For American Ballet Theatre's Michele Wiles, the duality of Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake" is probably the most difficult role in the classical repertory, and she's danced it with mixed results since her debut four years ago. At ABT's first "Swan Lake" of the season, on Tuesday night, she was able to maintain and, in some respects, build on her improved performance of last year.
Few if any ballerinas are naturally suited to all parts of the Odette/Odile calculus. Ms. Wiles is first and foremost an allegro dancer, and as such, the most difficult parts of the dual role are the two lakeside scenes, which call for high drama and deep sorrow.
Here we're privy to the suffering of the spellbound princess Odette, who is trapped in swan form by the sorcerer von Rothbart and reverts to human form only at night.
These scenes force Ms. Wiles to do more than simply put her well-proportioned, lovely limbs into the requisite ballet positions and move them at a slow tempo. She is certainly capable of doing so, and she goes beyond this basic requirement by using her torso, as well as her limbs, to create a synergistic dance architecture.
This is where true comfort eludes her. Her arms are too often neutral. In the role's many arabesques, her back is not very articulate, and these are some of the most difficult, expressive arabesques in ballet. In Odette's variation, she must follow a series of small jumps with an arabesque pose that can't be too much of a pose: Even though it's prolonged, it has to breathe. On Tuesday, Ms. Wiles couldn't do this the way it should be done. In truth, very few ballerinas can. But nevertheless, she danced her variation very well.
Somehow, the effort she had to expend on the first and more difficult lakeside scene made the pyrotechnics of her next appearance, as Odile — the counterfeit creature whose mission is to trick Prince Siegfried into betraying Odette — possess more stature than ever before. Ms. Wiles has always been able to pirouette, but on Tuesday, turning was not part of her bid for box score pre-eminence. Instead, it was just one part among equals in the virtuoso mix. Yes, in the coda she did do the multiple foučtte turns that most of ABT's ballerinas insist upon. They were dazzling but resulted in a small glitch, as they almost invariably do whenever anyone performs them. Overall, Ms. Wiles's Odile has acquired more poise and personality as this provocative ballroom gate-crasher.
David Hallberg was again her Prince Siegfried, and they have certainly developed their partnership since their debut together in 2004. There is a coolness to their dialogue that is intriguing and does not diminish the authenticity of their mutual attraction. They have much more of an idea of what to do with the different adagios throughout the ballet, and more physical rapport. When she is supported in pirouettes by him, there's now an altogether different flavor than when she turns on her own.
Mr. Hallberg is perhaps a model to Ms. Wiles of the effectiveness of doing less to achieve more. The fact that he doesn't try to up the ante with all sorts of technical embellishments is enough to make him a standout in today's overly quantitative and gimmicky world of ballet technique. There are fillips of his own that he adds, that allow him to present his rangy and elegant physique to best advantage, but they are done in good taste.
Kevin McKenzie's "Swan Lake," first performed in 2000, gives us a dual von Rothbart as a parallel to the swan's dual incarnations. Vitali Krauchenka was the ogre on Tuesday night. He was ogreish when he put Ms. Wiles under his spell in a backstory vignette that Mr. McKenzie sets to the Overture. Marcelo Gomes was the Rothbart you can take out in public, who gets to do his own solo in the ballroom scene. Mr. Gomes seemed to be working in stylistic tandem with Mr. Hallberg on Tuesday, demonstrating his powers of magnetic attraction and malevolence by the display of minimal overt exertion.
On Tuesday night, there was lots of good dancing by the corps and by the different classical and character dance soloists. As the Prince's tutor, 94-year-old ex-ballet star Frederic Franklin was once more dynamic and vitally involved.
'Swan Lake' until June 3 (Lincoln Center, 212-362-6000)