“Lac”, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s 2011 ersatz “Swan Lake” raises eyebrows but mostly for those already well acquainted with existing classical versions. The big companies that take on “Swan Lake” generally strive for authenticity by restoring lost choreography, music, and staging. Choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot has taken an alternate route through Tchaikovsky’s music by throwing out the past in favor of a sexier, bleaker, and leaner version. It’s an adapted story for ballet hipsters, one that embraces minimal sets (hanging columns of fabric for the court scenes in Act I and II and a stone circle for Act II), atmospheric lighting, and provocative, couture costuming by Philippe Guillotel.

Maillot and his dramatist collaborator, the author Jean Rouaud, have worked hard to forge the classic “Swan Lake” into something different, something in tune with the modern world, something suitable for a contemporary ballet choreographer. Their vision is dark. There is no concluding redemption. But the ballet’s many characters can seem bloodless, straight-jacketed. The story makes a confused medley out of Tchaikovsky’s music which has been drastically reordered. Much of it even goes missing in the rush to condense the final two acts into one. The whole work clocks in just short of two hours.

The Prince and Swans from Maillot's 'Lac'
The Prince and Swans from Maillot’s ‘Lac’

In this newly adapted story the dual roles of Odette and Odile are played by two separate dancers. You could question whether Maillot’s choice makes the double-edged role more or less of a psychological black hole. Rouaud also suggests that the evil that plagues the Prince in his search for a suitable mate is not an agent of an externalized sorcerer, but the result of a dysfunctional family. And the swans, when they arrive, are not the diaphanous, feminine variety but rather, edgy, feral, and threatening. When they come to rest they are posed slightly pitched over at the waist, with one toe shoe placed behind and beating angrily against the floor. But it is “Lac’s” hip theatrically and the company’s steely, precise dancers that ultimately rescue the ballet and make it worth watching.

One thing that Maillot does brilliantly in “Lac” is to expand the dancing roles, especially in Act I. He replaces the coded mime and endless parading around of the original with actual dancing and a better balanced cast that includes a confidant to the Prince, an expanded hunting party of male dancers, as well as broadened roles for the King and Queen, and The Black Swan. On Sunday the roles of the Prince and The White Swan were danced Lucien Postlewaite and Anjara Ballesteros. Maillot’s choreography looks suitably angular and physical on them. His partnering requires speed but at times it felt awkward, as if Maillot were still looking for a workable replacement for the classical formality of the original.

In the final scene an immense, swirling cyclone of black fabric descends and sweeps away the Prince and his swan in a fantastic vastation that left no doubt that, for this ballet, the powers of darkness had had their day. It was, simply put, a terrific ending.

(The reviewed performance of Lac took place at Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Sunday March 9, 2014. The performances in Costa Mesa were “LAC”s” American premiere. Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts presented Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in Maillot’s “Cinderella” in 2012. Follow the link for filmed excerpts.)


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