EXCEPT FOR A SLIP, BALLET PERFECTION

EXCEPT FOR A SLIP, BALLET PERFECTION

After nearly three acts dancing the Swan-Queen double role in near-perfect technical proficiency, Yuan Yuan Tan slipped and fell at the most effusive moment of “Swan Lake.”

Does that prove she’ll fallible? No. Only that she’s human. She deftly picked herself up April 6 and finished her challenging night, in—of course——near-perfect technical proficiency. In the process, she showed what a thorough professional she is, and has been, through an amazing S.F. Ballet career now at 22 years on stage, and counting.

The slip came in the Black Swan (Odile) act, in the middle of the supremely difficult set of 32 whipping spins called fouettés. With only seven to go, she fell down, perhaps hitting a puddle of perspiration left by the dozens of performers  in national dancers trooping on and off the palace mainstage in the opulent setting.  Seemingly uninjured, she completed that four-act tour of femme noire seducing the fodder-headed leading man Siegfried, leading to the downfall of both him and his true love, the White Swan Queen (Odette).

Moral: When meandering those murky watering holes, beware the look-alike beauties in the dark!

Yuan Yuan Tan is not just a Swan Queen, she is a unique ballerina: though limited in emotional expressiveness, she is supreme in technical ballet movement, with her pencil-thin fragility adding more poignancy to the enchanted being who yearns for her earlier persona as a desirable young woman, before the evil magician  Rothbart captured her. I was particularly impressed by her musicality in act two leading to Siegfried’s oath of love and fidelity. It’s as if she and guest conductor David LaMarche (borrowed from ABT)  were one and the same, attuned like synchronous devices.

This is the 2009 Helgi Tomasson “Swan Lake,” with several segments after the Petipa-Ivanov 19th-century original. The décor and costumes are moved from Tchaikovsky’s Russia to 19th-century England via the British designer Jonathan Fensom. Prince Siegfried comes on in a gilded military uniform out of the operetta world, again undercutting his would-be heroic persona. This makes sense: If Siegfried were stronger, he would not succumb to the first Other Woman (swan) he encounters, just because she’s a hell of a dancer.

The Siegfried role is not sympathetic to the tall, blond Tiit Helimets. He is bland and colorless, no match for Rothbart except in their brief wrestling matches (a Tomasson innovation). If there is any high drama in this placid “Swan Lake,” it’s from the villainous/vicious Rothbart himself (Alexander Reneff-Olson, brought up from the corps de ballet), a powerhouse figure who looks like the spidery Paganini.

Missing in this reprise are that Soviet favorite still appended in Russian productions  today, the Jester, along with Siegfried’s buddy Benno.

Tomasson’s innovations are a prologue and a happy love-death ending. The clever prologue has Odile the woman assaulted by Rothbart and, behind the curtain, collapsing and turning into a swan—the fate of messing with Rothbart the diabolical sorcerer.

BALLET NOTES—The pit orchestra sounded under manned, or underwomaned. While the harp came through strong, the oboe did not….The show ran 2.5 hours, with two intermissions, the third and fourth act running together with a very fast scene change….Casts change in reprise performances.

The Tomasson-Petipa-Ivanov “Swan Lake,” at S.F. Ballet, through April 15. Opera House, S.F.  For info: (415) 865-2000, or go online.

 

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