It’s a big year for State Street Ballet: the company is celebrating its 15th anniversary, moving to new studio space, and stepping into its role as one of the resident companies of the newly restored Granada. Last weekend’s production of Swan Lake was SSB’s way of acknowledging a historic moment in its development-a statement of its ability to do justice to the world’s most popular ballet and to the classical tradition that remains at the foundation of its work, and to attract a large audience.
It’s no real surprise then that Artistic Director Rodney Gustafson chose a version of Swan Lake that ends not in tragedy but in triumph, with Prince Siegfried’s love for Odette winning out over the forces of darkness. Since its 1877 premiere, the ballet’s fourth and final act has been rewritten again and again to suit the times and the culture. Among the popular variations are a Romeo and Juliet-esque double suicide ending, and a guilt-wracked prince grieving for his lover, who remains trapped forever in a swan’s body ending. But Santa Barbara audiences got the mildest version, the one in which good triumphs over evil, and love conquers all.
SSB does seem to be flourishing, with a number of new talents on board this year, among them Mio Konda, who brought grace and levity to her role as one of the cygnets. Konda also appeared with Spencer Gavin and Jennifer Rowe in a pas de trois-a wonderfully buoyant contrast to the ballet’s more somber pas de deux.
As Odette, Victoria Luchkina was avian and tragic, all twisted wrists and elbows, her long, thin arms conveying the vulnerability of an injured bird. The real magic came when she transformed herself into the daughter of the evil magician Rothbart, Odile, whose charms and snappy, seductive dancing overpower the prince and muddle his judgment.
Bayaraa Badamsambuu brought striking good looks and an air of refinement to the sorcerer role; his bright green bodice and long, feathery sleeves added to the sense that he was a beautiful, dangerous, predatory bird.
Like all myths and legends, Swan Lake is of course a metaphor, a story we tell ourselves about the power of a man’s enduring, devoted love for a woman. The nearly full house at the Granada on Sunday afternoon affirmed the command this story still has over many people. But if that story can be rewritten to suit the times, as history suggests, maybe it’s time for yet another version. After all, SSB has shown its ability to do justice to the classics, but it’s established itself more in innovative, original ballets. Somewhere out there is a new love story waiting to be danced-a story that might give all those little girls in the audience a dream of becoming something more than a dying swan, waiting for a prince to save her.