Dance Review: Newcomers' 'Swan Lake' debuts excite

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As witnessed by the packed houses, there is no doubt that Pittsburgh audiences want the likes of the traditional full-length ballet. And there is no doubt that it stretches a regional company like Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to its limits in order to fill the epic nature of "Swan Lake," a classic tale of good versus evil, personified by Odette, the white swan, and Odile, the black swan.

It is a dream for virtually any ballerina to be able to dance this dual part, perhaps the greatest test of all roles in the repertoire and to be able to tap both the poetic and daring sides of a woman.

But for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre it was a particularly difficult task at the Benedum Center last weekend, given that a number of key performers have been hampered by injury, including principal dancer Christopher Budzynski with a back injury, and soloist Alexandre Silva, set for opening night's Prince Siegfried, but recently sustaining a knee injury, while soloist Luca Sbrizzi, was just able to return to appear in two of the spirited nationality dances, including the Neapolitan.

Then came news Friday that principal Christine Schwaner, Mr. Silva's wife, would not perform Odette/Odile that night due to shin splints, adding to an injury list unparalleled in PBT's history.

So the four planned casts were reduced to three, beginning with Julia Erickson and Robert Moore Thursday. Hers was a thoughtful and exotic interpretation, where she hovered almost behind the music, lingering in her phrasing. She captured the audience from the start, a most glamorous Odette. Her Odile was not a case of black versus white, but more shades of gray, where she kept some of the lyrical nuances, certainly creating a more contemporary approach where she could more easily deceive her prince. Mr. Moore was the picture of nobility, playing to his own dramatic strengths. His is not a big technique, but, at its best, was well-defined.

Rising soloists Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano stepped into the roles Friday (they were already scheduled for Sunday), replacing Ms. Schwaner and Nurlan Abougaliev, who nonetheless made the most of the sorcerer Von Rothbart in a very "Bolshoi" way at other performances.

There was no doubt that this duo showed great promise, although it was an unusual choice to put forth two dancers who were making their debuts together. Usually a young dancer is paired with a veteran dancer, to afford him or her a measure of comfort and support.

But this pair is brimming with confidence these days. Their second act still needed work, he in developing his character and partnering, she in moving over her leg for higher extensions and arabesques. But their Black Swan Pas de Deux was quite brilliant, creating a surging climax that produced an undeniable excitement for all of its virtuosic touches.

On Saturday night, Alexandra Kochis was paired with a surprisingly virile and romantic Alejandro Diaz, also making his debut. Ms. Kochis once again produced a cohesive, intelligent interpretation, relying on precision rather than an expensive technique, particularly in her pinpoint footwork and excitable bourrees.

With the various casts working hard to pick up any slack resulting from the changes, conductor Charles Barker displayed a wonderful command over the various tempi required for each of the couples and in sustaining the sweep and drama inherent in the magnificent Tchaikovsky score. His orchestra gave way to a few more mistakes than usual, but they still remained such a welcome and necessary touch for a full artistic experience.

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at She blogs on

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