The story goes like this...
Once upon a time, a princess was kidnapped by a sorcerer, only to be enslaved and transformed. She was cursed to spend her days as a swan and her nights in her natural form unless she could find true love. If that love was fickle, she would remain a swan forever. A young prince wandered alone with his thoughts after his coming-of-age party where his family declared that he must find a wife. A full moon, a magical meeting, and a promise became soured and sullied through conceit, a mistaken identity and lust. The resulting tragedy ends in redemption through sacrifice.
Based on the Russian folktale “The White Duck” and the German short story “The Stolen Veil” and accompanied with an iconic score by Tchaikovsky, “Swan Lake” will grace the Plaza Theatre stage this Sunday, Oct. 22.
The ballet taps into the ideas of duality and the doppelgänger that any fan of soap operas or David Lynch would be familiar with. Darren Aronofsky explored one of these themes in the 2010 film “Black Swan.” Are Odette and Odile two separate individuals or are they two sides of the same woman?
In many productions of “Swan Lake,” Odette (the White Swan) and Odile (the Black Swan) are portrayed by two different women who will either switch roles nightly so they each get equal stage time as each character, or who will stay in their role for the duration of the show’s run.
Most challenging is the traditional casting- a single dancer portrays both roles. Both roles demand a high degree of stamina, technical and dramatic skill. Odette’s character drips with sadness, longing and pathos during her pas de deux with Prince Seigfried in the second act. Odile is imbued with playful intensity and sensuality during her third act solo variation, pas de deux, and, most notably, her coda which is punctuated by dozens of whip-like turns called fouettés.
At the Plaza, the Russian Grand Ballet’s principal dancer Olga Kifyak will portray both swans. She trained at the Ukrainian Academy of Dance and danced with the Ukrainian National Opera Ballet, Moscow Ballet and Czech Opera Ballet. What’s Up got to talk with her about her passion for dance, her roles as Odette and Odile and the challenges of touring.
When did you begin training as a dancer?
I started to dance at 12. It is a very late age to begin in ballet world. Usually, children start at five or six years old. It was always my dream to dance. My parents supported me and believed my dream would come true. I am very thankful to them for it.
During my childhood, after [middle] school classes, I would run to ballet school and train until 8, or 9 p.m. Often, I was so exhausted that I cried and thought that I would never dance like my idols. But the next day would come, I would forget all about my sadness and run to the ballet class. I never even wanted to play with my peers on the street because I always had this dream to dance.
How many seasons have you been dancing with the Russian Grand Ballet?
I’ve danced with the Russian Grand Ballet for five seasons. As a principal dancer, I toured in Japan, Australia, Mexico, South America, Poland, Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, China and the USA.
I’ve seen many bright eyes in the audience who came to our shows. All of those people were united by the love of art. When you are tired after the show and want to sleep more than anything in the world, you just remember how people were happy to see your performance, and all traces of sleep disappear. I want to dance and dance for them more and more.
You are playing both Odette and Odile. What an incredible feat! What is the biggest challenge in portraying both roles?
Almost all theaters have two different dancers playing Odette/Odile. I like dancing both of these roles. It is very interesting to have an opportunity to be two completely different characters. It is very important to play the acting part, to make all necessary stresses correctly are the biggest challenges for me. The most important thing is the audience must believe you, and there is no doubt in any movement or facial expression.
Please share some of the work that goes in to physically and emotionally preparing for these roles.
Actually, the physical part of these roles is easier to rehearse than the acting. The acting part is your inner experiences. You can’t rehearse it by the barre. I start rehearsing these roles every day two months before the tour. When the tour starts, I will continue to rehearse every day, two hours before the show.
What character qualities exemplify Odette/Odile?
Odette is delicate and tremulous. So, the dance has to look light and effortless, but that takes a lot. The lighter it looks, the more substantial power it takes. Odile is very insidious and sarcastic.
Between Odette/Odile, do you have a favorite?
I don’t know which role is closer to me: Odette or Odile. I like dancing both. I think my favorite depends on how my day is going, what my mood is at that moment.
What are some of the special challenges of performing on the road in a touring show?
The biggest challenge for me in a tour is travelling every day. It looks like almost all day you are on wheels – flights, cars, buses. Sometimes we don’t get to see more than a theater we perform in. But sometimes we get an hour or two and we don’t take it for granted. We manage to see some of the sightseeings or just walk around to feel the energy of a city. I love coming to places where I haven’t been before. It is so amazing to see something new for yourself. Every city lives its own life.
How do you keep up your strength and stamina during a tour such as this?
It is very simple, actually. Because we have performances almost every day. With such a schedule, you will not get out of shape for sure. There are trainings and rehearsals every day before the show. They are an important part of the show, you can’t go on stage without it, because you have to check everything – every move, every body part – and be sure that you can make it. I prepare for the show for two hours: hair, make-up and a warm-up.
Swan Lake is a fairytale, and it is important for the spectator to immerse themselves into this fairytale and to live it through us. If one manages to do it, one distracts from one’s worries. The most important thing is that it is my favorite thing to do, to bring joy to other people. It is my passion, my hobby, my life – everything.