In the Royal Ballet's opening performance of "The Sleeping Beauty" at the Kennedy Center Opera House Tuesday evening, it was the company as a whole that left the grandest impression, rather than any of the dancers individually. In last night's repeat account of "Swan Lake" with a second set of principals, the company collectively was as splendid as before. But with Lesley Collier in the dual role of Odette-Odile, the performance took on a dimension "Beauty" missed, for all its comely enchantment.
To start with, "Swan Lake" is the more profound of this pair of Tchaikovsky classics, both musically and in dramatic tone and substance. It takes, however, an artist of Collier's stature in its chief dancing role to sound the tragic depths implicit in the score and choreography, and last night demonstrated anew just how great a difference a consummate individual interpretation can make.
The ballet was going well enough through Act I, which introduces young Prince Siegfried and his romantic yearnings but does not yet allow us to meet Odette, the Swan Queen who will change his life. From the moment Collier made her fluttering entrance in Act Ii, though, the atmosphere was altered irrevocably by the waves of mystery and pathos she sent out. Her Odette was fearful, introverted, touchingly soft; by contrast, her Odile, in Act III, was -- though never garish or leering -- sharp and proud. It was one of ose total performances -- impeccable in style; technically strong, even brilliant; and imbued with character in every phrase.
Though no one else on stage was on Collier's level, the cast in the main was commendable. Wayne Eagling made a credible, if rather homespun, Siegfried. He danced with far more assurance and address than on opening night; the difference was particularly notable in the pensive solo of Act I (choreographed some years ago by Nureyev), so much like the one that gave him trouble in "Beauty's" Act II. His virtuosity in the "Black Swan' duet also merits praise. Among the set pieces, the ones most sparklingly performed were those created by Ashton -- the pas de quatre, and the Spanish and Neapolitan dances, all in Act III (Wendy Ellis and Stephen Sheriff were especially fetching in the Neapolitan).
Throughout the performanance, the crops de ballet -- as peasants, courtiers, swans -- was exemplary, as was the acting and mime by all the ancillary characters. The orchestral playing was generally fine, though conductor Anthony Twiner's approach was a mite too brisk and businesslike for such lyrical material as this. A final hurrah: The Royal production proves firmly that it makes excellent dramatic sense to proceed to Act II without intermission.