Within You and Without You

Pennsylvania Ballet launches Wheeldon's Swan Lake

The transition to Odile's appearance and the fatal pas de deux is more of a scenic one than a change in the Siegfried dancer's consciousness. As the crowd moves out onto the balcony to chat about the view, the debauched Von Rothbart character ushers Odile in through a door in the mirror, and puts her through her paces like a Svengali with a femme-fatale Trilby. As in earlier versions of the ballet, she consults with him often about her next strategy. Blinded by magic and desire, Siegfried breaks his vow to Odette to marry her and free her (although we didn’t see him actually swear).

When the curtain rises on Act IV, the hero is deeper in his dream; the back wall has disappeared leaving only the forbidding lake. The transition is confusing, but Wheeldon skillfully builds the mazes and clusters that obstruct Siegfried's search for Odette into the powerful moment when they rush together and he lifts her high. That moment, exalting the power of love, causes Von Rothbart to act as if he were being stuck with large pins. The empowered swans rebel and all but finish him off. Siegfried swears his love, but it's too late, and Odette exits with her flock, presumably to die. The walls and mirror return, and as the hero is wondering what happened to him, the Degas girls reappear, fixing their hair, their skirts, their shoes. So does the dancer who played Odette-Odile; they stare at each other. Curtain.

Deep in a dream: Swan Lake by Christopher Wheeldon
Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
Deep in a dream: Swan Lake by Christopher Wheeldon


Pennsylvania Ballet Academy of Music
Broad & Locust
Through Sunday

Wheeldon, arguably the most gifted young choreographer working in a classical vein, is prodigal in terms of invention. Despite flaws in terms of story line, his choreography is full of wonderful movement ideas, and he mingles these smoothly with the existent steps. He has changed the familiar order of some of the musical passages and, with conductor Beatrice Jona Affron, done a bit of editing, but it should be remembered that Petipa and Ivanov altered Tchaikovsky's original score for the not well-liked 1877 Moscow production by Julius Reisinger. Pennsylvania Ballet's Swan Lake is an ambitious undertaking and a bold one, and the company does Wheeldon proud. It cannot give us an experienced, world-class Siegfried and Odette. Instead, the dancers look committed and fresh in their approach, as if Swan Lake were an exciting new ballet, instead of just the next step in an organization’s growth. Wheeldon has acquainted these performers with the ballet's magic but has also made it new, brought it closer to their world. As every dancer knows, the realities of a life in dance and the illusions created in performance jostle together every day—in the studio, on the stage, in the mind.

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