On Wednesday afternoon, ABT principal Hee Seo made her debut as Odette/Odile. It’s no secret that we love Seo, and there was much to love about her first Swan Lake. Her whole body expressed palpable fear upon meeting her Prince Siegfried, Marcelo Gomes. She allowed that initial skittishness to dissipate as the pas de deux progressed, enchanting both prince and audience with her long, willowy limbs, filling the music as they unraveled effortlessly. Sometimes when Siegfried falls in love with Odette, it feels like he’s just dazzled by the very existence of these strange swan-maiden creatures. Seo and Gomes conveyed a deeper connection. And a surprising touch—Seo’s undulating swan arms didn’t ripple quickly, as with many Odettes. She made strong strokes, as powerful beating wings do before a bird takes flight.
Seo was clearly more comfortable, more extravagant in her risk-taking, in Gomes’ arms than in her solos. She was lucky to perform this debut with him (and told me as much last week, when I ran into her at a performance of Le Corsaire). Gomes, as it has been said endlessly, allows his ballerinas to be at their very best by knowing exactly what they need physically and by being fully absorbed in portraying the role at hand. (He’s ABT’s MVP for many reasons, but not enough is said about his own dancing: his ultra-elegant epaulement—to which he’ll add flourishes like a deep cambre when appropriate musically—and his careful attention to connecting and finishing steps beautifully are singular across the company.)
Seo and Gomes in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
The audience went wild at the end of Seo and Gomes’ black swan pas. The sizzling chemistry helped—their faces were so close during one supported arabesque, I thought she was going in for an impromptu kiss. Gomes’ pirouettes were super on—at one point, he opened his arms to second intending to finish, but still had enough momentum to complete a final revolution, surprising even himself. And Seo nailed the last arabesque balance in the diagonal of chugs traveling backwards. It was a strong debut that will only improve as she gets more opportunities to dance it.
We know there are few ballets as rough for the female corps as Swan Lake, so a big brava to all of the beautiful swans onstage this week. (You’re almost there, ladies.) And we wish a swift recovery to the wonderful Alexandre Hammoudi, Seo’s original Siegfried, who has been sidelined by a foot injury.