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Los Angeles Ballet's 'Swan Lake' is full of grace

March 12, 2012

Highly pedigreed? You bet. Well-known in the dance world? No question. But Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary have also passed the acid test: As directors of the Los Angeles Ballet, now in its sixth season, they can take a collective bow for their thoroughly sterling production of “Swan Lake.”

Just remember, not any old company can stage this icon of classical ballet. Oh, many with lesser artistic resources try. But to put on a show of so fine a caliber normally takes a bigger-than-big budget, dancer bench-depth, masterly and dedicated coaching.

What’s more, they mounted their full-length extravaganza with the requisite number of performances.

“And that meant we had to find venues all over the city.” says Christensen, who led the eminent Royal Danish Ballet and is steeped in its standards of style and rigorous technique. “We had to travel to the audiences,” he adds, noting that people will venture out to an attraction, so long as it doesn’t mean long drives through congested traffic.

So from Westwood to Long Beach, with a stop at the Alex Theatre on March 17, the company is showing off its current jewel, “Swan Lake,” all feathery finery, moonlit mirages, pathos born of misfortune, good-versus-evil conflict.

Thus the mountain comes to Muhammad. And it is a mountain, what with the full-scale sets originally built at Pacific Northwest Ballet, Christensen’s last post before he decamped to Los Angeles.

“In fact,” says the Danish-born danseur, “when you think about it, it’s madness, dealing with four separate acts. We’ve had to extend intermission lengths just to do the set changes,” and that took the crew a week of practice just to learn how to move things along faster, he added.

But the décor is eminently beautiful, old-school poetic without looking old — or worn — and it accommodates to any standard proscenium. The costumes, too, are delicate pastels, setting off the pristine-white lakeside scenes.

What catches attention, though, apart from these details, is the totality of the spectacle — the dancers’ total immersion in the action and feeling states, be they coryphees, peasants, courtiers, royalty.

As to the coaching, well, it is meticulous — in contrast, even, to some A-circuit “Swan Lake” productions, like the last one American Ballet Theatre brought on tour to L.A., where we saw casts that suffered rehearsal deficits.

In their prime, both Christensen and Neary danced the lead roles many times. With his deep background in Bournonville, not to mention her prominence as a member of the Balanchine Trust, it’s no surprise that the choreography they adapted from the Petipa/Ivanov model is wonderfully evocative and rational. So, too, is the mime clear, uncluttered and natural — a feat in itself for American dancers seldom exposed to courtly behavior.

But then the troupe’s roster now stands higher than ever in its level of virtuosity — thanks mostly to Neary’s recruitment of dancers from companies on which she has set Balanchine works, among them ABT and Russia’s Mariinsky, formerly the Kirov.

Still, holding on to them is difficult.

“We lose roughly a third each year,” says LAB executive director Julie Whittaker. “But that’s par for the course with all companies.” Corina Gill was stolen by the Boston Ballet, she recalls. And some leave because of the low salaries. “Most of our dancers stay, though. The trick is to keep them performing and not laid off for any substantial period of time.”

So far, artistry runs the gamut at Los Angeles Ballet. It also keeps the wheel turning. And this “Swan Lake” does the trick.

DONNA PERLMUTTER is an ASCAP-Award winning music/dance critic and journalist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and many other publications. She is also the author of “Shadowplay: The Life of Antony Tudor.” Email her at

Glendale News-Press

by Donna Perlmutter

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