Review by Lillian Carter
For the first time in seven years, Colorado Ballet kicks off its 2023-2024 season with a beloved classic, Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, presented at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the heart of Denver, running on weekends October 6th – 8th, and October 13th – 15th. “Swan Lake” undeniably has a special place in all our hearts, and with great pleasure, I got to witness opening night, as Principal Dancers Jennifer Grace as Odette, and Mario Labrador as Prince Siegfried fearlessly take us into the feathery fever dream that leaves you gasping in shock, sorrow, and yearning for that happily ever after.
When you hear that very first F#5 chord, you know you’re about to dive headfirst into “Swan Lake”. I had to shut my eyes in this moment and take a deep breath to prepare myself for the beautiful yet tragic story-telling about to take place on stage. A little detail in the overture, foreshadowing the conclusion as the music fades out with an exhausted bitter end, the lit velvet ruby curtain, dwindles away into the dark, losing its color that reminds you of the bitter end of this ballet… but not just yet! The curtain lifts, the music picks up again, and we are welcomed with a gorgeous set of lush green trees, pink roses for the prince, drinks in celebration of Prince Siegfried’s 21st birthday, beautiful court women in baby blue and green, and men in white. A joyful gathering outside the kingdom. I must give praise to the corps, they Waltzed together in perfect synchronicity, and their audience could tell they truly worked together as a village, rather, as a kingdom. If you’ve done your Ballet homework, you know this is a Technique-Strick show, yet our ensemble made it look like a walk in the park! Already so much praise from the audience after the Grand Allegro from scene one! The flirtatious court girls and the lecture from his mother to find a wife, Mario’s body language loudly projects the woe of longing for true love, through desolated leaps and gloomy attitudes.
Scene two introduces the evil sorcerer Baron Von Rothbart, played by Gregory K. Gonzales, who appears drenched in black feathers, with hints of red and gold, sticking out from the deep blue hue of the night, signifying the vial, powerful pray against the swans, lurking over the lake. He has put a spell under our Swan Queen, swan by day, human by night. Shifting gears away from the dark ruler, the moment the pure and vulnerable Odette appears on stage, everyone was thinking it: “She is beauty, she is grace.” and you can see it on Siegfried’s face too. When their eyes connected for the first time, you could tell the chemistry was radiating from the stage. We are also greeted by our family of 26 swans! So many bodies dancing corps on one stage and yet still, they were squeaky clean together. When their wings were fluttering, it looked like one big pair of wings, no swan left astray. Perfect Unison.
The first pas de duex between Odette and Seigfried was as crystal clear as the lake that this was true love. Tears had already started to break loose in the audience. Tender love and sweetness shared between our Principle dancers felt genuine, watching love bloom in real-time. Jennifer was literally flying on her toes, and at the same time, Mario was soaring at her side. Suddenly, the lurking Rothbart appears again and steals Odette away before Siegfried can vow his love to her, as true love is the only way to break Odette’s curse.
The first thing that popped out at me in Act II were the colors of the ballroom set: red and gold, hinting at the incoming heartbreak, and Rothbart’s twisted plan to crash the ball. Drawing attention to the international dancers, the Czardas corps dancing was angular and festive, while the Spanish dancers were rounder and spicier with their movements. The Neapolitan dancers played tambourines on stage alongside the orchestra in perfect musicality. Then, the evil Von Rothbart and his daughter, Odile, arrive at the ball unexpectedly, disguised as Odette and an ambassador. You could physically feel the chill in the air when they entered, and you could see the agenda in their faces… it was scary. Jennifer’s dancing as Odile did not resemble Odette at all. She was sharp, surprising, and quick, like a scorpion’s sting. She and Mario’s pas de deux in this act was COLD. The audience could feel that tension from the imposter accompanied by the stringy violin. That seductive smirk of hers showed no mercy. And my goodness, Odile’s 36 fouettés hypnotized everyone in the theatre
Yet still, Siegfried was flying, convinced this was his precious Odette. He vows his love to her, and it is revealed that she is in fact just a doppelganger, and they leave with a literal bang, bringing the ball to a halt as Seigfried darts away to find the real Odette. A chaotic crash opens the last door that leads to our eerie conclusion.
Act three returns us to a dreary swan lake, opening with heaviness and smoke on the water. Odette’s fate had already been sealed. Once Seigfried finds her again, they danced like a difficult conversation being exchanged, rightfully so as he begs for forgiveness. You could feel the sour betrayal and heartbreak projecting from their bodies, hurt was in the air and everyone could feel it. The corps swans saw the crack in Odette when Rothbart appeared again, they were defensive and their body language became louder and more alert, trying to protect her from ending it all, as they knew her bitter end was moments away. And then, in the name of love… our star-crossed lovers reunite on the other side. In death, we are reminded of their eternal love.
Wow, I think I speak for everyone when I say I was yet again completely blown away by this performance! It is fact when I say Colorado Ballet never disappoints, they excel in their storytelling and artistry every time. My sincerest congratulations to every hard-working dancer, composer, company directors, and the Colorado Ballet team for bringing this classic story back to Denver. Come, and let our brilliant artists wisp you away into this legendary tale, just make sure you bring a handkerchief!
Lillian Carter is a 23-year-old Dance Major at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She serves the Dance Department as a Work-Study student employee. Growing up in Denver, she was exposed to many art forms at an early age. Dancing has been her lifelong dream since she was 3, however, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances and financial hardship, was never able to obtain proper dance training growing up. Finding herself in Rogers AR when she was 16, she joined Arkansas Public Theatre as a musical theatre Ensemble-member, where she received theatre, jazz, tap dance, and vocal training. She moved back to Denver in 2020, attending drop-in ballet and hip-hop classes here and there while working full-time in food service. In the fall of 2021, she decided to attend MSU Denver to further her dance education and finally receive consistent dance training. She is also an evening dance instructor at Dancin’ Dreams in Park Hill. She will continue to expand her dance knowledge and is thrilled to broaden her horizons and experience with MSU Denver, Denver Center for Performing Arts, Dancin’ Dreams, and Presenting Denver.