The old David Blair production of "Swan Lake" on which American balletomanes have teethed for almost 20 years (and over which critics have gnashed) hasn't yet disappeared. Much was familiar last night as American Ballet Theatre raised the Kennedy Center Opera House curtain on the first of its eight performances of the Russian classic.
Oliver Smith's illustrator sets looked even more faded and Freddy Wittop's drab costumes have gained neither patina nor verismo with age. The village dances were as unsubtly heavy as ever when, suddenly, a trio in fresh colors appeared for an unfamiliar variation on the famous first act pas de trois. Not all the steps are new, but the total effect was unusually spiky. This suited Danilo Radojevic's high voltage drive, though he seemed to get stuck in the transition from quick turns to gliding arabesques. Cheryl Yeager and Kristine Elliot were his companions, with Elliot's innate classicism tempering the bumpy phrasing.
The biggest changes which Baryshnikov has made, so far, are in the white swan acts. When the Prince, melancholy because his mother wants him to marry, escapes his friends to hunt what he thinks are swans, these birdwomen dance many of the familiar steps but often the groupings are new, as are details of arm positions and the highly agitated phrasing.
Martine van Hamel was a Swan Queen ample and supple in movement. Her high curved arabesques were images of desperate flight. As the other woman who beguiles the Prince, Van Hamel enjoyed being bad and reveled in her balance. Kenin McKenzie's Prince came alive for his evel seductress and danced the Black Swan duet with flair. For the rest, he gave a withdrawn performance.
This was not a romantic "Swan Lake." With bits of old and bits of new, a total image probably won't emerge until Baryshnikov completes his reworking.