What presumably was to have been special about last night's performance of "Swan Lake" by American Ballet Theatre at the Kennedy Center -- to wit, the Washington debut of Alexander Godunov in the role of Prince Siegfried -- turned out to be not special at all, except possibly as a further instance of deflated hopes.
Perhaps, after all, some of us are looking for too much too soon from this greatly challenged young man, or maybe even for things that just aren't there. Defection from the Bolshoi is no guarantee of superstardom, despite the understandable hullabaloo that attended Godunov's apostasy. Those who may have been expecting a "successor" to Rudolf Nureyev or Mikhail Baryshnikov are apt to have a long wait. From the signs he has thus far given us, he has neither the virtuosity, the presence, the style nor the dance intellect of his illustrious precusors.
In short, however accomplished he may be as a dancer, Godunov has yet to show us any magnitude as an artist. Before his defection last August, he appeared as Siegfried with the Bolshoi Ballet in New York, in what then seemed a decidedly unprepossessing portrayal -- phlegmatic and colorless. It seemed exactly so once again last night with ABT.
Certainly he appeared more at ease in a classic very familiar to him than he did in a Balanchine work on opening night. And as he demonstrated in the two passages that gave him the opportunity, he can jump high and land softly, execute swift traveling spins, and do a mean double assemble air turn. But his Bolshoi traits also made him a stranger amidst the rest of the company. His mime and his placement often seemed coarse by Western standards, and the Bolshoi fussiness of his phrasing accentuated the flabby look of his body in motion, as if his ligaments were made of gelatin.
Dramatically his Siegfried was nowhere. It must be said that he got scant help from his partner, ballerina Martine van Hamel, who on other occasions have shown herself to be one of the finest interpreters of the dual Odette-Odile role anywhere. Last night, however, despite dancing that was mostly splendid from an academic standpoint, she performed as if her real self were in hibernation -- it was a weirdly mummified, affectless characterization. Only in the last act pas de deux, at the edge of doom so to speak, did the two of them seem crediable protagonists for a while. By then it was too late.
Ironically, there were many incidentals to admire in the performance, among them the rhythmically sharp, impassioned conducting of John Lanchberry; an excellent pas de trois with Kristine Elliott, Yoko Ichino and Kevin McKenzie; the lyrical rapport of the two solo swans, Carla Stallings and Sara Maule; and the generally polished, sensitive work of the corps de ballet. But from incidentals, however numerous or fine, you don't get a "Swan Lake."