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Pennsylvania Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ competitionBY: Jim Rutter 03.01.2011
In the film Black Swan, two ambitious ballerinas engage in a fierce competition for the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. Now the Pennsylvania Ballet has set up the same scenario for the same ballet.
Pennsylvania Ballet: Swan Lake. Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Through March 12, 2011 at the Academy of Music. Broad and Locust Sts. (215) 551-7000 or www.paballet.org.
Truth is stranger?
At Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, Natalie Portman won Best Actress for her portrayal of a ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. One of that film’s subplots pitted Portman’s introverted Nina against Mila Kunis’s arrogant Lily for the dual role of the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake.
Any balletomane who enjoyed this aspect of the film should snatch up tickets to the Pennsylvania Ballet’s current production of Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake. In at least one respect, the company’s staging reprises Black Swan’s minor conflict.
Last week, the company’s longtime principal dancer Martha Chamberlain announced her retirement after 21 years. Her departure leaves an empty spot in the company’s roster, one that artistic director Roy Kaiser needs to fill before next season.
Which of the company’s dancers will he choose? The casting of this month’s Swan Lake offers some—but perhaps not the definitive—indication.
Bypassing his principals
As in Aronofsky’s cinematic ballet, one dancer performs the dual role of Odette/Odile in Wheeldon’s Swan Lake. Usually, one of the current principal dancers would perform this role, as Arantxa Ochoa did in 2004 when the company premiered the work.
But not this time. Kaiser sidestepped all of his current principal dancers and three of his four soloists to give exclusive portrayal of the roles to two dancers: soloist Brooke Moore will dance the roles during the matinee showings; corps member (yes, corps member) Lauren Fadeley will play Odette/Odile during the two weekends’ evening performances.
Promotion through the ranks of a ballet company resembles advancement through any job sector. Dancers begin their careers as apprentices or members of the corps. There they perform minor (if not exclusively) choral roles. On occasion they may dance a listed part, such as one of the four dancers in Swan Lake’s gorgeous and sly pas de quatre.
From a position in the corps, dancers progress to soloist, performing minor characters or featured roles, such as Myrthe in Giselle, or one of the untitled leads in a rendition of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco.
Although Pennsylvania Ballet for the most part promotes exclusively through its own ranks, dancers may linger— or not— for years at the soloist level. As Portman’s Nina nastily reminded her stage-manager mom Barbara Hershey in Black Swan, some never “make it out of the corps.”
Brooke Moore has taken this traditional route to her current position as soloist. Fadeley’s debut in a starring role skips the normal progression. Both have wide experience in classical and modern pieces— elsewhere.
Kaiser’s bold move to cast the two of them exclusively for these parts injects fresh excitement into the reprise of one of the company’s most popular pieces. Whether or not Kaiser intends to promote either Moore or Fadeley, his choice to pit the two dancers in competition only raises the stakes further in a manner that benefits the audience and the art form alike.♦
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