Swan Queen Spotlight: Hannah Carter

Principal Dancer Hannah Carter is no stranger to Swan Lake. She has danced the show with the Royal Ballet School in Granada, Spain, with the Estonian National Ballet and twice with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. As she prepares to reprise her role as Odette-Odile for the second time in her career, Hannah shares insight into the many ways she prepares for this technically demanding ballet and how Artistic Director Susan Jaffe has inspired her. Don’t miss your chance to see Hannah in Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

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What has it been like to learn Swan Lake under the direction of Susan Jaffe, who is such an iconic Swan Queen?
Susan is such an impressive actress. That is what stands out to me above anything else while working with her. This ballet is so physically hard it’s easy to get wrapped up in the technique and steps — and while that is so important, it’s just as important for us to be telling the story in the same way we would in Romeo and Juliet, for example. I watch her give me corrections and try to mimic the way she stands, walks, moves her head, arms and neck, for example. She fully embodies the role and transforms into Odette and Odile. 

Watch Artistic Director Susan Jaffe speak about her new choreography and get a sneak peek into rehearsals with Hannah Carter and Yoshiaki Nakano!

How do you prepare for this role?
There are multiple ways to prepare. It’s like a few different lanes that all join in the middle. 

Stamina: It’s a very hard ballet and I do not want to be wasting energy thinking about how tired I am, so cross training to build up my stamina is one lane.

Studying: Watching other dancers in our company and on YouTube (or anywhere online) is another lane. Learning from others is so important in my opinion because it helps me build layers on top of my own artistry and opinions. Maybe another dancer does something that works better for me as well.

Rehearsals and Repetition: We want to build muscle memory so that our mind is as empty as possible. Just as stamina is important, I don’t want to be thinking about what comes next or how to do a step. I want my body to automatically do it so that my mind is free to focus on the artistry.

Artistic Director Susan Jaffe works with Hannah Carter in rehearsal | Photo: Aviana Adams

Can you talk about your pre-show ritual?

Artist Lucius Kirst and Hannah Carter | Photo: Duane Rieder

I am so superstitious — almost to a fault! I’m trying to break away from that a little because when I am very nervous it becomes all consuming. But what I usually like to do is when we get into the rehearsal process of running the sections and the whole ballet we usually practice some steps before, so I always want to practice them on stage before going on. I am not one of those people that like to be alone before going on stage because I get nervous. You can usually find me backstage with everyone and feeding off of the whole performance’s energy. 

But my #1 ritual is getting a vanilla tootsie roll from Répétitrice Marianna Tcherkassky!

How many pairs of pointe shoes have you used during the rehearsal process?
Gosh, I’m not sure! I’m sewing and breaking in about two pairs of shoes a week minimum.

What part of the ballet holds a special place in your heart?
I think the beginning of the White Swan Pas de Deux is one of my favorite moments. It feels so quiet and intimate. We’re the only two moving on stage at the time and it just feels so secretive and special. 

Walk us through what it is like to embody both Odette and Odile.
I find becoming Odette a little easier than Odile. Odette is loving and gentle while still being strong and proud. She has long and soft lines and a sadness about her. Odile I find to be more of a challenge. It’s a lot of fun to dance her role, but it’s hard to not slip into Odette from time to time. While she is still a swan, she has sharper lines and strong eyes. I want the audience and other characters on stage to feel like they shouldn’t look at her but at the same time can’t take their eyes off of her.

You can see Hannah Carter perform as Odette-Odile on Friday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 15 at 2 p.m. See the full casting list here and don’t miss your chance to see Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

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Artists: Hannah Carter and Yoshiaki Nakano | Photo: Aviana Adams

Swan Queen Spotlight: Marisa Grywalski

Though Soloist Marisa Grywalski has danced in PBT productions of Swan Lake twice before, the upcoming production marks her debut as the Swan Queen. Marisa shares her journey from her first performance as a PBT School Graduate student to now dancing one of ballet’s most iconic roles. Don’t miss your chance to see her perform in Artistic Director Susan Jaffe’s new production of Swan Lake, running May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

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What has it been like to learn Swan Lake under the direction of Susan Jaffe, who is such an iconic Swan Queen?
I started my journey with Susan and the role of Odette for one of our outdoor gala performances. I was to perform the White Swan Pas de Deux. She guided me through every moment, showing me not just where to step and how to angle my head, but explaining the intention, which is the most important aspect. Every moment has a meaning and every moment is an opportunity to tell the story of love, trust and tragedy. This holds true even today as she guides and teaches us all four acts. She often reprises the role to demonstrate what words cannot express. I see very much of her and the long history she has with Swan Lake in the choreography.

