Christmas came early this year! Thank you to Peter Martins for the best buddies casting last night. Because if you have to work the Act II late shift, it's best to do it with old friends!
My colleague Devin Alberda captured some beautiful shots of Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen in rehearsal for Swan Lake. They make their debut as a tragic couple in just a few hours!
When someone asks me what I do, and I respond that I am a ballet dancer, invariably the first thing they want to know is, “have you seen Black Swan?” The answer is yes, yes I have. All dancers have. The second thing they ask is if the ballet world is like the movie. Not exactly. I think Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a great horror movie, and I think Natalie Portman is fantastic in it. But it is a film that wraps every single ballet stereotype up in one woman, which is not very realistic. However, this inevitable line of inquiry with strangers does make plain that when most laypeople think about ballet they think of Swan Lake. Therefore, I think it is safe to conjecture that the dual role of Odette/Odile is probably the most famous in all of ballet.
The fame is justified. The role is incredibly difficult—both technically and emotionally. The Swan Queen dances throughout three of four acts of the ballet—the only one she gets off is the first, which isn’t very helpful! She must excel in the lyrical adagio passages of the White Swan—the plaintive backbends, the languorous passés and attitude balances. The she must tackle the brisk challenges in the third act Black Swan pas de deux, including its treacherous 32 fouetté turns—which come at the point when she is at her most tired.
The acting demands are no less daunting. She must convincingly act out a preposterous story: that she is the princess Odette trapped by the evil sorcerer Rothbart in half woman/half bird form who falls in love at first sight with a man who is trying to shoot her. Then she must become the villainous and seductive Odile (who is pretending to be Odette) who convinces the prince to swear his love to her instead. While she embodies Odile she must be enough like Odette so that the Prince is sold, but different enough so that the audience buys that she is a different woman entirely. Then she does another about-face and turns back into Odette, mourning her prince’s betrayal by the cold dark lake. In the finale she must not appear schizophrenic as she quickly reunites with her lover, forgives him, and pledges undying love to him which vanquishes her captor. For her efforts she is damned to an eternity of lonely swandom. To say that this is not the easiest of character studies would be an understatement. Natalie Portman rightfully won an Oscar for the task. Michael Keaton was nominated for an Oscar for a rather similar feat in Birdman.
My friend NYCB Principal Dancer Teresa Reichlen has been kind enough to answer a few questions about dancing such a demanding and storied role. Tess is one of those rare birds (sorry!) who is a perfect fit for the role. She has the height, length, and flexibility for the adagio work, as well as a sensational jump and the smooth turns requisite of the Black Swan. Next week Tess returns to the role of Odette/Odile in Peter Martins’s Swan Lake. She will be dancing with soloist Russell Janzen who is making his debut as Prince Siegfried. I’ve had a few glimpses and they are killing it in rehearsals. I cannot wait to see their shows!
Q: First of all Tess, have you ever seen Black Swan? If so, what did you think of it? (wink wink)
A: I have seen Black Swan. I think that it is a psychological thriller that happens to be based in the world of a ballet company and like any movie of that sort should not be accepted as a relevant representative of what happens in the real world.
Q: Great, moving on. Swan Lake is so iconic, but it is not exactly what the NYCB is known for. Did you dream of dancing Odette/Odile as a young dancer? Or was this something that came as a surprise in your career?
A: When I was younger I just wanted to be a dancer, I didn’t have any overarching dreams about specific companies or roles that I wanted to do. After I joined NYCB and started to do a few solos and began to realize how much I loved what I was doing there were specific things that I started to hope that I would one day get to do, including Swan Lake. I actually understudied the role for quite