Exquisite Swan @ Joffrey Ballet

4 Stars out of 4

Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake, a grand story ballet, now on view by our A team ballet company, the Joffrey, at the glittering Auditorium Theatre is an updating that honors its Petipa and Ivanov roots, thereby thrilling a twenty first century audience and bringing joy to the old timers.  Contrived as a ballet within a ballet, it’s as if the Degas paintings and sculptures escaped from the Art Institute down the street and wound up on the wondrous Auditorium Theatre stage.  Set at the Paris Opera Ballet, the dancers are rehearsing Swan Lake for a tippling ballet master and a possibly lecherous Patron.  The ballet takes on a whole different tone in the #metoo era.  The principal dancer who plays the Prince, Siegfried, is a protective ally for the young women of the corps, even as he dreams the story of the ballet of a prince who falls in love with a shape shifter. Dylan Gutierrez is magnificent as the Prince/Principal dancer, with long legs and cushioned ballon. Long time lead Fabrice Calmels has transitioned into the dramatic character role of the Patron who, in the dream, becomes the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart: Calmels plays the part as Drosselmeyer meets Voldemort, with a pinch of Gollum for good measure: an antagonist that’s easy to hate.

The story, if you have forgotten, is that an evil sorcerer has turned maidens to swans who regain human shape briefly each evening.  A young prince falls in love with the Queen of the Swans, Odette, and promises her true love—if he honors his vow she gets to stay a human.  The evil sorcerer shows up at a ball as the Patron with some lewd entertainments including a not very PC Chinoiserie strip tease that may have had some wardrobe issues, and he brings some Can Can girls, and of course he is escorted by the evil black swan twin, Odile, and the Prince, beguiled and confused, swears his love to her, of course voiding his vow, and ensuring that Odette will eternally be a swan.

Company superstar Victoria Jaiani has taken on the grueling role of Odette/Odile: she is miraculous, luminous. Her endless fouette’s are precise, her adagio breathes with beauty. So much of Wheeldon’s interpretation is the classic Petipa/Ivanov interpretation, taught body to body through the generations as a craft; and thus the Cygnets are just as the Cygnets pas de quatre has always been but with the lean athleticism that Joffrey brings to all ballet, so that they are as much young fillies as swans.   If you have ever been attacked by an actual swan (I have) then the sheer power of the final ensemble is true and moving.  The show melts into a final tableau vivant back in the ballet studio that is 100 per cent Degas.  Adrienne Lobel’s scenic design along with Jean-Marc Puissant’s costumes bring the paintings to brilliant life.

A shout out to the lush orchestra, Chicago Philharmonic under Scot Speck’s able baton.  He helmed Tchaikovsky’s beloved score in a lusty way. Particular props for the evocative Marcia Labella’s harp and Karin Ursin’s piccolo solo.

Swan Lake ,like all dance, is a very short run, only playing until October 28th at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 East Congress Parkway in downtown Chicago, so rush to get tickets—it’s been 4 years since they performed it last and who knows when the repertory will rotate to this diamond again.  For more information go to www.joffrey.org or call 312.386.8905