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pnb’s swan lake: dress rehearsal makes a good show

Carla Körbes and company dancers in PNB’s
Swan Lake (photo © Angela Sterling)

I’ll agree if you say it’s cliché, and I’ll crack up over the Ballets Trockadero’s spoof on it, but I still list Swan Lake as one of my 100 Most Exquisitely Beautiful Artistic Experiences.

And so, there was no question about waiting for PNB’s opening night of Swan Lake; I dropped in on dress rehearsal yesterday to get an early start.

The part I love best about these $20 rehearsals is intermission. You get to look behind the make-believe and see the real work. The curtain goes back up and the stagers come onstage to re-run sections. When they’re done, the stage crew starts making set changes. The dancers wander back onstage, as themselves, in costume + sweatshirts and legwarmers. (Best outfit? Jonathan Porretta’s gray-and-blue-striped onesie worn neatly over his costume’s foofy white poet shirt.) They chat, mark steps, find spots, walk off jitters, crack jokes.

It’s fascinating to see. It’s like watching soap bubbles in Brownian motion, floating around on random trajectories and then suddenly going pop! In a pedestrian setting of stage crew moving columns and dancers stretching out, you witness the creation and dissipation of momentary worlds of artistic concentration. One moment they’re mere humans, the next, artists. Then, back to human again. Now that is something you don’t get to see so very clearly every day.

It’s impolite to review rehearsals, but I’d just like to get the word out that Francia Russell is working a minor miracle with the women’s corps. The more varied PNB’s repertoire gets, the harder it is to find time to focus on some of the things that makes classical ballets so gorgeous. (It seems like a fair enough trade when we’re enjoying the modern ballet reps! But when the time comes for a classical ballet…) I think the challenge is even greater for the women, who are moving from pointe shoes to barefoot to high heels. Women in the corps probably have it the hardest: they have to be perfect, together—one jutting chin, one head tilted differently, and the effect is ruined. But, oh! how wonderful it is when they are perfect. People say that Swan Lake is only as good as its lead swan; I disagree. The women’s corps is the heart of this piece. Russell has polished up many of the ragged edges we saw a few months ago in Diamonds; they are going to rock!

It was a good rehearsal. I’m excited to go to the show…which starts in two hours and 27 minutes. Can’t wait!