Please also view my oil paintings of ballet in my Dance Gallery

The San Francisco Ballet's "Swan Lake" is a spectacle for the senses with lavish mid-19th century costumes and sets and a dazzling cast of dancers. Helgi Tomasson's choreography is faithful to the ballet's traditional roots, but adds clarity and drama to several parts. He adds a solo for Siegfried at the end of Act 1 where he does some odd, modernish angular leaps that capture and define the conflict he feels. The pas de trois features the dazzling footwork of Julia Adam, twirls, and leaps of the mostly airborn Kristin Long, and the strength and powerful jumps of Christopher Stowell. The multilayered ensemble also features six children from the San Francisco Ballet School. The set has a stone archway at the rear that is a partial ruins with branches growing out of it. The foreground has a bench with two columns. One has a beautiful bouquet growing out of it, the other is broken. With all of the elegance and opulence, we still are never far from the tragedy that is to come.

Act 2 opens with steam roiling off the lake on the front of the stage. Von Rothbart rises up from the smoke, and does this demonic dance laying his spells around the stage like a dog staking out his territory. When Siegfried and Odette embrace, Von Rothbart casts his spell to pull her away. She fights it, but he's in control. This act is faithful to Lev Ivanov's original choreography. The swan ensemble is simply dazzling, while the precision of the Cygnets never fails to amaze me.

In the third act, we move to the ballroom. We have only the aristocracy now, with no peasants. The big painting on the wall shows an allegory of the story, with the swan, the princess, and the prince. We have the character dances to lighten it up a bit, and juxtapose the grand entrance of Von Rothbart and Odile, and the drama of The Black Swan Pas de Deux and the stunning finale, where Siegfried realizes he's been tricked, as Odette appears in the allegorical painting. Tomasson eliminates the break between acts, and we move right back to the lake where Siegfried and Odette are reunited. There's a resignation to them now. The only thing left is their love for each other. In that resignation and love, however, they are now able to repel Von Rothbart's spells. Instead of pulling her away from Siegfried, he is pushed away and defeated as they make their final death leaps in triumph. She is resolute, without a thought to death. Siegfried hesitates momentarily, then follows her, as they are reunited at the end.

Joanna Berman and Cyril Pierre as Odette/Odile and Siegfried portray the characters with more lifelike emotion than I've ever seen. They take the art of dancing actors to a new level. You feel his intentness and discouragemement when he first sees her and she seems unattainable to him. She encourages him, and he comes alive and you feel his emotion. Berman is absolutely scintillating. You feel her confidence and vulnerability. She portrays three distinctly different characters. Her first Odette has hope. In Act 3 as Odile she has a smirk on her face and in every movement of her body. In Act 4 she marks time as she waits for death. She's defeated, but where in Act 2 Von Rothbart's magic pulled her slowly, but surely away from Siegfried, now their love repels him as they find freedom in death. These are two very athletic dancers, too. Siegfried effortlessly flies around the stage, landing in positions that look awkward, but graceful. Berman moves her arms in ripples that make her look like she has no bones. The Black Swan Pas de Deux is absolutely scintillating as she does about 35 twirls. Jorge Esquivel's Von Rothbart is not only the incarnation of evil, but he is very active and athletic, as he lifts ballerina and Siegfried. I've seen "Swan Lake" by The Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi, and the Kirov but this is the only production where Von Rothbart has a real dancing role. In the others he's like a prop. I have never seen a work of performance art with as much beauty, precision, intensity, and attention to detail as Helgi Tomasson's redition of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" at The San Francisco Ballet.

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Last Updated February 27, 2005 by Paul Berenson