Adam Sklute has a vision. As Ballet West’s Artistic Director, Sklute takes an idea, molds it and presents his labor of love to the ballet patrons of Salt Lake City. As the curtain rises at the Capitol Theatre, the question he likely asks is, “will you see it as I see it?” I answer, how can I not?
Swan Lake is a classic. It’s one of the most famous ballets of all time. It has a rich history and the story has been re-told countless times over the past 130 years. But for every person who has seen the ballet or knows the story, there are thousands, like me, who have not.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to see Ballet West’s production of Swan Lake and the most meaningful thing I can say is to thank Adam Sklute for his vision. It was a beautiful production.
Sklute welcomed the audience to Swan Lake, offering this timeless ballet to us “once again, and for the very first time”. He and the Ballet West Masters created new choreography, bringing Sklute’s concept and vision to the stage, and what they produced was a story of grace, love, heartache, and elegance.
When I sat down to the performance, I read the synopsis of the first act. I wasn’t familiar with the story, and wanted to live in the moment without any preconceptions. As the Utah Chamber Orchestra began to play Tchaikovsky’s all-too-familiar theme from Swan Lake, tears welled up in my eyes and I got the chills. It was a magical moment and the curtain hadn’t even yet risen.
I had previously seen Ryan Galbraith’s photos of this production, and I could see that the costumes would be stunning. I was particularly looking forward to the black swan. When the swan appeared on the stage with his wings outstretched, you could see how much detail went into his costume. The feathers on the swan’s back shimmered with opalescence, and the under side of the swan’s wings were as black and shiny as tar. Gorgeous!
If you don’t know the story of Swan Lake, here are the basics. A princess named Odette is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer. A prince, Siegfried, finds her at Swan Lake and falls in love with her. Like every good fairy tale, true love can break the spell and turn Odette back into a princess.
The black swan/evil sorcerer, determined to keep his Swan Queen in his lake, decides to trick Prince Siegfried and presents a beautiful woman who looks identical to Princess Odette. Her name is Odile and she is NOT the Prince’s true love…but he doesn’t know that! Believing Odile is actually Odette, he professes his everlasting love to her, only to have the evil sorcerer laugh in his face and wooosh Odile away.
Unfortunately, Odette has witnessed this and realizes that true love will never break the spell and she’ll live forever more as a swan. Prince Siegfried begs forgiveness and professes his love to Princess Odette, but it’s too late. Princess Odette, not wanting to live her life as a swan takes matters into her own wings, and then the story turns all Romeo and Juliet and…the rest, as you might imagine, isn’t such a happy ending.
What I find interesting is how important the program and story synopsis is. Just watching the ballet, you’d have a difficult time getting all that detail. Even reading the synopsis after the story, I was still a little confused. But the essentials of the story are there, boy meets girl, they fall in love, they don’t live happily ever after. Sad, tragic in fact.
There is beauty throughout the story, and beauty in front of our eyes. The dancers, particularly the swan maidens, are exquisite. Looking at them, you see swans. From their costumes to their lines, they are graceful and fluid, as if floating on a pond.
My favorite scene, visually, was the beginning of the fourth act when a mist has covered the stage and the swans slowly rise up through it. To see the white mist and fog and the 20 or so swans, also in white, it was almost angelic. Combined with the music, it truly was breathtaking!
I enjoy seeing familiar faces in the different Ballet West productions. I also find it interesting that the dancers have opportunities to dance different roles throughout the two weeks of performances. According to the program notes, there were three sets of casts, which gave three pairs of dancers the opportunity to dance the roles of Prince Siegfried and Odette/Odile. I think this is great!
For the performance that I attended, Rex Tilton and Elizabeth McGrath danced the lead roles with Christopher Anderson, Annie Breneman, Michael Bearden and Aaron Orlowski dancing the supporting major roles. Annie Breneman was the Queen Mother, and I recalled her portrayal as the Snow Queen, I believe, in the Nutcracker from 2 seasons ago.
I was also happy to see one of my favorite dancers, Christopher Sellars. He appeared as a Matador from Spain, if I recall correctly. What I love about Christopher is that in every role I have seen him dance, he forever has a smile on his face. As Puck, the Nutcracker, or the Matador, he is constantly smiling. He’s a fantastic dancer and his face shows the joy he feels being on the stage.
The Ballet West dancers are all amazing. And it seems that with each program I see, the dancers and the productions get grander and more fabulous! Adam Sklute clearly has a vision for Ballet West, and I believe it is to bring out the best in the dancers and to bring the best productions to Salt Lake City and beyond. Sklute, the Ballet West team and Maestro Terrance Kern and the Utah Chamber Orchestra bring out the best in themselves and each other, and what a gift it is for us as patrons.
Thank you all for your vision, commitment, dedication and love for the art of ballet and dance!
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