What part of the ballet holds a special place in your heart?
I love the entrance of Odette where she meets the Prince, as well as Odile’s entrance.

Tell us about your first performances of Swan Lake with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
I had the pleasure of dancing Terrance S. Orr’s Swan Lake twice. In my first experience when I was a PBT School Graduate student, I was one of the corps peasants in Act I. I also performed in the swan corps and was one of the princesses in Act III. This was my first time performing with the company where I was in all four acts. I loved every beautiful and painful moment; it was a real taste for corps de ballet life. I had responsibility and started to create positive and friendly relationships with the other professionals.

In the most recent production of Orr’s Swan Lake I danced again in all four acts, this time as a corps member of the company. I danced in the pas de six in Act I, as a big swan in Acts II and IV, and in Act III’s Spanish dance. I must mention that I danced all of these roles and every show with Danielle Downey by my side. Sharing all of these roles with her was so wonderful.

Artists: Marisa Grywalski and Danielle Downey | Photo: Rich Sofranko

Can you talk about your pre-show ritual?
Sometimes I take a really hot shower before I warm up to get my blood flowing. I tend to spend most of my time on stage — lots of walking around, marking movements, getting used to the space and most importantly choosing my shoes for the night.

How many pairs of pointe shoes have you used during the rehearsal process?
I use a new pair of shoes for pas de deux rehearsals. They need to be new in order for me to rehearse properly. The support is critical, especially for adagio work. Once softened a bit I then use them for our morning technique class.

Artist: Marisa Grywalski | Photo: Aviana Adams
Artist: Marisa Grywalski | Photo: Duane Rieder

How do you prepare for this role?
Susan has brought in an acting coach, Byam Stevens, for the company to work with. He has been focusing on all interactions between Odette-Odile and Prince Sigfreid. After working with Byam, I would say there has been a shift in how I am approaching both roles. Also, the steps are beginning to feel more natural after further discovering where they are stemming from. 

Walk us through what it is like to embody both Odette and Odile.
A dancer can spend their whole career developing deeper into these roles. I believe that we all have a bit of both characters in each one of us. For my first time learning these roles I started by exposing those similarities in myself. If it’s not coming from an honest place, then the audience will pick up on that.

Marisa will perform as Odette-Odile on Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. See the full casting list here and don’t miss your chance to see Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

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Artists: Lucius Kirst and Marisa Grywalski | Photo: Aviana Adams


Casting for “Swan Lake” with the PBT Orchestra is Announced!

Artistic Director Susan Jaffe has announced casting for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s new production of Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra. Four phenomenal couples will take on the thrilling and daunting task of dancing the lead roles in this classic tale of love and betrayal. Don’t miss your chance to see Susan Jaffe’s new choreography of Swan Lake, running May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

See the full cast list here!

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First Weekend

Friday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 8 at 2 p.m.
Odette-Odile Hannah Carter Alexandra Kochis Marisa Grywalski Jessica McCann
Prince Siegfried Yoshiaki Nakano William Moore Lucius Kirst Colin McCaslin
Baron Von Rothbart Lucius Kirst Cooper Verona Corey Bourbonniere William Moore

Second Weekend

Friday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14 at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 15 at 2 p.m.
Odette-Odile Marisa Grywalski Jessica McCann Alexandra Kochis Hannah Carter
Prince Siegfried Lucius Kirst Colin McCaslin William Moore Yoshiaki Nakano
Baron Von Rothbart Corey Bourbonniere William Moore Cooper Verona Lucius Kirst

Explore Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra

Photo Credits | Artists: Lucius Kirst and Hannah Carter | Photo by Duane Rieder

Swan Queen Spotlight: Jessica McCann

For Soloist Jessica McCann, dancing the iconic role of Odette-Odile in Susan Jaffe’s Swan Lake is a dream come true — and a dream that she has worked hard to achieve. From her first performance in Swan Lake with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2018 when she performed as a Little Swan and in the pas de trois, to now dancing the technically demanding lead role, Jessica finds the accomplishment well worth the challenge. Read on to discover how she is preparing for the daunting and exhilarating milestone of her debut performance as the Swan Queen. 

