NoExit Performance's Swan Lake 

***1/2
click to enlarge A Prince (Robert Negron) falls in love with a Swan (David Lovett) in NoExit Performance's Swan Lake at Wheeler Arts Community. - ZACH ROSING
  • A Prince (Robert Negron) falls in love with a Swan (David Lovett) in NoExit Performance's Swan Lake at Wheeler Arts Community.
  • Zach Rosing

A classic ballet is once again a jumping-off point for a NoExit Performance production. First there was Nutcracker, now Swan Lake. The company seems to have a love-hate relationship with such formative works, wanting to make them their own.

I understand that impulse, have felt it myself, and I usually love NoExit's dreamlike brand of exploring source material. I'm still not sure why this particular show taken as a whole didn't entirely work for me.

click to enlarge The town's religious leader (Bill Wilkinson) leads the backlash against the Swan (David Lovett). - ZACH ROSING
  • The town's religious leader (Bill Wilkinson) leads the backlash against the Swan (David Lovett).
  • Zach Rosing

Many of the elements taken individually are beautiful and innovative. Abigail Copeland's scenic design, for example: The audience walks a long way before entering the Wheeler Arts Community's elongated theatre space from an unusual direction. The space is mostly empty, yet it feels filled with magic and promise. There are a couple of inviting ponds, softly lit and edged with birch poles. Some kind of cabin is in the pool of light closest to the angled risers where the audience sits. The cast move benches and tables around during the show to evoke a church and its dining hall.

All of the acting is superb, too. Director and choreographers Tommy Lewey's re-imagined story (with words by Leah Falk) is of an appealing young man ("Prince," played by Robert Negron) who lives with his well-meaning Mother (Beverly Roche) in a strictly conservative religious community, sort of Puritan, sort of Amish. One day he escapes into the woods to hunt. He wounds a gorgeous, intelligent, male Swan (David Lovett) and feels remorse when he sees the swan's pain and fear. He then tries to help the swan, who resists at first. Their physical struggle becomes erotic and they fall in love.

Meanwhile, the community's religious Father (Bill Wilkison) is preaching long and hard about the evils of animals and their dangerous nature.

There is a funny scene where the Prince brings the mute yet physically expressive Swan to a church dinner, hoping their love with be accepted, but for the most part this show is an earnest tragedy, with a few parts that drag and a few aspects that are cliched - the women removing their head coverings when they are about to say or do something against the rules, for example. Still, the ending is heartbreaking and satisfyingly not what you might expect even if you've seen a lot of tragedies.

Maybe I just wanted more dancing. There is surprisingly little of it but what there is, is a pleasure to watch. The dances shared by the Prince and the Swan are sexy and take place both in and out of the water. The dances performed by the Prince's Friend (Georgeanna Smith) and the Community (Amelia Smith, Megan Medley, Valeria Decastro, Kayla Elyse Stump, and Bridgett Richards) are subtle yet evoke the ecstasy and humanity of religious life.

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