Swan Lake disappoints some

The dancers and the staging seemed to lack an attention to detail. Photo courtesy of California Ballet Company

The classic ballet falls flat in more ways than one at the San Diego Civic Theatre

Elisabeth Smith | Associate Editor | The USD Vista

The California Ballet Company opened their 50th Anniversary Season with a staging of “Swan Lake” last week. Choreographed by Thor Sutowski to the iconic score of Tchaikovsky, the performance brought high-brow entertainment to San Diego. At a preview show last Friday night, the dancers worked out last-minute kinks and nerves for a sparse crowd of journalists and young dancers. 

The ballet, which was first staged in 1895, transported the audience back in time with the grand score. The music, however, was disappointing to hear through a sound system instead of a live orchestra, making the experience seem more artificial and amateur. 

The costumes, donated by the Cincinnati Ballet, were impeccably designed, but the dancers did not deliver the same level of attention to detail. In the opening scenes of the show, at Prince Siegfried’s birthday party, the group numbers looked clustered, and the solos were not impressive. 

The California Ballet Company’s staging of “Swan Lake” featured impeccable costumes donated by the Cincinatti Ballet, yet the dancing was not as impeccable. Photo courtesy of California Ballet Company

Jumps were landed with heavy feet and dancers wobbled in their landings. Trystan Merrick, who played Siegfried, stayed off to the edges of the stage during most of the first act, not impressing the audience. Then in his solo, Merrick did not embody the choreography, looking lost on stage as if he didn’t know what move came next. It appeared that nerves got the best of Merrick, detracting from his performance.

Despite Merrick’s lackluster solo, the star of the performance arrived in the second act. Reka Gyulai played the part of Odette, the princess who was turned into a swan by the evil sorcerer. Gyulai brought grace to the stage that was not present in the first act. Her sparkling traditional tutu with a stiff platter skirt lit up the stage and her crown shone throughout the theater. As Odette, Gyulai commanded the attention of the audience, looking like a perfect ballerina from a jewelry box.

Gyulai’s movements perfectly embodied her character as a swan, from the extension of her arms to the flutter of her shoulders when she first encountered Siegfried on stage. The second act was more aesthetically pleasing as the swan corps de ballet took the stage moving in cyclical motions. Spiraling around the stage in perfect harmony then dividing into lines, the swans would break out into smaller groups of two to four and dance as the remaining swans stood still on the sides of the stage. 

The second act seemed to be an improvement, though, as the dancers spiraled around the stage in perfect harmony. Photo courtesy of California Ballet Company

Overall, the ballet was not spectacular with the unsteady first act. Despite this, the arrival of the Swans on stage improved the performance tremendously. For casual audience members the night probably fell flat, as the ballet is over two hours long. But for ballet-lovers, it provided a fine night of classic entertainment. 

With tickets ranging from $25-$125, the California Ballet Company provides the San Diego community an affordable option to experience some culture.