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EMAV Review: NBT's ethereal 'Swan Lake' flies high at the Smith Center ★★★★★

★★★★★ - Irresistible

In the clearing of a misty forest somewhere far away there's an enchanted lake filled with the sorrow of a mother's tears. Nevada Ballet Theatre took us to that magical place recently at The Smith Center with the premiere of their extraordinarily pretty "Swan Lake," staged by Cynthia Gregory after the choreography of Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa to the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Gregory's version of the tragic tale, about an innocent maiden transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer and the handsome prince who loves her, streamlines the saga by trimming superfluous details, especially in the garden party of the first act. The result is a prologue and three scenes which focus on the core story by telling it through naturalistic performances and clear miming, and particularly through the eyes of the melancholy prince.

After all, the story's the thing and the emphasis on character enhances the quality of classical movement given by the company, supported by the refined, 51 piece orchestra led by Conductor Leif Bjaland.

Notes of a celestial harp and weeping violin fill the air as moonlight streams through leaves into the lakeside clearing of a forest (lighting by Peter Jakubowski, costumes and scenery by Peter Farmer). The Swan Queen Odette, danced by Alissa Dale, and Prince

Siegfried, danced by Steven Goforth, fall deeply in love during the White Adagio, and this is where the show truly takes flight. A sensuous chemistry ignites between the pair, with Goforth full of yearning and Dale fluttering and glancing shyly as she gently guides his arms to encircle her in a momentary embrace. The image of the Prince holding the Swan as she performs gorgeous pirouettes, supple backbends, and airy split lifts against an inky, moonlit night creates a serene and haunting stage picture that is beguiling to the eye.

The corps as the enchanted Swan Maidens with their willowy port de bras waltz in unison or bourrée in formation to resemble a bevy of birds. Kaori Fukui, Betsy Lucas, Caroline MacDonald, and Emma McGirr effortlessly portray the endearing Little Swans as they look left, then right, and pas de chat while moving quickly with arms interlaced, and Krista Baker and Christina Ghiardi give the Big Swans an equally impressive grace.

With his smoldering good looks and dramatic dancing, Stephan Azulay is perfect as sorcerer Baron Von Rothbart, and crafts a complex portrait of the sinister man. He is the keeper of the Swan Maidens, opening his serpentine arms to manipulate them into formation, conducting them like a sadistic shepherd herding his flock. There's a terrifying moment when he tears Odette away from Siegfried with only a flourish of his hands and the magnetic power in his fingertips. Dale struggles to resist yet is pulled forcefully toward him, twisting and turning while contorting her body aesthetically to transform from a woman back into an imprisoned swan.

Scene II takes us to the sumptuous castle for Siegfried's birthday celebration and introduction to the princesses, from whom he reluctantly must choose a bride to please the Queen Mother, played by Clarice Rathers. Each princess leads her own dance, and includes the elegant Baker in the Hungarian, a saucy Lucas supported by Sergio Alvarez and Morgan Stillman in the Spanish, a coquettish Ghiardi in the Russian, and the charming Fukui with Jun Tanabe in the Neapolitan duet.

Rothbart arrives with his doppelganger daughter Odile, also danced by Dale, who attempts to fool the Prince into thinking she is his beloved Odette. In the simmering Black Adagio Dale is sharp and calculated as she seductively teases while he chases, and Goforth is full of desire as she entices him erotically and then coldly pushes him away. He's overjoyed at her touch and she knows she's got him. The scene abruptly goes dark save for one stark, unforgiving spotlight beaming down on him. His heartbreaking betrayal of Odette is complete.

On opening night the pair slipped slightly during the adagio which seemed to momentarily shake their confidence and their individual variations weren't as strong as they might have liked. Still, Goforth was euphoric as he performed his beautiful beats and multiple tours, and Dale jubilantly attacked the 32 fouettes, her near mastery dazzling the crowd. Kudos to both for having the presence, stamina, and extreme emotionality to pull off these demanding characters. Dale brings distinct personalities and movements to the notoriously difficult roles of Odette and Odile with her clean, expressive technique and subtle feeling, crafting both as part awakening woman and part tremulous bird, yet in very different ways. And Goforth carries the mournful story by fully fleshing out the brooding Prince, who can't fit in with the norm, with an undercurrent of aching sadness even when he is blissfully in love with the archetypally pure, perfect Swan.

After Odette and the Prince throw themselves off a cliff knowing the spell can never be broken, some productions divinize the lovers by sending them up in a chariot to live forever together in the afterlife. NBT's version gives the happy ending to the Swan Maidens, who in warm sunlight metamorphose back to human form when Odette's ultimate sacrifice leads to Rothbart's demise.

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