Dance productions abound this time of year typically featuring a Sugar Plum Fairy and waltzing flowers. Accordingly, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) came to the Orange County area for a return presentation of choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s kid-friendly version of “The Nutcracker.” Meanwhile, in downtown Los Angeles, however, choreographer Matthew Bourne’s creative take on “Swan Lake” at the Ahmanson Theatre offered a worthwhile grown-up escape from traditional holiday fare and outshined the ABT.
Neither production is new. But, of the two choreographers’ attempts to reimagine classics set to Tchaikovsky music, Bourne’s daring vision holds up best and is still stunning.
Contemporary, Inventive ‘Swan Lake’
First introduced in 1995, Bourne’s “Swan Lake”replaced the traditional tutu and point-shoe clad ballerina corps with shirtless male dancers who are aggressive and fierce. The love at the heart of this show is potently destructive because of the prince’s struggles with his sexual identity and attraction to a male stranger who is also a swan.
Will Bozier commands attention with his intensity as the hypnotic Swan/Stranger. He can be both tender and menacing. His facial expressions are magnetic, catching the cast’s and audience’s eyes, so someone might not notice how physical the role and dancing are.
The Prince, who is starved for affection outside his marriage, is clearly going downhill (pushed along by the Stranger) with the press photos to prove it. Eventually, he encounters the swans and Bozier’s feral flock. As the Prince, Andrew Monaghan is effective is his transformation from royal to roué to mental ruin. He effectively conveys his character’s physical and emotional journey with subtle grace.
Other notable individual performers include Nicole Kabera as the cold-hearted Queen and Katrina Lyndon as the Prince’s ambitious Girlfriend. The male corps is truly mesmerizing in their physicality and agility, and they even do a version of the classic cygnet quartet. There are times the tension and tone falter, but overall Bourne’s creativity shines.
Ratmansky’s Children’s Recital
Ratmansky’s nearly decade-old “Nutcracker” production for ABT also tries to put fresh paint on a classic. But, the pointe (pun intended) is lost and the result more child’s play than dancing delight. The show at the Segerstrom Center put more emphasis on the children onstage miming than the dancers prancing.
Among the departures from tradition and odd touches, Ratmanshy starts the story in a kitchen. The flowers waltz, but there are male dancers dressed as bees amongst them. In the character dances, the “Russians” are mainly clowns with nary a classic Russian dance step. Throughout nearly all the dances, the choreographer repeatedly relies on ungraceful soubresauts (jumps straight up) and waving arms on stationary bodies.
Dozens of local children joined the ABT cast as party guests, mice, toy soldiers and such. Their parents clearly came to see them and delighted in their antics.
However, many in the audience came Sunday to see locale native turned prima ballerina Misty Copeland in the lead Princess role. While she was a bright shiny spot in the lackluster production, Copeland was not her usual self. Even she did not sparkle in the pas de deux near the end.
For people wanting to take a child to a first ballet, “The Nutcracker” is a quirky treat. It will be in Orange County through Dec. 22. Dance fans, however, might want to head north to the Ahmsnson in Los Angeles this “Nutcracker” season to see the swainsin “Swan Lake” through Jan. 5, 2020.
By Dyanne Weiss
Center Theatre Group
“Swan Lake” performance at the Ahmanson Theatre
ABT’s “The Nutcracker” performance at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Photo by Craig Schwartz of the company in Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.
Photo by Doug Gifford of Misty Copeland in “The Nutcracker” from Segerstrom Center for the Arts – American Ballet Theatre.