Far from another drop in the pond of traditional ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s opening night of Kent Stowell’s “Swan Lake” was awash in sparkly new tutus, brilliant Black ballerinas, and an emotional Ukrainian national anthem.
The return of Stowell’s production marks something historic for the 49-year-old company. The dancing turnover during the pandemic seems to have left the company stocked with new faces and massive promotions. COVID-19 safety protocols seem to have restricted the dancers into small groups until the total large ensemble cast of the “Swan Lake” demanded unification and sharing of a single space. Upcoming dancers are said to have debuted in the roles of the now doomed “Prince Siegfried” and “Odette/Odile.” And finally, after so much wait, thankfully, the cast, including 24 swan maidens, were introduced to the dancers of color.
The most beloved principal dancer “Lesley Rausch” is said to have reprised her performance of the character of Odette/Odile, who is the lead opposite of the new company soloist “James Kirby Rogers.” Even after many long months and years of ongoing pandemic isolation, Rausch’s technique still seems perfect. Rausch is a master of her craft, with an artistic expression that aesthetically extends from her eyes to her fingertips. She switches seamlessly and effortlessly from the wrought character of Odette to the menacing nature of Odile from act to act, and every flick of her wrist seems to have been communicating the heartbreak or the pure evil.
Each dancer seems to give everything in the performance and performs like they are the ones who have been acting out this story for decades now. The new member of the corps de ballet “Kuu Sakuragi” is said to have debuted his role as Jester with an unbreakable spirit of joy for dance. The rehearsal director Otto Neubert’s evil “Baron von Rothbart” is said to have raised shimmering wings that transform an ideal pond into a horrific and evil place.