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Wright Center, Samford University
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Tickets: $30, $45, $55
Swan Lake, the the most iconic ballet of all time, returns in February! Performed to Tchaikovsky's glorious score, Alabama Ballet’s Swan Lake features everything you love about classical ballet: timeless choreography, opulent costumes and sets, precise corps de ballet work and stunning solos.
We recently asked our three Odette/Odiles about learning the role of a lifetime, and this is what they said:
Alabama Ballet: Where does Odette/Odile rank on your list of roles you’d most like to perform and why?
Jennifer Ferrigno: Dancing the lead in Swan Lake is definitely on my list of top 3 dream-come-true roles. Swan Lake is probably the most well known classic next to The Nutcracker and definitely one that every little girl dreams of dancing. It's wonderfully romantic and delicate to start, with a twist of strength and drama to finish. It's one of the most difficult and well respected roles among the ballet community, and if danced well, can shape a dancer's career. Among the classics, there are a number of ballets that a dancer wants to be able to say they have danced before they can happily retire, and Swan Lake is definitely on the top of that list.
Chinatsu Owada: Swan Lake is always my favorite ballet to watch but somehow I never imagined I would dance Odette/Odile. My dream classical roles were Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, and Aurora from The Sleeping Beauty. But now, having this great opportunity to perform Odette/Odile, I am very honored and very excited to dance in my favorite ballet!
Samantha Galler: I have wanted to learn and perform this role since I was little because my goal is to prove to myself that I can attack the steps as a creature, like the swan would, and turn myself from delicate to dark. When I listen to the music for both Odette and Odile I find myself falling in love with both characters because they each have so much to give.
AB: Why is dancing Odette/Odile so challenging?
JF: Dancing the role of Odette/Odile is challenging on a couple of different levels. Technically, it's demanding on a level I haven't experienced thus far in my career. The second act is all control and strength. Odette should appear delicate and swan-like. The choreography is very demanding on a dancers body, every line must be pure and beautiful, everything is exposed. Looking past the technique and the fact that the dancers movement should be mimicking that of a swan, the story must be accurately portrayed to the audience. The audience's hearts should ache for Odette. It's very easy for movement as well as the acting to be overdone. Finding the balance between too little and too much is very challenging. Odile is fiery and confident. She's strong and cold hearted. She is everything Odette isn't. She should be hypnotist. The audience shouldn't be able to take their eyes off of her. Technically Odile is very demanding, a dancer's stamina will be tested.
If you think of singers, they are usually pinpointed as a soprano or an alto. Each singer has their individual strength. It's the same with dancers. They usually are either fiery and pyrotechnic or controlled and delicate. In this ballet the dancer must be both. The challenge is overcoming natural weaknesses both technically and artistically. All, of course, with confidence and as a swan.
CO: For me, because they are half bird and half princess, it is very hard to imagine how they feel and how they act. It takes more energy than usual to try to make my body move like a bird and dance at the same time. And of course, acting two different characters in one ballet is hard but enjoyable.
SG: This role is extremely challenging because it requires deep control and strength within the body and the mind. Both roles are elegant but in different ways. Odette/Odile allows and demands that you transform from a pure and vulnerable character to an irresistible and magnetic one.
AB: Besides daily rehearsal, how are you preparing for the role?
JF: Since rehearsals have just began, I am constantly replaying choreography over and over in my head. Each night I am on YouTube watching famous dancers and their interpretation of the role. As rehearsals continue and the sequence of steps are in my body, I will begin video taping my rehearsals and taking notes on the footage. Hopefully, making corrections and improving each day.
CO: I try to get inspired not only from ballet videos, but also from different styles of dance, stories, pictures, etc. to expand my ability to express my own Odette/Odile.
SG: Other than daily rehearsals, I go home and spend a lot of time in front of the mirror figuring out how to become my own swan. I sit down with a notebook and go through each step to figure out how my arms can look their best while still staying in character.
The other half of the partnership: the men of Swan Lake tell us about dancing the role of Seigfried.
Alabama Ballet: From your perspective as the male lead in Swan Lake, what is the most difficult aspect of the part?
Michael Fothergill: I think the most challenging part of dancing the role of Siegfried is remaining relatable to the audience while interacting on stage with the other members of the cast. While the female personas on stage tend to carry the bulk of the story line, Siegfried needs to support Odette/Odile's character and give her a relatable partner whom to fall in love with/seduce. The audience has to understand his tribulations as if they were there own, and make sense of what would otherwise be an "out there" storyline. When you remove the layers, it all comes down to a man that has fallen in love, only to be tricked by another. Making sure that the undertones of the story, beneath the glamour and the feathers remains relatable and grounded, I feel is my job. This leaves the fantasy and the drama to the ladies in the principal roles to embellish as they see fit, thus adding the real essence to the ballet.
Noah Hart: One of the most difficult aspects of dancing a lead in a ballet is making the character real, trying to make it believable, relevant, and current, especially without words. Trying to make the story epic, without melodramatics, in a short span of time.
Nukri Mamistvalov: Making the Prince look regal, and not stuck-up, is the biggest challenge. To look romantic, pleasant, loving and at the same time manly, is very difficult.
AB: What makes a male dancer a good partner?
MF: I think a good partner is above all else, adaptable. I have partnered nearly every woman in this company to some extent since my arrival. As this is the case, one would imagine that due to a variety of factors, each woman brings to her work a different feel, technical means and flair. Each woman moves differently, has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is our job to understand that we have to adapt our ways to make sure their abilities are provided for and furthered. I think a good partner is one that is reliable and consistent, however one that remains humble and willing to work with his partner to foster the best outcome visible. I also think a good sense of humor doesn't hurt.
NH: A good partner is able to adapt and make micro-adjustments from day to day. In partnering, nothing is ever going to be exactly the same, so it's our job to always have the ballerina where she needs to be to make the best lines, and to where she feels supported and secure.
NM: A good partner must be able to "feel" the girl, really have an awareness of which direction she's going to fall and where she is in her poses. Being a good partner comes from strong technique and experience, but if you don't have good intuition, you won't get anywhere.
AB: Besides daily rehearsal, how are you preparing for the role?
MF: I have viewed footage from various productions featuring other dancers in the same role. I feel that it is useful to observe their interpretations and the implementation of their ideas in their performance. This helps me to see what makes the most sense to me, and gives me a means to compare my ideas to seasoned professionals who have also danced the same part. I also enjoy watching the other men in the company while in their rehearsals, and feel that they too can be used as a tool to determine how I would like to portray my own version of Siegfried, as individual to myself.
NH: The internet has been a wonderful tool in researching roles. By using YouTube, you can quickly look up dozens of different versions from different dancers from around the world. Before, you would only have as many videos that the local library had, which would be 4 or 5, if you were lucky.
NM: I watch other company's productions to pick up on nuances in other dancer's performances. I look at books and static images, not just YouTube, to inform my performance and create my own look.