A Newly Old Swan Lake

To close out its 2023/34 season, Miami City Ballet is showing an age-old classic in “Swan Lake,” but with a twist poised to delight all patrons and audience-goers. When you hear the ballet being called a classic, it’s true. It’s been shown on stages around the world since the 1800s, and slowly but surely have things changed. Imagine the popular Disney fairy tales and how they are a more appropriate version of the Grimm fairy tales, usually with the same name, but some often overlooked darkness, maybe even rough edges. Well, this current production of “Swan Lake” is a version that could have been lost to time.

Before we begin, a history lesson might be needed to grasp the event of Alexei Ratmansky’s modern choreographic undertaking of the supernatural swans. The ballet first appeared in the imperial Russia under the reigns of the czars, and there it stayed until the czars fell. The choreographers of these ballets also fled, mostly to Western Europe. These choreographers weren’t individuals who made dances and movements in this time, but they were notational scribes that wrote the movements of ballets like “Swan Lake” down on paper. Here, in this non-Russian space, the choreographers were able to bring the works back to life, and they were able to go through various rounds of revisions of several years. Even newer age choreographers tried their hand in creating their own version, namely George Balanchine.

Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshankyi in Swan Lake. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

This update brings us to today. Ratmansky’s version of the ballet takes notes from all versions out there, it seems, and it presents a version of the story that is different enough from the classical version that differences can easily be noticed. What’s even more notable about this performance is that Miami City Ballet is the only company in the world currently who can show Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake.” Their exclusivity rights were established for 5 years, with the company premiering the ballet first in 2021/22, and this showing will be the next in just two seasons. I wonder if it will make rounds one more time before their rights are relinquished.

Miami City Ballet Dancers in Swan Lake. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

The Ziff Ballet Opera House of the Arsht Center is home to this company’s performances, and what they also bring is one grand tapestry that covers the stage, acting as a curtain. They’ve used this tapestry for each performance I’ve seen, adding to a continuity that I really enjoy. What’s more is the production value of this level. The company not only has outstanding visual scenery, but their use of animation, film, and graphics made for a more immersive experience as the audience watched the immortal love story unfold.

Miami City Ballet Dancers in Swan Lake. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.

The need for a refresh for a ballet like “Swan Lake” is necessary. Oftentimes, the most danced version of this ballet can be sleepy, entertaining only those who have danced the routine themselves; a universal experience between all generations of dancers. This production kept things fresh enough that I was on the edge of my seat. One of the biggest changes from this version to the others is the presence of the prince’s aide in pivotal scenes during Act 1. This aide would participate in the typical pas de deux, catching the swan, but herself never touching the aide. The presence of this man established a feeling of monarchical class status, adding an interesting layer not there before. Perhaps my favorite addition to this version is the surplus of ballerinas! Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake” holds the opportunity for so many dancers to get their opportunities to dance, from the secondary company, to the Miami City Ballet School. Getting the opportunities to see those generations on the stage at the same time is a transformative experience.

Lastly, the performances of Dawn Atkins (Odile/Odette) and Stanislav Olshankyi (Siegfried) were immaculate. Their performances were some of the best executions I’ve ever seen. All this to say, catch Miami City Ballet perform Ratmansky’s “Swan Lake” as they finish their season at the Kravis Center, May 11-12.

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