Dance

A Feat and Feast, Miami City Ballet Revives Its ‘Swan Lake’

Written By Guillermo Perez
April 16, 2024 at 1:53 PM

Miami City Ballet dancers rehearse choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake” opening Thursday, April 18 at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami, through Sunday, April 21. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

“Swan Lake” is such a pretty name for a ballet it sounds like the perfect place to cavort with friends and find the love of your life, graceful white birds gliding by and the moon working its magic. But beware. Those waters can turn as ominously dark as a raven’s wing—or the up-flung cape of an evil wizard ready to spoil your festivity.

Enchantment and calamity will indeed color the storyline when Miami City Ballet reveals this panorama from the perspective of choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. His tending to the work’s 19th-century roots first bore heirloom fruit in 2016 at Zurich Ballet before our local company took charge of the North American premiere in 2022. Now the production will open in Miami at the Arsht Center on Thursday, April 18 running through Sunday, April 21, then moving to Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center and West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center in the following weeks.

Principal dancer Dawn Atkins will dance dual roles of Odette/Odile in Miami City Ballet’s “Swan Lake,” choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

“Swan Lake” unfolds fantastic elements with a palpitating heart, Tchaikovsky’s score hastening the action and heightening emotion.  Royal protocol demands Prince Siegfried choose a mate, but first he goes bird hunting with his pals in the forest. But as he aims, it’s Cupid’s arrow that pierces him. A mysterious maiden has emerged lakeside, and he’s smitten. Odette embodies feminine charms, and yet—what’s that ethereal quality about her?  Every time she flutters by, she seems poised to take wing. And a bevy of similar beauties flocks around her with companionable buoyancy.

From left, Tatiana Ratmansky, Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, Miami Ciby Ballet Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez, and Rehearsal Director Joan Latham during a rehearsal for Miami City Ballet’s “Swan Lake.”

Odette is a shape-shifter, from woman to swan, under sorcerer Rothbart’s spell, only to be broken when a swain pledges true love to her—Siegfried to the rescue. Still, man is weak and sorcery strong when Odile, Rothbart’s secret agent and Odette doppelganger, seduces the prince at a ball. Doom will cloud the lake but not before we see some of the most gorgeous dancing in ballet ever and—very telling in this version—lots of poignant pantomime, lovingly restored.

To power this, MCB dancers have put in long studio hours for months.  In-house rehearsal directors, eagle-eyed guardians of steps and overall style, kept things on track until Ratmansky, with his wife, Tatiana, in assistance, took over. Under all their tutelage, newcomer to “Swan Lake” Dawn Atkins has approached her dual roles of Odette/Odile attuned to every physical detail and the insights of history.

“ ‘Swan Lake’ has so many moving parts,”  says Atkins, “it’s quite challenging. All those layers call for a different kind of preparation.”  Keen on polishing technique and the demands of acting—the highs and lows of a tragic heroine on the path she must brave—she adds, “What’s so striking about Ratmansky’s version is how it tugs at the heartstrings.”

This will be Stanislav Olshanskyi’s seventh version of “Swan Lake,” pictured with dancer Dawn Atkins. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

The ballet’s background has been discussed in the studio, but Atkins says, “I’ve taken it upon myself to do a lot of reading and watching a lot of videos to get to my own interpretation.” It’s let her offer more to the choreographer to best fulfill his vision.

Indeed, Ratmansky’s vision—what he salvaged from archives and how he applied his own magisterial touches—created a buzz upon the premiere of his “Swan Lake”  here two years ago.

The original 1877 Moscow production, despite Tchaikovsky’s big score, failed to score big.  But in 1895, the composer already dead, a revival took place at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, the music and scenario tweaked and with new choreography by the great Marius Petipa and his assistant Lev Ivanov (for the epochal lakeside action). That sent this much-traveled ballet off on a glorious trajectory though additions and adaptations have been imposed along the way.

Miami City Ballet dancers rehearse a scene from Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.” (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

Having delved deep into Stepanov notation—a system created in Imperial Russia to record choreography—and other archival materials, Ratmansky wanted to home in closer to the Petipa/Ivanov intent for his “Swan Lake.” He revived discarded technical elements—differently angled legs here, more demi-pointe footwork there—and hairstyles and costumes that hark back to the original era.  Tender flesh reigns here over feathers, and the vintage glow brings revelations.

