Swan Lake Theatre Review – An Elegant “Swan” Graces Irvine Barclay Theatre

Siegfried (Tiit Helimets) expresses his eternal ove for Odette (Yuan Yuan Tan)

(Costa Mesa, CA) March, 2015 – Orange County’s tour of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky three only ballets has been a memorable one. Earlier this month, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa produced their critically acclaimedSleeping Beauty starring Diana Vishneva. Drifting down to Irvine, Tchaikovsky made another splash last December with the memorable The Nutcrackerat the Irvine Barclay Theatre (IBT). What made those two productions so successful were the directors’ creative decision to maintain the Russian composer's traditional vision in terms of costuming, set design, the thematic tones of the stories and especially Marius Petipa’s timeless choreography. And the Festival Ballet Theatre follows this paradigm as well with their “Swan Lake” at IBT in incredible ways. Courtesy of the powerful lead performances by Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets, Tchaikovsky ends his Orange County ballet run with elegant style of IBT’s Swan Lake.”

The Jester (Lex Ishimoto) has fun with the court ladies

There is much celebration at Prince Siegfried’s (Tiit Helimets) castle as he celebrates his 21st birthday. Court ladies, their suitors and the children laugh and dance, with the Jester (a wonderfully scene stealing performance by Lex Ishimoto) leading all the festivities. But Siegfried is saddened with loneliness, especially after being reminded by his queen mother that he has to choose a bride the next day. As he goes hunting in the forest, he comes across a flock of beautiful swans, led by the Swan Queen, who happens to be Princess Odette (Yuan Yuan Tan). Siegfried learns that the princess and her companions were transformed into swans by the evil sorcerer Rothbart (a magnificently Machiavellian Sayat Asatryan) and that the only person that can set her free of the spell is one who swears his eternal love for her. Naturally, Siegfried falls in love with Odette and invites her to the ball. But little does he know that Rothbart and his daughter Odile (Tan again) plan to ruin the lives of both lovers forever. The question: Will he succeed?


Odile (Yuan Yuan Tan) seduces Siegfried (Tiit Helimets)

The ethereal costume design by Donna Dickens, Heather Lerma and Kaye Michel, as well as the subtle lighting design by Don Guy, enhance the overall fantasy of the world created in “Swan Lake.” However, it is the performers that provide the passionate heart and soul of the work from beginning to end, especially from its stars, Tan and Helimets. As Princess Odette, Tan seems to be born to play this role not only with her potent energies and dynamic range with her extensions, balance and toeing, but also the physical and spiritual embodiment of this innocent, fragile soul. Her small, limber stature---from her graceful neck to her gentle fluttering toes---possesses so many avian qualities that it’s frightening, especially when she “flies” off stage, she motions her arms in fluidic waves that simulate the wings of a swan, a movement that has drawn applause every time Tan performs this feat. But when she portrays the evil Odile, the spiritual, loving sensuality of Odette is transformed into the raw, erotic sensuality of her doppelganger. Both Tan’s facial expressions and movements are lustful without being gratuitous, highlighting her mercurial abilities as one of the most prominent prima ballerinas in the world. And when she switches back to Odette, Tan magically captures the betrayed innocence, which then morphs in gentle forgiveness for her beloved in incredibly tender ways. A bravura performance by this talented star.


Happily Ever After

With regard to Helmets’ charismatic Siegfried, there was a slight concern in the first act. Although his physical prowess, power and communication is the best out of all the male leads from the previous two  Orange County Tchaikovsky-produced works, his facial expressions during the party scenes were shockingly blank and lifeless. Siegfried is supposed to feel melancholy and loneliness for lack of true love, and, yes, Helimets illustrates that isolation through his form. But his face shows no emotion at all. Although this is a common technique ballet dancers employ at certain times, it doesn’t fit here because with that blankness there is no empathy with the character in the beginning of the play. He obviously doesn’t have to be obvious with his expressions, but there must be some kind of SUBTLE facial emotional spark of life that should match the loneliness in his physical communication. However, this action can be easily overlooked because the moment the second act begins and he meets Odette, Helmets’ face goes from 0 to 100% with regard to his full emotional range throughout the rest of the ballet: the ecstasy of falling in love with Odette, the joys of the courtship party back at the castle, the growing lust after Odile, the sorrow and regret of being deceived and the passionate determination to seek forgiveness and to fight for her beloved’s life. The emotional range of his face and the physical potency of his movements explode on stage from there on, which generates a fantastic stage chemistry with his co-star, especially during the tender Pas d’action section of the Dances of the Swans at the end of the second act, whose slow-rising pulse of the woodwinds seems to match the heartbeats of the two lovers as they perform their signature love dance (THE best scene of the entire work), one of the primary highlights that proves not only to enhance the overall monumental event at Irvine Barclay Theatre, but also provide a sublime finale of Tchaikovsky’s works that have been featured here in Orange County.



Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice over artist.

Swan Lake opened 3/21 and ends 3/22

Irvine Barclay Theatre

4242 Campus Drive, Irvine, CA 92612

(949) 854-4607

Photos by photographer:  Dave Friedman

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