During a usual event evening the crowd enters the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts in a soft trickle. The handful of students required by professors to attend and Fairfield County Natives hoping to spend their evening watching something other than Jeopardy reruns, find their seats in a less than rushed fashion. But this night, March 29, was special: the parking lots were filled, the stage was set, the seats were left with an elbow in each armrest and the Russian National Ballet Theatre was ready to perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” for their crowd of eager onlookers.
It’s a story that’s been told extensively, a story that I could’ve given you the general gist of, if given the chance, before the dancers even came out on stage. Basically, a prince falls in love with a swan who’s held under the control of an evil wizard, but the two jump all hurdles to be together and defeat the wizard… done. Story told. It’s a relief, really, that I was able to understand all the intricate plot points of the story enough to shift my focus from the question, “Which one’s a swan?” to all the talent spread across stage.
It all began with the large grouping of female dancers who opened the show. The ensemble dancers, familiar faces I could pick out from multiple scenes throughout the evening, easily seeing through a quick succession of costume changes.
Though truly, the Jester (Eldar Sarsembaev) was the real star of the show, garnering the heaviest of applause in the opening number, with his unbelievable amount of consecutive forte turns, that typical ballerina spin that all try to replicate where the leg extends to keep the dancer moving like a top across the stage. He’d always seem to come out, and no matter the caliber of the dancer in front of us, he’d steal the show. Popping out in a painted smile, he’d spin enough for the room to break out into thunderous applause.
The dancers followed him, all jumping and leaping together as a unit. The female dancers’ white and then pink skirts fluttering across the stage as the Jester grinned in multi-colored face paint, breaking the rigid formality that seems synonymous with a ballet, all in an effort to introduce the prince (Siegfried Aidos Zakan).
The Prince: a Russian hunk with a jaw that could break chestnuts, was talented in his own right, jumping across the stage in outrageously tight tights. Though for much of the performance he seemed to struggle behind the overwhelming talent of the twisting and turning Jester, he really dazzled against the evil wizard, Rotbart (Evgeniy Ermakov), just before coming across Odette (Hanna Zimovchenko and Maria Klueva).
This moment acted as foreshadowing the eventual conflict. As the Prince, at the front of the stage, leaped and twisted and turned across to the roaring orchestra, the shadowy Rotbart is matching his every move; there’s a tension here. The fog surrounding Rotbart and his glimmering black wings, and the glowing moon behind them all used in an effort to pull the breath from our lungs. Breath that seemed to be expelled completely once the beautiful swans enter the picture, the darkness giving way to the pure unfiltered light of the moon, revealing to us Odette.
Odette is the love interest of the Prince, the aforementioned swan he falls in love with. This is something we discover as the larger group of swans, drenched in white, swoon and swoop around the stage, showing us the very moment the Prince falls in love with her. It’s a beautiful scene, possibly the pinnacle scene of “Swan Lake” that would lead to an automatic recognition.
Which really is unfortunate, as though the scene seems to stun with all the pristine bleach white ballet skirts and the perfectly pointed toes of Odette and all the lifts and turns that come with it, this wasn’t the stand out performance of the night. Neither was it the Black Swan scene, another “Swan Lake” number that could’ve been picked out of a lineup just due to the prominence given by Natalie Portman’s portrayal in the 2007 movie, “The Black Swan.” Nor was it even the final dance where the Prince defeats Rotbart and frees the swans from his terrifying rage and eyebrows. All of that seemed a bit expected, and those that were listed and meant to have talent and be excellent dancers, were, fine.
In reality, it was the ‘ensemble dancers’ – all those dancers from the opening number – that proved to be the most entertaining, specifically during the dance of the Brides in the beginning of the Third Act. As just after intermission, we were welcomed back with a stunning number from the Prince’s possible suitors: The Hungarian (Elena Galushka), Spanish (Julia Stukonga), Italian (Valeria Mala), Polish (Daria Lednikova), and Russian (Elena Khorosheva) brides.
Each bride had a beautiful costume, where though the glitter and jewels in the white tutus of the swans seemed lacking before, the need was fully met in this number. The stage seemed to sparkle with eloquent hair pieces and dresses combining to make closest to the edge of my seat all night. I was entranced. Thus, even knowing that the Prince would end up with Odette, I was pulling for one of the other dancers to steal his heart away. Always hoping for a twist ending.