For Maine State Ballet, the benefits of moving this year’s production of the classic “Swan Lake” from the grandeur of Merrill Auditorium to the modest comfort of its home theater in Falmouth outweigh the costs.
Among other things on the plus side, the ballet will be presented over three full weekends, which is an unusually long run. Maine State Ballet typically performs over two weeks, but the expense of renting Merrill prohibits an extended residency. Audiences in Falmouth also will get a more theatrical and nuanced experience, thanks to recent upgrades to the in-house lighting system at the 140-seat Lopez Theater. Maine State Ballet received grants from the Davis Family Foundation and the Ramlose Foundation for new lighting. “Swan Lake,” which opens Friday, will be the first show under the new lights.
Theater manager Fred Bernier now can work in advance to set the lights for the show and can achieve different lighting effects. In the past, Maine State rented lights for each production. With the new lights he was able to purchase for the theater, he can now set up the lights weeks in advance and spend more time fine-tuning them, said artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele.
“His lighting designs have been great even with the time constraint, but now he’s able to get even more creative,” she said.
But the real benefit of performing in a smaller space is the intimacy that develops between the dancers and the audience, said Rhiannon Pelletier, who dances the lead role of the Swan Queen, Odette/Odile. “The audience can make the connection with the dancers much more easily,” she said. “You can see the details of our costumes and hear the dancers breathe. It’s real people right in front of you.”
Pelletier shares the role with Veronica Druchniak. Dancers Nathaniel Dombek and Glenn Davis share the role of Prince Siegfried, and Fred Bernier portrays the evil sorcerer Count Von Rothbart.
This year marks the 140th anniversary of the classic ballet. It premiered in 1877 at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, although a production with a score by Tchaikovsky has become the standard for most modern productions. Maine State will perform “Swan Lake” in four acts, incorporating much of the original choreography along with original choreography by Miele. Gail Csoboth designed sets and costumes.
For Dombek, “Swan Lake” signals a return to his roots. Now 22, the Gorham native has been dancing at Maine State Ballet since he was 11 and recently spent one year on the road with a national touring production of “West Side Story.” He played a member of the Jets street gang and understudied for two lead roles, which he got to cover a few times during the tour.
He sees similarities between “Swan Lake” and “West Side Story.” Both challenge dancers, technically and artistically, and both force dancers to be at their best. “Every movement in the choreography, every note in the music and every word in the book means something in ‘West Side Story.’ There’s no filler,” he said. ” ‘Swan Lake’ is a lot like that. The story is so important, and every move the dancers make is intended to advance the story.”
Druchniak has danced the lead in “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker.” The lead role in “Swan Lake,” she said, “is by far the biggest role I have ever danced. Those other roles do not come close to preparing you for ‘Swan Lake.’ ”
The role is challenging because the character has two distinct personalities. Odette, who appears in the second act, is delicate and soft. Odile, in Act III, is feisty and rotten. “You have to balance both of those and keep your technique up while also portraying the personality of the character.”
Pelletier called the role “the Mount Everest of ballet. It’s two roles rolled into one.”
Miele said “Swan Lake” is a good test of the strength and depth of a ballet company, because it requires maturity, strength and stamina. ” ‘Swan Lake’ teaches young dancers how to become ballerinas,” she said.
The story is about a princess who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer. It originally had a sad ending, but was revised after World War II when the Bolshoi Ballet decided it needed a happier ending to offer hope after the tragedy of the war. “Be prepared to cry,” Miele said. “We have a really beautiful story to tell.”
WHERE: Maine State Ballet’s Lopez Theater, 348 Route 1, Falmouth
WHEN: Opens Friday, through April 9; 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS & INFO: $19 to $25; 207-781-7672 or mainestateballet.org