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Review: Replacement dancers perform admirably in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Swan Lake'

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 3:09 p.m.
Rich Sofranko
Yoshiaki Nakano performs in 'Swan Lake' with Pittburgh Ballet Theatre.
Nicholas Coppula
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers perform 'Swan Lake.'
Rich Sofranko
Alexandra Kochis performs in 'Swan Lake' with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

The depth of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's roster of dancers saved the day at Feb. 14's performance of “Swan Lake” at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

“Swan Lake” is a big production with dozens of characters and a big role for the corps de ballet. They all serve to support the love story of Odette, cursed to be a swan except at night, and Prince Siegfried. The female lead is a double role. She also plays Odile, the daughter of the man who put the curse on Odette. They trick Siegfried into betraying Odette in the ballet's third act.

Christine Schwaner had been scheduled to dance the leading role Friday night with Nurlan Abougaliev. After she suffered a stress fracture, both dancers had to be replaced because the roles are rehearsed as a team.

That meant both Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano starred for the first time in their careers in “Swan Lake.” Each is an exceptionally promising young dancer who has risen to soloist, not yet principal. And each has made the “25 to Watch” list in Dance Magazine.

“Swan Lake's” first act is Siegfried's 21st birthday party. His mother, the Queen, has invited six princesses from whom he is to choose his bride. Two of the princesses are presented to Siegfried by his friend Benno, elegantly performed by Nicholas Coppula, in the pas de trois. Corps members Gabrielle Thurlow and Caitlin Peabody set the barre high for brilliantly performing artistic director Terrence Orr's intricate choreography with precision and elan. Joseph Parr was a scene-stealer as the Jester.

Although Nakano had some opportunity to display his extroverted technique earlier in the act, his big solo is at the end is introverted. He was eloquent in expressing loneliness and yearning for love.

The second act is a hunting party later that night by the lake. The 12 swans, danced by members of the corps, were enchanting all night and performed with graceful unanimity. Siegfried finds himself unable to shoot Odette, queen of the swans, with his crossbow. As he hears her story, he falls in love. Cochrane shined in her long duet with Siegfried, remarkably steady and affecting in the exposed slow choreography.

Siegfried's birthday ball, Act 3, takes place the next day and features entertainment dances — the Czardas, Spanish, Neopolitan and Mazurka – performed with flair by members of the corps in brilliant costumes.

Prince Rothbart arrives with his daughter Odile, whom he has made to look like Odette.

Both dancers cut loose during the Black Swan pas de deux, in which Siegfried becomes intoxicated with Odile. Nakano owned the air above the stage floor. His powerful leaps were seemingly effortless, while his leg and arm movements while floating had masculine elegance.

Cochrane responded with her most brilliant dancing of the evening. Her Odile is assertive, even aggressive. She danced with abandon, relishing every turn and leap, and with fine right leg detail in her fouettes.

After Siegfried tells the Queen that Odile is the one he wants to marry, Rothbart and Odile show him a vision of Odette. Siegfried is crushed at being fooled and runs off to find his true love.

In the last act, he finds her by the lake with the swans. After Cochrane and Nakano dance a tender scene of forgiveness, Rothbart reappears. Because Siegfried swore love to another after professing love for Odette, she can't be redeemed to human life. They leap to their deaths, which breaks Rothbart's curse, and are seen at the end going off to be together in the afterlife.

Charles Barker conducted the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Orchestra with sensitivity and purpose, which wasn't always easy. Orr's choreography is so intricate for some numbers that the tempo has to be extraordinarily slow — which reduced the spirit the music can add to the performance. The choreography was rewarding, but the symbiosis of dance and music was pale.

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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