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What has it been like to learn Swan Lake under the direction of Susan Jaffe, who was such an iconic Swan Queen?
It’s been an absolute privilege and honor to have Susan in the studio with me, passing down all the knowledge and experience she has from her career and the legendary coaches she got to work with. It’s hard to put into words the gratitude I feel. It makes me feel safe, because I have her here guiding me into the most successful debut I could hope for in such an extremely difficult role, one I’ve dreamt of performing all my life. I’m fully trusting the process and it’s a lot of hard work and detailing. Susan is working closely with me, handing me all the tools for finding my own Swan Queen.

How do you prepare for this role?
There’s a lot to do and many ways I’ve been preparing for this role. When I’m not rehearsing the steps and working on my stamina, I listen to the music, think of the story, review the choreography and do a ton of positive visualization. We’ve also been working with dramaturge coach Byam Stevens who also worked closely with Susan Jaffe during her career. Then, of course, I’m being coached by Susan herself. Creating that dialogue and personal story in my head and with my partner is really important. 

Jessica McCann dances as a Little Swan in PBT’s 2018 production of Swan Lake | Photo: Aimee DiAndrea

How many pairs of pointe shoes have you used during the rehearsal process?
I easily kill one pair of pointe shoes within an hour of rehearsing the White Swan adagio from Act ll. With all the repetition and getting the steps just right, or that tender moment with my partner just right, it really kills the shoes. I dry the shoes out, glue them and wear them again the next day for something else, but on average I’m currently going through roughly four to five pairs of shoes a week, and that’s squeezing by. 

Thinking about my performance and what my “shoe plan” will be feels like a gamble. I’m currently thinking about wearing new shoes for Act ll, Act lll Black Swan and a third new pair for Act IV, so I’d have to prep three pairs of shoes per dress rehearsal and each performance. 

Can you talk about your pre-show ritual?
It’s different with every production because it depends on what role I’m doing, but I usually like to keep to myself. For big roles like this I’ll probably be ready early because I like living in the costume for a bit to make it feel normal and I fall into the role easier when the costume is on. I calm myself mentally, do positive visualization and make sure I’m in the right headspace. That’s extremely important to me. I also check in with my partner and we might try a few things after class. I just try not to psych myself out or get in my head too much about anything. After so much rehearsal I have to trust it’s in my body so the mind must be calm. You’ll probably also find me fussing over my pointe shoes until the show starts because they have to be just right.

Jessica McCann dances in the Pas de Trois in PBT’s 2018 production of Swan Lake | Photo: Rich Sofranko

Walk us through what it is like to embody both Odette and Odile.
I think we all have different sides to us as people, so drawing that out in yourself to the maximum in each direction is what it feels like to go from rehearsing Odette to Odile and back to Odette in the same rehearsal day. They are completely different. In order to make that switch, you have to know your character really well, which is what I’ve been working on. I’ve really just thrown myself into the experience and rehearsal process. I have to put myself there mentally to really dive deeper into these two roles.

Odile is a temptress — she’s seductive and finds joy in playing this game with Rothbart of Siegfried’s heart. Odette is a princess that has been taken by Rothbart and she’s essentially a hostage, a victim of a horrible curse. She’s kind, still has pride as queen of the swans and she knows what she must do at the end of this story, which takes a strong person to make that choice. She’s the kind of person who forgives the prince for his mistake of falling for Odile’s tricks, but knows she must sacrifice herself so the curse can be lifted. I really enjoy playing both types of characters. I’ve always loved roles with deep acting involved, so this is honestly a challenge I’m extremely excited about. 

Jessica McCann rehearses the Black Swan Pas de Deux with Corps de Ballet Dancer Colin McCaslin | Photo: Aviana Adams

What part of the ballet holds a special place in your heart?
The music. The story. The emotional depth of this ballet — it’s a masterpiece. I bring myself to tears listening to the music and watching the story unfold in my mind, specifically in Act IV where Odette has been betrayed by Siegfried. Even though she forgives him, the damage has been done. She says goodbye to her love and fights to break free from Rothbart to kill herself and break the spell. The music there is so overwhelming to me I’ll probably cry on stage. Another amazing moment in the music and story is in Act lll where it’s Odile’s first entrance with Rothbart. Arriving fashionably late of course, turning every head in the ballroom and immediately seducing Siegfried. I mean, what an entrance!!

