ALBANY — Russian Ballet Theatre’s new production of “Swan Lake,” onstage Tuesday evening at the Palace Theatre, proves once again that the villains are always the most interesting characters. The very vanilla Prince Siegfried may have his happily-ever-after with his sweet Odette, but the evil sorcerer Rothbart and his daughter Odile would be a lot more fun to party with.
Speaking of parties, close to half of “Swan Lake” is taken up by celebrations—Siegfried’s coming-of-age gathering in Scene 1 and the marry-him-off ball in Scene 3. That means loads of divertissements, with the original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov given a fresh polish by RBT’s Nadezhda Kalinina. Particularly diverting are the cartwheeling, leapfrogging jesters; the Spanish Dancers, with flamenco- and caballero-inspired costumes and moves; and the Russian Dancers’ lyrical pas de trois, with gauzy dresses and intricate headpieces.
The object of all this hoopla, Prince Siegfried (Eugeny Svetlitsa), appears underwhelmed. He ends the first get-together abruptly because he’d rather go hunting with his new crossbow, a gift from his mother, the queen (Katrina Jenkins, dressed like a fabulous Disney princess). At the ball, he’s just going through the motions of courting the potential brides on display, like a Bachelor on a group date.
Lovesick Siegfried only has eyes for his spell-bound swan, Odette, who enchanted him instantly in their encounter by the lake. There’s some nice work here in which the two pass by each other like ships in the mist, sensing the other’s presence but unable to touch, until he locates her at last.
When Siegfried meets Odile at the ball, he’s sure that she and Odette are one and the same—surprisingly, since their personalities couldn’t be more different. As Odette, Olga Kifyak seems pained rather than tragic; she tends to direct her gaze to the ground, which might befit her challenging situation but makes her dancing feel tentative and a bit stilted. As Odile, though, she bursts with confidence and presence as she zips through a series of powerful pirouettes, putting Siegfried’s laid-back leaps to shame. Her malicious grin glitters as brightly as her dress—one of 150 gorgeous hand-sewn costumes created by Sergei Novikov, who also designed the spectacular hand-painted sets.
Vasili Bogdan’s Rothbart is dramatically creepy, with his own ominous theme music (director Tod Browning used this section of Tchaikovsky’s score to open his 1931 version of “Dracula,” with Bela Lugosi). His threatening, crow-like presence is a perfect contrast to the light and fluttering flock of swans. Overall, the company’s approach is a bit soft-edged and relaxed, which sometimes results in a certain blurriness of line—but the Little Swans’ pas de quatre, with eight legs scissoring and prancing in unison, is just right. Kudos to the cygnets.
Tresca Weinstein is a frequent contributor to the Times Union.
Swan Lake, must see Russian Ballet Theatre