“Swan Lake” is a beloved classic ballet.
Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images

If there was one word to describe last night’s performance of Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Swan Lake,” it is radiant. Every last detail from the dancing and staging to the costumes and the set was exquisite and demonstrates the exceptional professional talent of Grand Rapids Ballet. The Friday, Feb. 6 opening night performance was everything an audience could want in a production of the classic and beloved ballet, “Swan Lake.”

The ‘Swan Lake’ Collaboration

The 2014-14 Season production of “Swan Lake” is a traditional performance of the ballet. Grand Rapids Ballet last performed “Swan Lake” in 2006. This year’s production is unique in the fact that it is a collaboration between Artistic Director Patricia Barker, Creative Director Michael Auer, and Junior Company Artistic Director Attila Mosolygo. Each of them have danced leading roles in “Swan Lake,” over the years, and bring their experiences as both dancers and choreographers in national and international platforms to the production. Their influence on the production resulted in a high level professional show that seamlessly wove both the professional company dancers and junior company student dancers into a well-executed performance.

Dancing and Staging

Ballet done well communicates both a story and an emotion to the audience. Grand Rapids Ballet dancers expressed the story of “Swan Lake” beautifully. The principal dancers Dawnell Dryja (Odette/Odile) and Nicholas Schultz (Prince Siegfried) and the corps de ballet showed a full spectrum of emotions in the roles and danced with flawless technique. Yuka Oba and Steven Houser danced an upbeat and entertaining Neapolitan number in Act III. Laura McQueen Schultz, Monica Pelfrey and Yassauri Mergaliyev also did a fine job as the Pas de Trios number in Act I. Stephen Sanford had good presence as the menacing sorcerer Von Rothbart. The children in the junior company also did a good job and worked well with the company dancers.

The dual role of Odette/Odile is always challenging because it requires a dancer to express an entirely different persona in each role – Odette is gentle and graceful while Odile is seductive and sensual. Odile also has one of the most difficult dance moves in the show when she must perform 32 fouettes in Act III. Dryja does an excellent job transforming herself into both Odette and Odile, and demonstrated a strong technique that was beautiful to behold. She danced with passion so that the audience could feel her joy at finding love, and then her heartbreak over the ill-fated love.

Schultz’s Siegfried shows great athleticism and expert technique in the dance numbers. Schultz expresses Siegfried’s emotions with every movement.

Schultz and Dryja were paired well as the principals for opening night. They danced the White Swan and Black Swan grand pas de deux scenes in perfect harmony and with passion.

The swan corps de ballet danced with such beauty and grace that the audience could actually see them as swans. They danced seamlessly as one, mimicking the characteristics of a flock of swans in a lifelike manner, and exhibited strong technique. The four swans number, danced by Therese Davis, Connie Flachs, Cassidy Issacson and Caroline Wiley, was particularly noteworthy for the strong technique and lifelike swan characteristics. The swan corps de ballet dance numbers are what many people think of when they imagine Swan Lake. The swan dancers did a superb job.

Barker, Auer and Mosolygo did a great job on the staging, which showcased the dancers well, highlighted the key numbers, and remained true to the traditional Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov concepts.

Costumes and Set

When the curtain rose, the audience was immediately transported to Renaissance era Germany through an ornate set depicting royal court life for Acts I and III, and the lake in the woods for Acts II and IV. The period costumes were colorful and lovely. The sumptuous costumes and set added to the overall beauty of the performance.

Audience Reaction

It was a full house. The audience boasted couples of all ages, families with children and ballet students. Some were seeing “Swan Lake” for the first time, while others were revisiting an old favorite. From the first scene of “Swan Lake” to the moment the curtain closed on the final scene, the audience was held in thrall to the emotion of the dance, the beauty of the music, and the power of the story. At the curtain call, the standing ovation for the lead dancers Dawnell Dryja and Nicholas Schultz came from the heart. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the show and seemed eager to return for another ballet soon. It was a high level classical “Swan Lake” performance on par with any performance in larger cities like New York or Los Angeles. If the shows continue to be as good as “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake,” sold out shows may soon become a normal occurrence for Grand Rapids Ballet.