Jessica McCann rehearses the Black Swan Pas de Deux with Corps de Ballet Dancer Colin McCaslin | Photo: Aviana Adams

Jessica will perform as Odette-Odile on Sunday, May 8 at 2 p.m. and Saturday, May 14 at 2 p.m. See the full casting list here and don’t miss your chance to see Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

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A Conversation with Music Director and Principal Conductor Charles Barker About “Swan Lake”

Though Music Director and Principal Conductor Charles Barker has conducted productions of Swan Lake hundreds of times, he says that Artistic Director Susan Jaffe’s upcoming production is completely different than what came before. Read on to learn why Charles is looking forward to this new production, and don’t miss your chance to experience Tchaikovsky’s evocative score played by a live orchestra May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

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What makes the score of Swan Lake different from other ballet scores?
For me, the interplay of B major and B minor is very interesting. Tchaikovsky single-handedly raised the level of music for ballet to a new plane. Music was no longer accompaniment but a major force in the production. Using harmony as a structural basis for the ballet along with very dramatic orchestration makes Swan Lake stand out from other ballets written by Minkus or Pugni in the 1880s.

“Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra” by the Numbers
First Violin 9
Second Violin 8
Viola 4
Cello 4
Bass 3
Flute 3
Oboe 2
Clarinet 2
Bassoon 2
Horn 4
Trumpet 4
Trombone 3
Tuba 1
Percussion 2
Harp 1

What are some moments in the score that stand out to you as highlights and why?
Many are unaware that Ricardo Drigo, the music director of the Imperial Theatre, and Marius Petipa, a choreographer and pedagogue, rearranged the order of Swan Lake when they restaged the work in the late 1890s. Tchaikovsky had been dead for several years and Drigo, one of his close friends and fellow composers, took it upon himself to “rewrite” and reorder some of the score to make it more like other romantic ballets of the time. 

For instance, the very familiar Black Swan Pas de Deux was originally in Act I. Drigo and Petipa moved it to Act III and inserted other music into the Pas as variations for the dancers. Drigo also rewrote the ending of both the Act II and Act III Pas de Deuxs. Reorchestrating or rearranging Tchaikovsky is a difficult and complicated task — not one to be taken on casually. Tchaikovsky was a wonderful orchestrator. Since Drigo was his friend and a very good composer in his own right, his reorchestrations are still used today and generally accepted as standard.

Do you have a personal connection to this score?
The violinist who Tchaikovsky wrote all of his solos for was Leopold Auer. He was a great violinist and leader of the Imperial Theatre Orchestra. Both Tchaikovsky and Drigo wrote specifically with Auer in mind. During the 1917 Russian Revolution, it became impossible to perform, so Auer emigrated to America bringing with him his very young and talented assistant, Raphael Bronstein. Bronstein was my violin teacher when I arrived in New York in the mid 70s. Carrying on this tradition is something I think about all the time. 

How do you feel live music impacts the audience experience of seeing a ballet?
Live music equals spectacle to me. Recorded music in no way infringes upon the quality of the dancing but it limits the amount of expressiveness of any given step or phrase within the piece. With live music, the interaction between the dancer and conductor makes for spontaneous creativity right before the eyes of the audience. It is as if the audience is watching an artistic creation come to life with movement and music. I can think of nothing more relevant to ballet than that.

You can help Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre continue to bring the full power of the PBT Orchestra to even more season productions and ensure live music at over 500 individual performances over the next 50 years when you contribute to the live music fund. Learn more here.

Don’t miss your chance to see Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

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Photo © Ye Lihong

Swan Queen Spotlight: Alexandra Kochis

Since she began her professional dance career in 1995, Principal Dancer Alexandra Kochis has danced six full length productions of Swan Lake, including two productions with Boston Ballet and four with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She has danced a variety of roles, from a guest in the First Act and Swan Corps to the Pas de Trois, Cygnets, Neopolitan and Odette-Odile. As she prepares to play the Swan Queen for her fourth and final time, Alexa shares with us why this production is special to her and why you should go see it!

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Artists: Alexandra Kochis and Alejandro Diaz | Photo: Rich Sofranko

What has it been like to learn Swan Lake under the direction of Susan Jaffe, who was such an iconic Swan Queen?
The experience of being coached by Susan has been very inspiring. I love that she comes at the role of the Swan Queen from such a human perspective. She very much wants us to convey the underlying emotions — of uneasiness, trepidation, elation and, ultimately, betrayal and heartbreak — that make up Odette’s character arc throughout the story. Because, underneath it all, Odette is a woman who has been transformed into a swan, but she still thinks and feels and loves like you and I. Susan also has such a lush and full style that really encourages us to bend and move and use our entire bodies to fully depict the emotions we are trying to convey.

