Dance

Review: Celebration and Reaffirmation in the Second Season of Miami City Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’

Written By Orlando Taquechel
May 9, 2024 at 3:33 PM

Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshanskyi, on Thursday, April 18, at the Arsht Center in Miami, the night of their debut in the leading roles of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.” (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

As expected, Miami City Ballet’s (MCB) recent season closer at the Arsht Center with Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake” was a celebration and a reaffirmation.

The success of the performance is a celebration for the artists and the spectators. With their encouragement and support, the audience plays a crucial role in appreciating the splendid staging of this classical Russian ballet. In the end, they return home with a heart full of gratitude.

Above all, the performance is a testament to the transformative leadership of Lourdes López (as artistic director) and Juan José Escalante (as executive director). Their creative project has elevated Miami City Ballet to its status as one of the most esteemed ballet companies in the United States.

In the first scene of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake,” Miami City Ballet dancers around the pole with multicolored ribbons. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

The return of Ratmansky’s “Lake” to the Arsht Center, then to the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, and closing the season at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach was a reunion with a work that is a watershed in the history of ballet in Miami and South Florida. This experience also allowed us to appreciate the splendor of the MCB dancers, from the principal dancers to the extras in the group scenes.

This is a long ballet with a plot where the excellence of the corps de ballet is imperative. The showstopper of the performance is the dance around the tall wooden pole with multicolored ribbons that takes place in the first scene of the first act, and the achievement belongs entirely to them. Also, the scenes of ballet blanc(where all the dancers dress in white) and the character dances (Spanish, Neapolitan, Hungarian, and Polish) of the second act party.

When the artists starring in the five performances scheduled at the Arsht Center were announced, we realized that the company planned to use only three different couples of dancers: Stanislav Olshanskyi and Dawn Atkins on two nights (Thursday and Saturday), Renan Cerdeiro and Samantha Hope Galler on two other occasions (Friday and Sunday afternoon), and Steven Loch and Jennifer Lauren only on Saturday afternoon.

Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshanskyi as Odette and Prince Siegfried in the second scene of the first act of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.” (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

Renan, Samantha, Steven, and Jennifer debuted as Prince Siegfried and Odette/Odile during the first season. They were acclaimed then and now. Stanislav and Dawn did it for the first time. And how!

The handsome Stanislav Olshanskyi (a breathtaking example of a danseur noble) and the statuesque Dawn Atkins (a prima ballerina of ineffable poise) are performers anointed with a breathtaking confidence that makes them seem indefectible in everything they do. “The essence of any art is to conceal the technique,” the legendary English dance critic Arnold Haskell once said.

The success of their debut here is no surprise because they had already prepared us for the occasion through several performances of mind-blowing authority in highly demanding works such as Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun” (in May 2023) and George Balanchine’s “Agon,” in March of this year.

Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshanskyi as Odile and Prince Siegfried in the second act of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.” (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

The emotional connection between Stanislav and Dawn feels authentic from the first encounter of Siegfried and Odette. His interactions with his friend Benno (a self-assured Damián Zamorano) and with his mother (a magnificent Yuliia Moskalenko), as well as those of Odette /Odile with Von Rothbart (a skillful Cameron Catazzaro), produce dramatic scenes of enormous communicative effectiveness.

To watch their impeccable partnering, which both draw with exquisite musicality, is to witness a master class that categorically places them in a privileged place as performers.

For obvious reasons, reviewing a “first-time” performance is always fascinating. That’s why we also went to the Broward Center to see Brooks Landegger and Taylor Naturkas on Saturday afternoon, the 27th.

Any analysis of a dancer’s performance must consider the moment they are in their career. If the experienced Stanislav and Dawn are the epitome of the present, the juvenile Brooks and Taylor are the forecast of an auspicious future. There are still things to adjust in their partnering, but nothing that diminishes their effort.

Brooks Landegger and Taylor Naturkas at the afternoon performance on Saturday, April 27, at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, when they first performed the lead roles in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.” (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

You can play an 18-year-old prince and make us believe you are. This is the case of Stanislav. Or you can be a performer close to Siegfried’s age like Brooks and make us forget you are acting.

Brooks inhabits the stage with charming naturalness, and his debut as Siegfried (as it was his debut as Romeo in John Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet” in October 2022) is the most cordial achievement of the season. To top it off, Brooks manages to astonish the audience by executing his variation of the second act, pas de deux, in a surefire, even-handed manner and avoiding arbitrary virtuosity.

As an actor, he manages to make his emotional and physical collapse in the third act a devastating event for the spectator who sees “Swan Lake” for the first time and an unprecedented empathetic experience for those who have seen it many times.

Brooks Landegger and Taylor Naturkas as Prince Siegfried and Odile in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.”(Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

At his side, Taylor Naturkas is an effervescent demi-caractère dancer (small, versatile), always restless and, at times, disturbing. Her Odette is a creature of urgency, and her Odile’s aggressive flirtation is a subversive assignment.

Of course, we must remember that not all 18-year-olds (princes or not) behave similarly and that not all femme fatales -and Taylor’s Odile is spiteful- react the same or use the same tricks.

When Odile and Siegfried move forward together in the second act, Stanislav jumps for joy, always at her side. Dawn’s expression shows her complacency with the situation. When Brooks and Taylor perform the same scene, things vary a little. Brooks’ Siegfried cannot contain himself and sometimes leaves behind Taylor’s Odile. But she is not paying attention to him. For her, what is truly important is Von Rothbart’s approval, and what Siegfried does or happens to him is merely collateral damage.

Taylor Naturkas and Brooks Landegger in the pas de deux of the second act of “Alexei Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.” (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

Moments like this abound in Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.” They define this production as a prodigious artistic triumph and remind us that the small details—like the “small print” in any contract—always contain the most essential information.

At the end of the performance, we left the theater with the comforting feeling that Miami City Ballet is committed to thought-provoking art—and this is not a small thing.

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. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com

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