Joffrey Ballet presents Christopher Wheeldon’s revamped classic Swan Lake at the Auditorium Theatre combining elements of the iconic ballet with his own storyline twists.
The story of Swan Lake is a tale as old as time. The original ballet dates back to 1877. The story follows a young Prince, Siegfried, who is forced to choose a bride by his mother, the queen. When he refuses, he runs away to the forest where he meets the enchanted swan maiden, Odette. The two fall in love, but Siegfried is tricked by the sorcerer Von Rothbart to believe that Rothbart’s daughter Odile is Odette and in turn, Odette is cursed to stay a swan forever.
Joffrey Ballet Presents a Ballet within a Ballet
Wheeldon’s Swan Lake follows this premise, however, Wheeldon adds a twist: he puts the ballet inside of a ballet. Act One now takes place in a ballet studio where the dancers are rehearsing for an upcoming performance of Swan Lake. All the ballerinas rehearse in dresses resembling Degas famous paintings, which helps set the era for the story. The main character, the principal dancer who will play Siegfried in the production, stays in the studio after rehearsal to continue to practice and he begins to imagine that Odette has appeared and the studio transforms into the lake.
In Act Three, instead of the ball where Von Rothbart tricks Siegfried into believing Odile is Odette, the scene is a Gala before opening night of the performance, modernizing the story slightly. Act Three somewhat resembles The Nutcracker when the various countries/sweets perform their dances for Clara; there are performances by Can-Can dancers, a Spanish Dance, Czardas, and a Russian Dance. The Russian Dance is a technically beautiful routine performed by Christine Rocas and the gentlemen at the Gala, however, there is a moment when she begins to shed pieces of her costume and perhaps others too will find the dance feels a touch out of place and a little uncomfortable.
Overall the twist is an interesting take on the classic ballet, but in this reviewer's opinion makes the ballet feel a little like the movie Inception. At times it becomes difficult to tell when the story is following the Principal Dancers’ fantasy as Siegfried and when the dancer is acting as himself. But perhaps this dream-like quality is all part of Wheeldon’s vision.
Swan Lake is known as an extremely difficult ballet to perform, especially for the lead ballerina playing Odette and Odile. The whole Joffrey Ballet takes on the challenge with beautiful execution from the principal dancers to the swans in the corps de ballet to the duets and trios performed in Acts One and Three.
Wheeldon’s choreography showcases the dancers in a beautiful way, especially partnering together in duets, trios, and larger groups. The large group scenes are dynamic and visually stunning as the dancers make sweeping movements in various patterns and formations around the stage.
Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez perform the iconic solos and duets masterfully with grace and ease. Jaiani’s wilted and fluid swan arm motions are mesmerizing and transform her into the mystical and soft Odette. She has immense control in her drawn out leg extensions, barely using Gutierrez for support. Her duet with Gutierrez at the end of Act Two by the lake has the audience in awe at their control and poise when they perform together. Jaiani also performs an extremely difficult technical feat doing 32 consecutive fouette turns in her solo as Odile without a blip.
Making It His Own
Christopher Wheeldon has a way of making any production he creates his own through choreography, costumes, and scenery. In the final act, Wheeldon’s choreography showcases the corps de ballet of swans not only through technique but also through formation changes to create a maze that Siegfried must navigate to get to Odette and avoid Von Rothbart.
In Wheeldon’s version of the story, Von Rothbart is a ghoul-like character who lurks in the shadows protecting his swans and transforms himself into a polished patron for the Gala scene. The portrayal of this character by Fabrice Calmels creates a different dynamic between the characters that pushes the story forward and creates interest for the audience members.
The scenery changes throughout the performance are seamless and enhance the overall effect of Siegfried's dream. A large mirror shifts position on the stage to be used as a mirror as the dancers rehearse in the dance studio scenes, a decorative backdrop and window during the Gala, and a lookingglass to Odette when Siegfried finds out he has been tricked by Von Rothbart. The swans also move elegantly through three sets of french doors that open and close on their own, serving as a window into the fantasyland of the principal dancer’s imagination.
Wheeldon’s Swan Lake combines both elements of the iconic production that everyone knows and loves, with new twists that take the story out of its original context. Some of these changes work well while others create a bit of confusion for the audience, or at least for this viewer, but overall Wheeldon’s risks pay off and the Joffrey Ballet executes the production with elegance and grace.
Odette/Odile: Victoria Jaiani
Prince Siegfried: Dylan Gutierrez
Patron/Von Rothbart: Fabrice Calmels
Ballet Master/Wolfgang: Fernando Duarte
The Queen: Joanna Wozniak
Pas De Trois: Amanda Assucena, April Daly, Yoshihisa Arai
Ladies & Gentlemen of the Court: Anais Bueno, Nicole Ciapponi, Cara Marie Gary, Anna Gerberich, Dara Holmes, Gayeon Jung, Brooke Linford, Leticia Stock, Derrick Agnoletti, Edson Barbosa, Evan Boersma, Stefan Goncalvez, Hansol Jeong, Graham Maverick, Greig Matthews, Aaron Renteria
Ladies in Waiting: Michelle Kenyon, Callahan Porter
Seamstress: Katya Schloemann*
Big Swans: Jeraldine Mendoza, Christine Rocas
Cygnets: Amanda Assucena, Nicole Ciapponi, Cara Marie Gary, Leticia Stock
Swans: Anais Bueno, Valeria Chaykina, Lucia Connolly, Olivia Duryea, Dara Holmes, Yuka Iwai, Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa, Brooke Linford, Chloé Sherman, Olivia Tang-Mifsud, Joanna Wozniak
Pas De Quatre: Anna Gerberich, Jeraldine Mendoza, Edson Barbosa, Greig Matthews
Russian Dance: Christine Rocas
Spanish Dance: Anais Bueno, Rory Hohenstein, Elivelton Tomazi
Czardas: Brooke Linford, Aaron Renteria
Can-Can: Valeria Chaykina, Nicole Ciapponi, Lucia Connolly, Chloé Sherman
Gentlemen Patrons: Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai, Evan Boersma, Stefan Goncalvez, Hansol Jeong, Graham Maverick, Xavier Núñez, Alonso Tepetzi, Valentino Monelgia Zamora, Joan Sebastián Zamora Ballerinas Olivia Duryea, Cara Marie Gary, Dara Holmes, Yuka Iwai, Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa, Leticia Stock, Olivia Tang-Mifsud
Vision (Odette): Anna Gerberich
Waiters: Jonathan Dole, Rees Launer
Now playing through October 28.
Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 2pm & 7:30pm
Sundays at 2pm
The Auditorium Theatre
50 E Congress Pkwy
Chicago, IL 60605
About the Author:
Hayley Ross graduated from Ohio University in 2016 with degrees in Dance and Journalism. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Hayley began dancing at the age of four. She has studied Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Jazz, Contemporary, and African dance and regularly can be found taking dance and Pilates at Chicago's Lou Conte Dance Studio. Hayley has completed internships at CityScene Media Group, OhioDance, the Chautauqua Institution, and American Dance Festival. She currently works in the Marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the Marketing Manager. Learn more about Hayley at hayleyross.weebly.com