Two youngsters, Jolinda Menendez and Patrick Bissell, took on the starring roles in American Ballet Theatre's "Swan Lake" at Kennedy Center Saturday afternoon, and a highly experienced pair of dancers, Martine van Hamel and John Meehan, took the parts at night.
As the ballet's singular prince, Bissell took easy command of the stage. A big lad, he moves on a generous scale but also can show a feel for the ground. His bearing is nobly relaxed, yet has a spaciousness that isn't just line. In other words, Bissell is that rarity, a completely classical dancer.
As an actor, Bissell isn't profound, but impulsive gestures at serious moments show that he's thinking, and the humor with which he parried the Princess Mother's accusation of frivolity was a winning touch.
Menendez, as the true and false swan queens, was as linear as the arrow in her prince's bow. She had the continuity and fine phrasing for the ballet's great passages of supported adagio, but neither the balance nor pulse for the solos. Looking appropriately melancholy or wicked at the beginning of scenes, she then sometimes caricatured rather than intensified the drama.
Watching Van Hamel, one saw not line, but a regal volume sculpted in space and time. She differentiated the true and false swan queens by varied force, rather than softness and sharpness. It was a subtle and grandiose interpretation. Meehan, as her prince, smoothly understated the acting. His dancing was clean and vigorous but showed strain in the big moments.