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BALLET WEST'S `SWAN LAKE' SHOWCASES FRESHNESS, VITALITY

When John Hart took over Ballet West, he expressed the desire to nurture a truly Western, classical company. And watching "Swan Lake" during this run, one notes how well those seemingly disparate elements have come together. The style is classical, to be sure, but there's also a freshness and vitality, an unjaded enthusiasm that suggests a company with new frontiers to conquer.

Having lost a few and absorbed quite a number of new members this season, the company is dancing beautifully, both collectively and individually. Seasoned members are moving along, and newcomers fit in compatibly. Indeed, "Swan Lake" is a good choice for getting on with the work of assimilating, since it incorporates a style and ideal to which everyone has some concept and aspiration.Foremost among newcomers is Donna Patzius, a principal dancer picked up from BalletMet, who as the Swan Queen handed out some thrills to Saturday night's audience. Distinctive facial features, and most of all a long-limbed, alert body that falls into perfect classic lines mark her as an original.

Her dominant qualities seem to be queenly and confident, so she is not altogether convincing in conveying the fright and vulnerability of Odette, though the dancing is first-rate, and the potential for tragic impact is obvious. But what an Odile, offering a Black Swan such as we have not seen on this stage, with Raymond Van Mason as her ardent partner. All difficulties melt away before her laughing, scornful heat, climaxing in a stunning series of 32 fouettes, with several doubles. Utah awaits to see what's next from this exceptional ballerina.

Completing the Swan Queen-Siegfried casting are Jane Wood and Jeffrey Rogers, artists who have made their careers with Ballet West, and continue to grow and develop. Wood shows technical mastery, with a Swan Queen who is womanly and delicate, an Odile who is strong, vital and exciting, though she seems a little careful at times. Rogers makes an ideal storybook prince, complementing Wood in an attractive company partnership.

The swan corps offers a synergetic, sympathetic performance that sometimes verges on the hypnotic in its appeal. The fourth act where the swans emerge from the mist and dance as if in a trance develops beautifully to the final tragic climax. And the cygnets of Act I (Christine Winkler, Bridget Boutin, Leslie Ann Larson and Jennifer Demko) offer their crowd-pleasing little turn in complete harmony.

This big production taxes Ballet West to its limits. With 18 swans and big party scenes there is heavy corps work throughout, and most of the women are in every scene. Men have less to do but acquit themselves well. In performance, every dancer portrays a character, and stays in that character without a lapse.

Among those who offer outstanding support is Jiang Qi, who combines charm, agility and strength in the pas de trois, along with Jennifer Demko and newcomer Christine Winkler, a look-alive dancer who radiates personality. The three also combine in a nimble tarantella. And thanks to Marrie Hadfield, whose cool elegance adds such class to the queen mother in this ballet, and all similar walk-about characters she portrays.

Terence Kern maintains brisk orchestral tempos throughout, adding to the flourish, excitement and spirit of this piece.