The staging of “Swan Lake” this weekend in Boca Raton will provide a teachable moment.
That’s why Dan Guin, co-executive director of the Boca Ballet Theatre, has invited a who’s-who of guests artists. Sara Mearns, of the New York City Ballet, will dance the dual roles of Odette/Odile, and Simon Ball, of the Houston Ballet, will perform as Prince Siegfried. Dancers from the Elmhurst School of Dance in Birmingham, England, will join the cast.
“We pick a full-story ballet like ‘Swan Lake,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘La Bayadere’,” “Giselle“ to do annually,” explains Guin, who is also co-artistic director of the company along with Jane Tyree, his wife. “The idea is that any dancer growing up needs to have good knowledge of these ballets.”
“In Europe,” he continues, “[the dancers] grew up in an opera house system, where they were exposed to the dance classics every day. I was feeling our dancers in the U.S. were lacking with our history. A 16-year-old says to you, ‘I want to be a dancer,’ and you ask her what ballets she’s seen, and she says, ‘I saw the ‘Nutcracker’ once.’ “
And so he says this version of “Swan Lake” (the work is known for having its ending reinterpreted by every major production) stays close to the classic choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, who staged a seminal revival of the ballet with Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s score 18 years after Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet premiered the work in 1877.
“I wanted the version that is truest to the historical version,” Guin says. “Of course, my ending is different from the Petipa/Ivanov 1895 revival. There’s a little bit of a twist. I think it’s more realistic, and it’s what I get out of the story.”
It’s a story that even nonballet fans may be familiar with, if only through the 2010 movie “Black Swan,” which earned star Natalie Portman an Oscar.
“As much as my wife is disturbed by that film …with the conflict of the dance company overdramatized, at least they were talking about a real ballet company,” Guin says. “And if you come see ‘Swan Lake,’ you’re going to see the Black Swan and the White Swan and see where all of that came from.”
PRINCIPAL DANCER Q&A
We asked special guest stars Sara Mearns and Simon Ball some questions about their roles via email. Here are their answers:
For those who have never seen “Swan Lake,” what would you like them to know about your role?
Sara Mearns: “The role of Odette/Odile is the most famous, coveted [and] sought after role of any ballerina. It is the first ballet most dancers get to know. All dancers know the music. It is the most challenging - technically and emotionally - of any classical role. It takes years to truly understand the character and be able to become The Swan.”
Simon Ball: “I think the most interesting thing about the Prince in ‘Swan Lake’ if that he has high expectations and holds out for a more pure - albeit more challenging - brand of love. I think that you can look at the story symbolically and sympathize with this type of character who finds a love that is always just out of reach.”
Is there any particular part/scene that is favorite to dance?
Mearns: “The most touching and treasured part for me is [the] fourth act. I [had] the pleasure of performing Peter Martin's ‘Swan Lake’ in New York, and his fourth act is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen or been a part of. Your body is completely drained but your emotional level is at its peak.”
Ball: “I would have to say that the iconic White Pas de Deux is my favorite. Both the Prince and [the] Swan are testing the waters of their new relationship and feeling many conflicting emotions. There is a great tension that can build there which really sets the mood for the rest of the ballet.
What is the biggest challenge of your role?
Mearns: “The biggest challenge for me is the first few moments I'm on stage, alone. You are at your most vulnerable. I feel like a baby swan coming out of its shell, excited and terrified at the same time for what the next three hours will bring.”
Ball: “We have the opportunity to allow an audience to become transported into this fictitious world. To achieve that, one has to become convinced of their character. And by doing so, bring the audience along for the ride.”
Have you spend any time in SoFlo? And if so, what are your favorite hangouts?
Mearns: “I haven't spent time in South Florida. My family would drive through there many times when I was younger because we would vacation in The Keys. I am very excited to be there for a good length of time so I can visit around.”
Ball: “The time I have spent in South Florida has mostly been performing and there is rarely time for leisure. I am a sucker for an art museum though. I am hoping to make time to check out the Boca Museum of Art if I get a free moment.”
IF YOU GO:
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1; 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3
Where: Olympic Heights Performing Arts Theater, 20101 Lyons Road, Boca Raton
Cost: $20-$35 for adults, $10-$25 for children/seniors
Contact: 561-995-0709 or BocaBallet.org.