Working with Ratmansky to inhabit this setting can be transformative. As Atkins attests, “He wants me to emphasize establishing positions and use transitions simply as that. He’s trying to create more inflections in my dancing. For dramatic interpretation, he stresses how important it is to keep the pantomime interesting, saying I need to become each word—for example, ‘love’ or ‘evil.’ This allows the storytelling to come alive and not just be gestures.”

Steven Loch and Jennifer Lauren rehearse Miami City Ballet’s “Swan Lake.” Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

While Atkins fits the profile of first-time Swan Queens who, without fossilized notions, wholeheartedly take to Ratmansky’s construct, Stanislav Olshanskyi, her Prince Siegfried, brings a long personal acquaintance with this classic. Yet the project at hand equally excites him. “It can get boring to do the same thing every time,” he says, referring to his lengthy resumé.

Olshanskyi already danced the male lead in Ratmansky’s “Giselle” in Europe with the United Ukrainian Ballet, formed in the wake of the Russian invasion of his homeland. Now this will be his seventh version of “Swan Lake” and he admits, “Some of the variations are still very difficult to do. So you need to be really smart how you rehearse.”

Foremost for him is the introductory love scene with Odette—historically aligned here, unlike other versions, since Siegfried’s friend Benno is also in attendance—and his seduction by Odile—her typical plumage shed for a party-princess demeanor.

Renan Cerdeiro and Samantha Hope Galler were paired in the 2002 production of Miami City Ballet’s “Swan Lake,” so this will be their second go-round working with choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

Olshanskyi and Atkins have developed a special rapport dancing together this season. “That helps us very much,” he says, “because we have trust and a possibility to learn from each other’s way of being on stage, to the point where we can predict what the other is going to do.”

And he’s putting the man before the fairy-tale prince. “He’s just a human being exploring life and looking for something as we all are—for happiness and basically himself. I always say I’m not trying to act. I’m living in this world.”

Brooks Landegger, another Siegfried, like Atkins new to his role (the gifted Taylor Naturkas debuts with him as Odette/Odile), finds inspiration in his colleagues. “I had the opportunity to watch Dawn and Stas rehearse, and it was very impactful,” he says, and the addition of Benno to the scene (the steadfast Damian Zamorano) made it “extraordinarily touching.”

Playing Siegfried is quite a quest for Landegger. But he draws from dramatic know-how, having toured in the Broadway musical “Billy Elliot” and earned a standout performance recognition in 2022 from national magazine Pointe for his lead in MCB’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  He links his right-on course to guidance from his earlier teachers and MCB’s artistic team. “There have been such generous voices around me every day,” he says.

Renan Cerdeiro and Samantha Hope Galler rehearsing “Swan Lake” inside the Miami City Ballet studios. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

Among cast members with established “Swan Lake” credentials (she also performed a different version at Alabama Ballet), Samantha Hope Galler—alongside Renan Cerdeiro in their second go-round at MCB—is focusing on fortifying the narrative through pacing, real-life experiences, and pantomime as natural as conversation.

(WATCH: Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky: Reconstructing “Swan Lake”)

This balances Odette’s fragility with her swan-clan protectiveness and adds sparkle to Odile’s sneakiness (acting out mischief, Galler concedes, is great fun).

Happy to report her husband’s the love of her life, Galler also confesses she’s no stranger to heartbreak—a source of her authenticity in this ballet. Now the schoolgirl who once swooned over “Swan Lake” music at bedtime is about to realize her best ballerina dream at show time. “My goal is to bring real emotional connection at a deep level,” she says. “That’s what this is all about. I hope audiences at the end will have to take out their tissues.”

WHAT:  Miami City Ballet’s “Swan Lake”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 18, 19 and 20; 2 Saturday, April 20 and Sunday, March 21

 WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Free pre-performance talks moderated by Artburst Spanish Editor Orlando Taquchel at the Arsht Center, 6:30 p.m., Saturday, April 20 with Principal Dancers Renan Cerdeiro and Samantha Hope Galler and 1 p.m., Sunday, April 21 with Principal Dancers Steven Loch and Jennifer Lauren.

 ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES:  Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27; 2 p.m. Saturday April 27 and Sunday, April 28; Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach; 2 p.m Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11; 7:30 p.m Saturday, May 11 and 1 p.m., Sunday, May 12

 COST:  $39, $40, $79, $115, $189, depending on show time and venue.

 INFORMATION: 305-929-7010 or miamicityballet.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Dont miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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