Sisk’s shining performance makes Ballet West’s “Swan Lake” a revival to treasure

Mon Feb 11, 2019 at 1:07 pm
By Katherine Pioli

Beckanne Sisk (with Christopher Ruud behind) in Ballet West’s production of “Swan Lake.” Photo: Luke Isley

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is a celebrated and beloved ballet classic. And while most companies will stick to the tried and true traditional staging. not every dance company hews closely to the ballet’s origins.

Matthew Bourne’s staging scandalized audiences when he turned the part of the swan maidens into a piece for male dancers in feathered harem pants. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake, created for the Pennsylvania  Ballet, makes major changes to the storyline including altering the tragic ending.

Ballet West’s Swan Lake falls somewhere pleasantly in the middle–not beholden to the courtly footwork of the classic Marius Petipa-and-Lev Ivanov version, but also not setting Act II in a seedy nightclub with hookers (as does Bourne’s version).

When artistic director Adam Sklute came to Ballet West in 2007, Swan Lake had already been nto the company’s repertoire by company founder Willam Christensen. Sklute, in his director’s notes, recalls being most drawn to the “simplicity” of Swan Lake and to the ballet’s “timeless appeal.”

Sklute’s production—with the help of choreography from principal ballet master Pamela Robinson Harris and the late Mark Goldweber—provides a gentle modern refresh while studiously avoiding any obvious remake.

With a third run of Ballet West performances in the past eight years, may feel this popular ballet is a bit played out. But there is one great reason to see it again: Beckanne Sisk.

This young ballet phenomenon rose to the rank of principal artist in just five years. In her four years at the top of the company she has continued to grow in her strength and artistry, and Saturday night it seemed as though the role of Odette/Odile was made for her.

Sisk’s Odette was fluttering, demure, forlorn. With every move she was able to make her solid and powerful precision somehow feel soft and vulnerable–an absolute perfect embodiment of the role.

During the pas de deux in Act II Sisk melted in the hands of Chase O’Connell’s Prince Siegfried. In one particular, heart-stopping moment Odette swoons backwards from her balance enpointe into the awaiting arms of Siegfried, and both dancers managed to make that fall look as gentle and inevitable as a feather falling towards the floor.

The famously demanding 32 fouettes performed (traditionally) by Odile in Act III has been the downfall of many a ballerina. Many greats, including Anna Pavlova and Maya Plisetskaya, opted to have the choreography changed completely rather that face the task.

Yet dressed in black and moving like a bird of prey Beckanne Sisk completed them flawlessly. It was truly a thing of beauty.

Beyond the influence of these extraordinary dancers, Sklute’s gentle dusting off of this classic is an overall pleasant experience. Ballet West’s Swan Lake is more appealing than the slow courtly parading of more true-to-original variations.

The weakness of the cultural dances from Act III, could use more updating (please, let’s get rid of the ridiculous, heel-clapping Hungarian Czardas).

There are, of course, other things about Skulte’s Swan Lake to admire. In the updated places, the male dancers have many opportunities to show their prowess – and there are a number of beautiful, talented male dancers coming up through Ballet West’s ranks; the footwork is modern and interesting and there is enough romance for everyone to go home satisfied.

For many long-time Ballet West fans, one of the more important reasons to attend will be to bid farewell to principal Christopher Ruud. After twenty years with the company Ruud will be giving his final performance in the role of Siegfried February 22 and 23.

Ballet West’s Swan Lake continues at the Capitol Theater through February 23. (Beckanne Sisk will perform again on February 16 and 23).

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