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[whitespace] 'Swan Lake' Love Hurts: Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez in 'Swan Lake'

Casting a Wide Cygnet

Karen Gabay's evil Odile proved more alluring than her innocent Odette in SJ Cleveland's 'Swan Lake'

By Scott MacClelland

DESPITE THE gorgeous costumes and vivacious music, the drama of San Jose Cleveland Ballet's Swan Lake pivots on the performance by prima ballerina Karen Gabay. In the second act, as the bewitched white swan, Gabay must inspire sympathy for her plight. In the third act, as the treacherous black swan, she must arouse and manipulate the passions of Prince Siegfried.

Gabay is well known for her roles with this company, perhaps best as Maria in The Nutcracker. But her black swan shows her up as a sultry temptress--and noticeably more beguiling than her white swan alter ego. Somehow, that seems to turn the story upside down. We're supposed to be cheering for the tragic Odette, not the evil Odile.

Can this be the real subplot? Odile's goal is to win a declaration of love from Prince Siegfried, who, believing that black is really white, readily tenders it. In triumph, Odile vanquishes Odette and consigns her to oblivion.

It doesn't take a Siegmund Freud to recognize that Odette and Odile are two halves of one personality. Nor does it require a Joseph Campbell to show us mythologies in which the good-vs.-bad dichotomy is resolved only in death. (Indeed, theories exist that suggest Tchaikovsky resolved the social and professional conflicts surrounding his homosexuality by committing suicide.)

Odile, the handmaiden of the evil Baron Von Rothbart, snares the callow prince in a fatal trap. As a result, death offers Odette the last and only release from her enslavement to Rothbart. By joining her in a fatal plunge from the ramparts, the prince shatters Rothbart's powers, thereby releasing all the other cygnets from evil control. Ah, the mystical allure of love-death.

In the meantime, festive scenes and fancy footwork distracted attention from these grim goings-on. Four foreign princesses (Nancy Latoszewski, Grethel Domingo, Maria Jacobs and Maydee Peña) hope to win the hand of the prince (Raymond Rodriguez) in marriage. They first appear in a grand scene at the prince's castle, and each presents the young man with a birthday gift.

But it is the crossbow from the Queen Mother (Roni Mahler) that most interests him, and he soon goes into the enchanted forest to hunt swans. Therein, Baron Von Rothbart demonstrates his powers over his realm and especially the gaggle of cygnets who are really abducted maidens transformed by witchcraft.

Their queen is, of course, Odette. Instead of shooting her, the prince falls in love with her. Choreographer Dennis Nahat's Swan Lake hews largely to the Petipa/Ivanov original of 1895. Where his ideas outrun his resources is in those large numbers for the corps that require precision.

For this reason, Act II proved the most frustrating. The lines weren't straight, the spacing lost its symmetry and the ensemble gestures, especially in the arms, were often not together. Peter Kozak's Rothbart was a bully, more instinctive than calculated, more calisthenic than choreographic. He had all the moves, but they lacked balletic refinement.

In Act IV, by contrast, a corps ensemble that imposed less military precision and greater individual movement proved to be a highlight of the production. Act III not only paraded the four princesses and their entourages in David Guthrie's stunning costumes and dance but also gave the prince his most thrilling displays of bravura, some topped off with breathless daring.

Though on a much smaller scale, Le Mai Linh also threw caution to the winds as the jester. The orchestra filled the hall with rich sonorities, though amplification might have helped. Except for occasionally playing slower than the corps would have liked (and a time or two even outpacing a soloist), conductor Pamela Martin complemented a steady hand with welcome elasticity of phrase. Solo violin and cello soared in Act II. Oboist Pam Hakl got that haunting minor-key melody that everyone hummed on the way home.

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From the April 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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