Making her debut in the role of Odette/Odile 28-year-old soloist Devon Teuscher emerged as a shining star in American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center Opera House last week. Replacing an injured Gillian Murphy, who was originally scheduled to dance the ballerina role on Thursday night, Teuscher was a true revelation from the first moment she stepped on stage, winning the audience with genuine spontaneity, the freshness of her interpretation and the sheer beauty of her dancing. There was nothing novice-like about her performance. She handled the technical challenges of her role like a pro; her insight into psychological nuances of her character and her assurance proved quite remarkable for a debut. But, most importantly, her honest and unaffected artistry was what made her performance so irresistible and illuminated the elusive drama of this Swan Lake. It ultimately carried the entire show.
This production of Swan Lake, staged by ABT’s artistic director Kevin McKenzie in 2000, with its flashy visual effects and an increasing sense of rush, feels more like an action thriller than a poetic tragedy. In an unusual plot twist, it begins with a prologue that attempts to shed light on how Odette, a beautiful young princess, was captured and transformed into a swan by von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer, who, as we also learn here, has two incarnations: a suave seducer and an ugly ogre. Yet for all its pageantry, this brief introduction, which ends with a green horned monster clutching a stuffed toy, comes across more like a cartoon than a logical part of the ballet.
In this Swan Lake, the festivities during the prince’s birthday celebration in Act I rarely ignite a spark and seem to go on forever; on the other hand, the final Act IV is drastically abbreviated and feels rushed and anticlimactic. The second act’s lakeside scene and the third act’s ball, with its fateful Black Swan pas de deux and a parade of national dances, are when things get good; but as a whole this production is far from being dramatically cohesive and emotionally resonant. That is, until the leading dancers take charge and transcend the story, as was the case during this performance.
With her lithe, graceful physique, her supple back and expressive arms, Teuscher is a natural fit for the role of the swan. As a sensual Odette, the enchanted Queen of the swan-maidens, she projected a youthful eagerness and charm and a sense of inner strength, looking serene and calm rather than repressed and melancholic, never sliding into melodrama. Her Odette’s initial bewilderment and agitation toward Prince Siegfried quickly evaporated, giving way to a genuine romance. Luxuriating in Tchaikovsky’s lyrical music, in the white adagio, her Odette was awash with love, her body melting into the gentle embraces of the prince with palpable desire. As the black swan, Odile, the daughter of von Rothbart, Teuscher showed none of the theatrical excesses that so often tarnish this part. Her glamorous Odile simply conquered the prince with her magnetic presence, irresistible allure and joie de vivre. In the famous Black Swan pas de deux, she was stunning and in full control – of her fouettés and of Prince Siegfried’s heart.
As Prince Siegfried, the outstanding Marcelo Gomes brought significant experience to his part. He is a generous, gallant and assured partner and his pantomime skills are always top-notch. Gomes was wonderfully assertive and entirely convincing in this role. In the ballet’s first act, he showed his character loneliness with sincere expression, his meditative solo imbued with heart-rending, tangible sadness. His attraction to Odette was instant and genuine, his fascination with her evil doppelganger, Odile, absolute. And when the true identity of Odile was revealed and the tragic destiny of Odette was sealed forever, his devastated Prince looked so emotionally and physically shattered as if a part of him has already died.
Alban Lendorf had a terrific time as von Rothbart’s handsome alter-ego. In Act III, his triumphant entrance and his subsequent tantalizing dancing with Prince Siegfried’s would-be brides brought a needed sparkle to the proceedings at the royal palace. A relatively new member in the ABT’s roster, Lendorf, who joined the company as principal in 2015, coming from the Royal Danish Ballet, played the role of the seducer with delectable flamboyance, lending potent theatricality and humor to a character who would otherwise make very little sense.
Christine Shevchenko, Katherine Williams and Blaine Hoven delivered a dazzling rendition of the pas de trios at the prince’s birthday party in the first act; and the excellent Martine van Hamel as the Queen Mother was appropriately doting, devoted and demanding.
Dancing with a special radiance and dramatic fervor, the superb corps of the swan-maidens looked appealingly unified and disciplined, sustaining the love story and elevating the metaphorical meaning of this Swan Lake, their collective dedication unconditional and a pleasure to witness. But, ultimately, this was Devon Teuscher’s night.