as they kick and flutter. Siegried holds Odette high in triumph. Rothbart appears, she turns to the force, and flutters off-stage as the scrim closes.

Act 3 is the grand ballroom. All of the character dances are very Russian. They're excellent entertainment, but this always lasts too long. Rothbart and Odile make a grand entrance through a door, with steam roiling out. This is the young, debonair, and athletic Rothbart. He does a sizzling solo, surrounded by women, and moves with purpose to the chair beside the Queen Mother. He sits down and snaps his head around to look squarely at her before moving back away. The Black Swan Pas de Deux is like none I've seen. Jose Manuel Carreno is a regal and athletic Siegfried. Odile propels herself effortlessly to his shoulder and he lifts her high. She spins, her footwork is smooth and effortless as she appears to defy gravity. Her arms are folded, then unfolded, lifted elegantly, then back in. It's all so smooth you hardly notice and she just seems to glide. She does eighteen fouettes. When Siegfried embraces her, Odette appears high at the back of the stage. This one doesn't appear to be a projection, but a real dancer. Rothbart spreads his evil shape, a smoke bomb goes off, and the damage is done.

Act 4 is much more subdued and melancholy than usual. Lightning flashes with the group of swans, still all in white. Odette leans forward with her arms back and her body actually looks like a swan. Everything's over now, and you feel it everywhere. Rothbart lifts Odette high, and Siegfried takes her away in mid-air. She goes up to the ledge and dives off with her body fully extended. There has to be something soft back there. Siegfried follows. Rothbart does a slow death dance that would make Puccini proud. The sun rises from the lake and when it reaches it's height, it fades to Odette and Siegfried embracing in it. "Swan Lake" is like the transcendence of the spirit over the material world, and this American Ballet Theatre production is simply stunning. Andrew Mogrelia led the Pacific Symphony Orchestra at The Orange County Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa.

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