Great Lake

slswans1mAmerican Ballet Theatre is recognized as one of the world’s great dance companies. Considered a living national treasure since its founding in 1940, ABT is the only major cultural institution to annually tour the United States. Probably the most representative of American ballet companies, during its nearly 70-year history the ensemble has appeared in 126 cities in 42 countries, often sponsored by the U. S. State Department.

Los Angeles audiences have enjoyed regular opportunities to see productions of the venerable institution. This Thursday through Sunday, March 27 through March 30, ABT brings 5 performances of Tchaikovsky’s immortal “Swan Lake” to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The tragic love story of the enchanted swan princess and her hapless prince has been part of the ABT repertory, in one form or another, since the 1960s. This production, staged by ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie, had its world premiere at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center in 2000.

“ABT will present five different Swan Queens and four Prince Siegfrieds in Los Angeles,” Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre, tells FineArtsLA. “The supporting casts will be equally diverse. That should keep things fresh and exciting for dancers and audiences alike.”

Opening night will feature McKenzie protégés Michele Wiles and David Hallberg as the star-crossed interspecies couple. In something of an understatement, Barbee says, ”The technical and artistic challenges for the dancers are remarkable.” Dramatically, Wiles has the arduous task of bringing to life both the fragile and tormented Swan Queen Odette, and her evil arch rival, Odile.

Wiles was promoted to Principal Ballerina less than three years ago, after a decade of careful nurturing. A statuesque 5’8” in her slippers, Wiles has always stood out. During her long, slow ascendance, critics couldn’t fail to notice her technical brilliance and classical perfection. But, in among the kudo’s were observations that the young artist lacked passion or emotional connection to the dances. All that changed when Kevin McKenzie sent Wiles and Hallberg to compete for the International Erik Bruhn Prize, given every two years. Ms. Wiles and Mr. Hallberg soared through a bravura ”Grand Pas Classique,” and Ms. Wiles won first prize.

Critics have waxed eloquent over her new dramatic maturity and depth. Wiles earns consistent praise as Odette/Odile, for both the tender lyricism and stupendous athleticism required of a prima ballerina in this quintessential Tchaikovsky “white ballet.”

For over a hundred years, companies large and small, serious and irreverent, have mounted their own versions of the work. As Victor Barbee says, ”Swan Lake is synonymous with classical ballet for very good reason: it’s magical.”

Below is a sampling of that magic, from a previous ABT production:

- Penny Orloff

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