Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
That American Ballet Theatre began its three-week engagement at the Kennedy Center Tuesday night with "Swan Lake" is not exactly the news break of the decade, even with the return of ballerina Cynthia Gregory to the fold (this was her first Washington appearance since her abrupt leave-taking last November).
Not that "Swan Lake" is ever out of season; like "Hamlet," of which it is in some ways a ballet counterpart, it has virtues which are permanent, and which are largely impervious even to maltreatment or indifference. But ABT's 11-year-old production is showing its age, both in the company's routine attitude towards its execution, and in a stylistic deterioration that has set in over the years.
Just the same, the evening turned out to be memorable after all, and mostly because of Gregory. It was not the fact of her reappearance as Odette-Odile that made the difference, but the manner of it. Looking slimmer than one last remembers her, suddenly she also appeared older, more womanly. Suddenly, too, her dancing has acquired a new, unself-conscious depth of utterance in this dual role that puts her performance on another plane althogether. For the first time, she was able to bring to her dancing the kind of tragic resonance she had striven for earlier but that somehow eluded her grasp.
She had always been, by natural proclivity, a superb Odile, brilliant, glacial and technically stunning in the Black Swan half of the heroine. Tuesday night, she achieved an Odette to match this. All the pathos she had formerly tried to cram into the portrayal by mere "emoting" has finally found expression in her movement and phrasing.
The model for her interpretation would seem to be Alicia Alonso, in the way, for instance, her articulation in the White Swan pas de deux lags a tiny fraction behind the musical beat, giving a sense of melancholic heaviness to the movement. Also in the way Gregory now projects a sustained feeling of doom from the moment of her entrance.
Even her preparations and linking steps have a new, soft expansiveness. And when, in Odette's solo, the tempo accelerates, the dancing no longer bounds incongruously into pyrotechnical show, but keeps faith with Odette's character. In sum, this was a genuinely mature and artistically complete performance.
Among the things on the minus side were the ragged Act III divertissements, the rushed tempos and flaccid rhythms of conductor Akira Endo, and stage deportment in the tableaux scenes that was simply amateurish. On the other hand, the Cygnets were excellent; the Pas de Trois, sparked by Kirk Peterson's bravura, was exceptionally well danced; and Ivan Nagy, though his dancing looked fatigued, cut his usual patrician figure as Prince Siegfried.