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Ballet review: 'Swan Lake' delivers a dazzling dance epic

Minnesota Ballet dancers practice Monday for the ballet’s biggest production to date — a three-act “Swan Lake” that opens on Friday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

The Minnesota Ballet's dazzling production of "Swan Lake" this weekend at the DECC's Symphony Hall is a dream come true, not just for choreographer Robert Gardner as the exclamation mark on his quarter-century with the company, but for Northland balletomane as well.

The story is your basic maiden meets evil sorcerer, becomes a swan by day, and then meets a prince one night. Love and tragedy await.

Prince Siegfried (Ryo Munakata), courted by a quartet of prospective princess brides, is much more interested in the crossbow given to him by his Queen mum (Andrea Smith), expressing his joy with some impressive backward leaps.

A signature aspect of Gardner's choreography is working with a trio of dancers. In Act 1 he explores this with Sam Neale, Sarah White and Emily Reed and ends with his own character joining five pairs of trios on stage.

Act 2 reveals Ann Gumpper's gorgeous backdrop of Swan Lake, with its layers of witchy looking trees, where Siegfried encounters Odette (Emma Stratton), Queen of the Swans.

Having previously danced the title role in "Firebird," Stratton certainly has an affinity for avian choreography. With her expressive face, she makes Odette a vulnerable figure, and her frightened look when she first sees Siegfried is as on point as her dancing.

A key component for the success of this production is the work of the corps de ballet. The many swan maidens, cygnets and swans allows numerous pretty moments with rippling waves of arms or the entire white-frocked flock in flight.

Equally important is Gardner's incorporation of elements of dance contemporary to the original productions of Tchaikovsky's ballet, most notably in White's Act 1 solo and the dance of the little swans by the four cygnets in Act 2. I have been totally fascinated by this old-school style of dance since seeing "Giselle."

If you liked the costume design by Sandra Ehle and Ann Marie Ethen in the first two acts, wait until you see what everyone is wearing in Act 3. The final four princesses and their courtiers are done up in their own colorful outfits (edge to House Espagnole) for the big dance off.

Danse Espagnole with White is a fiery little dance replete with castanets while Natasha Bryan's Danse Russe offers a quaint little folk dance. Danse Hongorise with Naomi Doty emphasizes the strategic tilt of the head, and in the Danse Napolitaine, Reed is spurred by the trumpet to an ever-increasing tempo that concludes with a double-lift.

Meanwhile, with a wicked gleam in her eye, Brigid Duffin's Black Swan tricks the prince into picking the wrong swan, leaving Odette heartbroken.

There is actually a fourth act to this ballet, which Gardner reduces to an interlude and the climatic apotheosis. Dan Westfield's evil Baron Von Rothbart undertakes a massive leap across the stage before Odette and Siegfried do their own fateful lovers' leaps to bring the epic evening to a close.

Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune. This review is based on Thursday night's dress rehearsal.

If you go

What: Minnesota Ballet's "Swan Lake"

Where: Symphony Hall at the DECC

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: Start at $19 adults, $14 students, $12 children; available at www.mnballet.org and at Ticketmaster outlets including the DECC box office and www.ticketmaster.com