Siegfried in Wonderland might be a better title for Christopher Wheeldon's Gilded Age staging of Swan Lake. Talent vs Money in a rivalry between a leading man and a wealthy patron, and money wins big time.
Yuck. But that's what happens when you allow people to have anything they want simply because they give you big expense accounts for your next production. Wheeldon's staging walks out of a Degas painting and into a ballet studio to begin rehearsing Swan Lake. Our prince notices the patron ogling his Odette. He wants to warn her away, but never manages to get his point across. The rehearsal ends, and while the patron whisks the girl away, the prince remains behind to work on his role. Instead, he dreams of wooing Odette by the lakeside and protecting her from the sorcerer/patron, something he couldn't do in real life.
Looks great on paper, but Wheeldon doesn't quite manage to pull off the surrealism. Having gutted the White Swan pas de deux, we never get to see Siegfried fall in love with Odette. So much for the opening act.
I can't say anything nice about the middle acts, so I won't say anything at all. They happened.
The final act has as gorgeous a white ballet as you could ever hope for. Unfortunately it cannot, by this time, salvage the mess made of the character dances in the previous act. Character in this case leaning more toward morals and ethics than national culture. Our prince has already chosen his princess, but seems helpless to do anything more than that.
The dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet have worked hard to embrace the sweeping changes brought about as the company transitioned from the artistic direction of Roy Kaiser to that of Angel Corella. They deserve something better than this flawed, early work of Wheeldon's. Give them Wheeldon's Alice in Wonderland, for instance, in which he had the strong whimsy of Lewis Carroll to back him up and enable him to achieve what he missed with the thin fairy tale of Swan Lake.
The company has grown strong under Corella's direction. For the upcoming season, their full-length production will be Corella's staging of Don Quixote, a world premiere for the artistic director as well as the company. Once they've managed this, they'll be more than ready for a Swan Lake worthy of their hard work and desire for excellence.