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Black Swan's for the birds

Russian ballet dancers dispel some Black Swan myths before a local performance of Swan Lake


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Taking on the dual role of the white and black swans in Tchaikovsky's iconic ballet Swan Lake is so difficult that a vulnerable ballerina who attempts it can end up sprouting feathers, developing problem nails, and stabbing Winona Ryder through the cheek. That's what we learned from watching the movie Black Swan, anyway. But we wonder: Does the ballerina who dares to take on the role of the Swan Princess really start to lose her grip on reality as terrifying visions of her own disintegrating body, jealously scheming understudies, and Barbara Hershey's face close in on her?

Who better to ask such important questions other than the principal dancers of the State Ballet Theatre of Russia, which will perform the classic Swan Lake in Atlanta on Jan. 13 at Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts. Ivan Alekseyev dances the role of Prince Zigfried, and Anastassia Russinova dances the dual roles of Odette and Odile, the white and black swans, respectively. They spoke to CL via translator about growing wings, keeping their hallucinations in check, and surviving past opening night.

How do you prepare and stay ready for the roles you play?

Anastassia Russinova: The preparation is very strict, very serious. We rehearse the show for two months before the tour.

Is it difficult to take on the two roles of the white and black swans? What's the most difficult aspect of the roles you play?

AR: The difference between the two swans is great. Odette is the white swan, very pliant, bright, beautiful. Odile is very evil, scheming together with von Rothbart. She's passionate and cruel. The audience can see that the two characters are different, as the dances are very different, too. Odette's dancing is very soft, pliant, very lyrical. Odile's part is very harsh and rapid. Of course, Odile's part is very challenging. The character and the technique are the most difficult.

Ivan Alekseyev: The black pas de deux is very difficult. It's difficult in terms of technique, and it's very difficult because I have to show this character, how he's unwillingly deceived.

How do you deal with the strain of playing such difficult roles and being on tour?

AR: We don't work 24 hours a day, so we take time to rest. Mainly we stay in hotels, so we're resting in hotels. We try not to put too much weight on our feet or walk too much on hard surfaces. We let the feet rest.

Do you ever have dreams or nightmares that you're in the show?

AR: I don't have nightmares, fortunately. But after the show, it's like you gave all your emotions, all your feelings, all your power to the audience. You try to rest but you think about that performance, about the next performance and then about the previous performance again. So you're lying in bed and you can't sleep because you're thinking about that.

What did you think of the movie Black Swan?

IA: If you look at this movie from the point of view of the professional ballet dancer, it's very unprofessional.

In what way?

IA: The life of a principal dancer and the corps consists of rehearsal and rehearsal and rehearsal. The rehearsal itself is like torture. A dancer has no time to imagine wings coming out of their back. I advise you to watch the movie Ulyana Lopatkina. It's about a famous Russian ballerina and her daily life.

And have you seen Black Swan, Anastassia?

AR: No. I haven't

Too busy?

AR: Yes. I just have no opportunity.


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