Pacific Northwest Ballet

‘Dancing Odette/Odile:   Ballet’s Great Dual Role’ : Panel Discussion

by Francis Timlin

September 16, 2003 -- The Phelps Center, Seattle

On Tuesday evening, I attended a panel discussion featuring the five ballerinas who will perform Odette/Odile in the current performance run of “Swan Lake.” Moderated by Doug Fullington, the panel included Patricia Barker, Carrie Imler, Louise Nadeau, Kaori Nakamura and Noelani Pantastico. They bring a wide range of experience and perspective to their interpretation of Odette/Odile. This is the third time around for Ms. Barker (who performed the roles in 1992 and 1996); the second for Ms. Nadeau (1996); and the first for Ms. Nadeau and Ms. Pantastico. Ms. Nakamura performed only the Black Swan with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 1994; however, she performed both roles when she was 15 in Japan.

While the bulk of the time was spent on describing, from each individual's perspective character and plot details (e.g., "Describe who you think Odette is;" "How does she communicate to Siegfried who she is;" "How do you connect with your partner?" "Do the variations further the character development or story line?" "What happens at the end?") the more telling questions came toward the end of the discussion.

Asked whether they felt more suited to Odette or Odile, Carrie Imler immediately responded that she felt much more at home with Odile. Noelani Pantastico, a first-timer, identifies with the character of Odette and feels far less comfortable with the character presented by Odile. Kaori Nakamura indicated that when she was 15 and last performed both Odette and Odile, she was immediately more comfortable with Odile because it involved clear-cut technical challenges while Odette was more ephemeral. However, she now likes the challenges of character development presented by Odette and feels much more ready for the role than earlier in her career. Louise Nadeau also used to like Odile better, but now feels just the opposite.

Patricia Barker indicated that she thinks that everyone can find aspects of both characters somewhere in their experience and it becomes a matter of tapping into that reserve where the experience resides. She continues to find Odette to be the greater challenge.   On one level, it is the challenge of being, first, a swan who transforms into a woman who is then fearful, defensive and trying to escape, then becoming emotionally vulnerable. Showing all of those transformations. Making a difference between the Act 2 and Act 4 pas de deux. Following the sadness and resignation of the Act 4 pas de deux with a retransformation into a swan. Odette is all about character development, nuance and subtlety -- all of which requires baring your emotional soul to the audience. There is no "hiding behind technique" possible. In order for the performance to be a success, the audience must see all of these transformations in Odette's character.

Mr. Fullington asked how they felt about the 32 fouettés and whether they were really essential to the role, or whether other combinations of steps might be just as effective. Happily, everyone responded that they felt it was essential to rise to the occasion and the challenge of the 32 fouettés and some expressed agreement with Pierina Legnani's choice to add them in the 1895 version as an expression of Odile's steely resolve. There was also general acknowledgement that not to do them would prove a great disappointment to the expectations of many in the audience -- including those of us who *always* count each fouetté.

A question about Aurora vs. Odette/Odile (and which is the greater challenge) resulted in consensus that Aurora, while a tremendous challenge in terms of technical purity, remains a rather flat character without much dramatic involvement or development. The big attraction with Odette/Odile is the chance at character development and drama, with the "creature" aspect of the swan as an additional challenge not found in other roles. Everyone agreed that the character is anything but static and the layers of meaning and the interpretive possibilities are what makes this ballet worth returning to again and again.

For a report on Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Swan Lake" preview rehearsal, click here.

Edited by Jeff.

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