By Steve Sucato
When Gladisa Guadalupe’s reconstituted Cleveland Ballet emerged on Northeast, Ohio’s dance scene in 2014, it was a fledgling professional ballet company with modest expectations. Now entering its 8th season, with an ever-improving roster of dancers, a growing budget nearing 3 million dollars, and much of the other trappings of a proper ballet organization, expectations are much higher as the troupe has taken its place among Ohio’s elite ballet companies.
To kick off its 2022-23 season, the company will present its very first full-length production of Swan Lake on October 21 & 22 at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre.
One of ballet’s big 5 story ballets, Swan Lake tells the story of Princess Odette who is kidnapped by the evil sorcerer Baron Von Rothbart, who is half-man, half-bird. He turns the Princess into a swan and condemns her to a life under his spell at the lakeside with other maidens he has similarly cursed. Prince Siegfried, under pressure to take a wife from his Queen mother, flees to the lakeside woods to hunt and be alone with his thoughts. After seeing a flock of swans and the beautiful Odette, their queen, he falls in love with her. Later, determined to keep Siegfried and Odette apart, Rothbart tricks Siegfried into declaring his undying love for his daughter Odile disguised as the Swan Queen. Odette is betrayed. And although she eventually forgives Siegfried for his error, she decides she cannot live her cursed life anymore and throws herself off a cliff into the lake. A bereft Siegfried follows, and their act of eternal love for one another into the afterlife destroys Rothbart and breaks his spell over the other swan maidens.
Choreographed and staged by Guadalupe and Cleveland Ballet’s staff after Marius Petipa’s 1895 production, the ballet, with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, has the added benefit of the company’s dancers being coached by former Russian-American prima ballerina Valentina Kozlova.
Also, joining the company’s 32 dancers and 7 trainees taking the stage for this production will be Argentinian ballet star, Ana Sophia Scheller in the roles of Odette (White Swan)/Odile (Black Swan). The former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, National Ballet of Ukraine, and New York City Ballet will reunite with fellow former New York City Ballet principal dancer Zachary Catazaro who will dance the role of Prince Siegfried.
The pair previously danced the “Black Swan pas de deux” in Mongolia and Scheller says of Catazaro as a dance partner, “He is a very exciting dancer and performs with confidence and security, which is one of the most important things for a dancer to project to an audience.”
Of the Odette/Odile roles, Scheller says “it is one of the hardest in classical ballet because it demands very strong technical training to be able to deliver the steps and also tell the ballet’s story at the same time.”
In approaching the role of the Black Swan Odile, Scheller says she thinks about being seductive but with a sense of class in order to convince Siegfried that she is Odette. That deception carries over into Odile’s Black Swan pas de deux with Siegfried in which Scheller says, “I try to use soft arm movements similar to Odette’s in the pas de deux.”
Performing the role of the baddie, Baron Von Rothbart, will be Narek Martirosyan with his nephew Emmanuel (both former dancers with New Jersey Ballet) as this production’s ubiquitous court jester.
Audiences familiar with the company will be pleased to see many familiar faces returning this season along with 9 new company members making their Playhouse Square debuts. They are, Lorenzo Pontiggia, Catherine Voorhees, Chelsea Endris, Alexander Guzmán, Andrew Denise, Stacie Preuhs, Audrey Burdick, veteran Russian dancer Vadim Slatvitskii, and company star-in-the-making Sydney Henson. The Saugerties, New York-native and ballet competition medal-winner, Henson showed off her enviable facility and dancing prowess filling in for Scheller (who was in Sicily) performing as Odette/Odile in a recent rehearsal of Swan Lake by the company at their Bedford Heights studios.
Beyond its talented cast, the production itself looks to be the company’s finest to date. Guadalupe has streamlined the normal 4-act ballet down to 2 while maintaining its storyline and jam-packing it with substantive dancing across the board.
For area ballet devotees and occasional ballet-goers alike, Cleveland Ballet’s Swan Lake is an early-season must-see.
Cleveland Ballet performs Swan Lake, 8 p.m., Friday, October 21 and 7 p.m., Saturday, October 22, 2022, at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre. Tickets range from $28-131 and are available at playhousesquare.org/events or by calling (216) 241-6000.