How does the rest of the story go again?" a young audience member asked during intermission at Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium. Her mother recapped: The prince will be tricked into declaring his love for the wrong girl, who looks identical to his love but has a clearly different personality. "So the moral of the story is to not judge a book by its cover," the mother said. "Fall in love based off someone's personality, not looks."
A revered masterpiece, Swan Lake is regarded as the epitome of classical ballet. Often performed by large companies, it has been innovatively adapted by the smaller Carolina Ballet. Its production, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, is based on a children's storybook version by Lisbeth Zwerger, which accounts for its happy ending. After the Raleigh date we saw, the production finishes its current run at DPAC this weekend.
A prince's mother plans to hold a ball where he must select his future wife. When swans catch his attention by his backyard lake, he pursues them with hunting on his mind. Instead, he spots a beautiful maiden and a sorcerer. He finds out that the maiden and her friends are cursed to turn into swans during the day. The spell will be broken if a man truly loves her.
The prince declares that he does, and they part ways. At the ball, he can only think of the Swan Princess, even though he is surrounded by other attractive female suitors. The dancers playing them excelled technically in their solos; group choreography during the ball effectively incorporated social dancing in mesmerizing formations.
Suddenly, the sorcerer and his daughter appear at the ball. She looks identical to the demure Swan Princess, but is dressed in black. Ignoring the Black Swan's vain demeanor, the prince embraces her. The Swan Princess sees his betrayal and flees, with the prince following her. A well-orchestrated scrim effect illuminates a window panel in the backdrop to showcase the heartbroken Swan Princess.
In a scene where the sorcerer causes the lake to overflow, trying to drown the lovebirds, the waves are depicted simply, with three long strips of fabric spanning the back, center and front of the stage, rippled by assistants holding the ends offstage. Instead, the sorcerer is swept away, while the prince and Swan Princess escape to live happily ever after. Oliver Beres, who plays the sorcerer, convincingly acted like he was inundated by the waves.
The second act proved to be the more emotionally engaging. The prince's pas de deux with the Swan Princess and the Black Swan contrasted ethereal love against the power of seduction. And Lilyan Vigo brought swan-like grace to the role of the Princess, especially during a set of attitude devant (leg bent in front) turns with flapping arms. Near the end of the first act, the sorcerer tossed her up in the air, and she impressively twisted twice before the prince caught her. Richard Krusch was a standout as the prince, and stunned me as he alternated between tours en l'air (turns in the air) and triple pirouettes.
Carolina Ballet's Swan Lake mainly adheres to the traditional storyline, albeit in a condensed format. If only because of the humanistic desire to see good triumph over evil, the adapted ending was more pleasing to me than the bittersweet original one. Though even the youngest viewers know this story, its message remains evergreen: Appearances can be deceiving; love can be blinding.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Barre and feather."