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ABT returns to the Kennedy Center with "Swan Lake"

Daniel Camargo and Isabella Boylston in Swan Lake with American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

American Ballet Theatre brought its gorgeous version of Swan Lake back to the Kennedy Center Opera House this week. Last presented here in 2017, when it also sold out, Kevin McKenzie's choreography has not not been substantially altered in the Susan Jaffe. The only thing that stood out was in the introductory scene, which took place behind a scrim, when the evil antagonist, von Rothbart, seduced Odile. This bit of filling in the back story, during the otherwise unrelated orchestral introduction, is on its own merits a bad idea. Having the villain emerge from the cave, where he has taken the young woman, pretend wrestling with a stuffed swan added an unneeded note of absurdity.

Fortunately, most of the other elements of the ballet were in good hands. Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer since 2014, brought experience and subtlety to the leading role. Her Odette, the fragile white swan, was strikingly less human, more wild animal than woman in many ways. The swoops of her head in the tragic pas de deux of Act II, with gorgeous violin and cello solos from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, seemed a little stiff and unnatural. She was much more striking in Act III, flashy and seductive as Odile, the supposed daughter of von Rothbart who tricks Prince Siegfried into betraying Odette. Her sequence of thirty-some fouetté turns was impressively virtuosic.

The triumph of the evening went to Daniel Camargo, the Brazilian dancer who joined ABT as a guest artist in the 2021-2022 season. (Alexei Ratmansky had worked with Camargo at Dutch National Ballet, a connection that led him to approach Camargo about coming to New York when ABT had some injuries to deal with.) Named a principal dancer in the summer of 2022, he was something to behold as Prince Siegfried: an athletic presence with amazing vertical lift in his leaps, and a steady, upright axis in spins. This role is in many ways the dramatic focus of this ballet, and Camargo's emotional range was worthy of the spotlight.

The ABT corps continues to impress with the improved unity of its movements, particularly the women as the flock of swans, crisply coordinated and elegant in style. The men, featured in the divertissements, were uniformly strong as well, with an energetic turn by young dancers Jake Roxander and Takumi Miyaki in the Neapolitan dance of Act III. McKenzie's decision to split the character of von Rothbart into two personas remains as ill advised as before, with the monster version, rather cartoonish and silly, undermining the character's menace. Jose Sebastian's sebaceous performance as the human von Rothbart was way over the top: he seduced every woman on the stage, even Siegfried's mother along with all four princesses, and then leapt playfully onto Siegfried's throne. One may or may not need comic diversion in a ballet like Swan Lake, but there it was.

Swan Lake runs through February 25.

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