Performing Arts

Kansas City Ballet creates magical ‘Swan Lake’ with stunning lead and practiced corps

Kansas City Ballet dancers Molly Wagner and Liang Fu in “Swan Lake” on Feb. 18, 2016.
Kansas City Ballet dancers Molly Wagner and Liang Fu in “Swan Lake” on Feb. 18, 2016. East Market Studios

In Kansas City Ballet’s first-ever presentation of “Swan Lake,” artistic director Devon Carney’s relentless enthusiasm and vision seem to have finally manifested — the performance Friday indicated a company capable of anything.

With refined principals, well-honed soloists and a disciplined corps de ballet, the company wholeheartedly embodied this timeless work, from the exuberant festive opening scene to the emotionally powerful conclusion.

The production opened Friday at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre, with performances through February 28.

Carney, in keeping with the 1895 standard set by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, choreographed with sagacious use of spatial resources and a keen dramatic sense, bringing in Cynthia Gregory to coach the Swan Queen role. Jose Marona’s fairytale-like sets of forest and palace and detailed, opulent costumes were given a final layer of magic created by lighting designer Trad A. Burns.

The Kansas City Symphony, conducted by Ramona Pansegrau, played Pytor Tchaikovsky’s score with robust ensemble and excellent soloists on the iconic themes.

Molly Wagner, as the white swan and the black imposter, exemplified the ideal of emotive talent and technical prowess. Her Odette she imbued with lyrical distress; as Odile she had fascinating allure, glitteringly aggressive. In white her movements had lithe grace, beautiful to the fingertip, yet for all the graceful fluttering there was a deep, internal stillness. In black the movements sizzle and snap as she looked directly into the audience with haughty confidence. (In alternate performances, Tempe Ostergren or Sarah Chun dances the lead role.)

Liang Fu performed as Prince Siegfried with a believable arc of character, a bit of humor and dancing skill of tremendous power. Their pas de deux were both tender and strong, with dynamic variations.

There was much to commend in this performance, despite a few timing issues and some orchestral missteps. The pas de trois of Chun, Laura Hunt and Michael Davis was fresh, bouncy and musical. The four cygnets were precise. Thom Panto gave a sinister, vindictive turn as the villain Von Rothbart. The princesses amused, revealing individualized personalities when scorned. Also fun were the exciting character dances, with high kicks, tambourine slaps and forceful stomps, lunges and heel clicks.

Perhaps most iconic (yet potentially problematic) was the flock of enchanted swan maidens. This well-drilled corps, emphasizing Odette’s fear and longing, performed with cohesive fluidity, held poses with elegance in their arms and heads, and created a forceful final visual statement at the work’s conclusion.