What part of the ballet holds a special place in your heart?
I feel like there are too many favorite moments to pick just one! I love the moment, in the second act adagio when Odette chooses to submit to falling in love with Seigfried. She clasps Seigfried’s hand to her cheek and turns to face him. It’s an intimate and still moment I get to share with my partner — in this case William Moore — in the midst of all this difficult technique. I love when we can speak to each other with our eyes and convey how full our hearts are across the vast expanses of the theater.

I love that the music builds to a frenzied crescendo during the coda of the second act. It is intensely empowering to stand in the wings as the corps de ballet charges across the stage in their final arabesque chugs and then, as I run out for my coda, the music hushes and the conductor seems to hover on my very breath.

I love dancing as Odile in the end of the third act pas de deux when Siegfried kneels before me and I know that I have succeeded in my seduction. I throw my head back in a movement full of wicked, maniacal triumph and I am soaring on this wave of physical endorphins and music-induced euphoria. It’s pretty incredible.

And, I always love dying on stage, so getting to hurl myself into the lake at the end of this marathon of a ballet that I have just run — that’s pretty great, too.

How do you prepare for this role?
Ballet class everyday. Many hours of rehearsals and coaching with Susan and our rehearsal directors Steven Annegarn and Marianna Tcherkassy for the pas de deuxs and variations. Then, as we get closer to the shows, we start putting the acts together with the corps and other dancers. Finally, we run through the whole ballet to get a feeling of the stamina and pacing required. I also try to work in cross training with pilates, gyrotonics and cardio.

We are also fortunate to be working with a dramaturg, Byam Stevens, for this production. Byam is focusing on the acting, mime and character development for each individual partnership.

Walk us through what it is like to embody both Odette and Odile.
Swan Lake is special because I get to work on two very different flavors of movement — the slow, soft lyricism of Odette as well as the crisp, sharp dynamism of Odile. It allows a dancer to tap into two different sides of themself because, really, everyone has a little of both characters within.

Artists: Alexandra Kochis and Alejandro Diaz | Photo: Rich Sofranko

How many pairs of pointe shoes have you used during the rehearsal process?
It’s hard to calculate exactly how many pairs of pointe shoes I’ve used to rehearse Swan Lake because we have been working on it off and on for a while (since about January, I believe). I try to keep a rotation of shoes going so that each individual pair will have time to dry out and be re-glued between wearings so they last a bit longer. Plus, the different acts of the ballet require shoes to be slightly harder or softer depending on the types of steps I’ll be doing. All told, I will probably go through 20 pairs or so by the time May 14th rolls around.

Can you talk about your pre-show ritual?
My pre-show ritual is pretty straightforward. I like to allow myself lots of time. I don’t like to rush. I’ll take company warmup onstage with the rest of the company. I love taking class onstage. There is a hallowed-ness about it — the darkened theater, the space. Then I’ll wrap myself up in a warm blanket, put on some chill, feel-good music and do my makeup. Then, about a half hour before showtime, I’ll start putting my shoes and costume on to warm them up and get settled in them. It takes a bit of body heat to soften everything up and get them feeling like a part of my own body. At about 15 minutes out, I’ll head to the stage, check any props, pre-set water and tissues, feel the floor a bit and maybe practice any tricky moments with my partner. Then, I just take a few deep breaths and try to savor every moment.

What does it mean to you for Swan Lake to be your final performance before you retire?
I love that I am able to dance a full-length story ballet for my final performance because portraying a character and the dramatic side of ballet has always been one of my favorite things about this art form.

Being able to dance full-length Swan Lake — a big, beautiful ballet — on the Benedum Center stage — a big, beautiful theater — to music played by a live orchestra is truly one of the pinnacles of any dancer’s career. It will be somewhat of a “full circle moment” for me as I can still VISCERALLY feel what it was like to stand on the side of the stage in my pose as a member of corps de ballet in my second year as a professional dancer. I remember how it felt to hear that gorgeous Tchaikovsky score soaring out of the pit during the second act adagio. It gave me absolute goosebumps back then, and now that I am the one dancing that adagio as Swan Queen — well, it feels that much richer, I suppose.

Alexa will perform as Odette-Odile on Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m. and her final performance will be Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. Don’t miss your chance to see her final bow with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre!

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Susan Jaffe: Swan Queen

When Susan Jaffe was 19 years old, she danced the lead role in Swan Lake for the first time with American Ballet Theatre. Forty years later, Susan’s journey with Swan Lake has come full circle as she finishes out her first full season as artistic director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre with her own choreography of this iconic show. Read on to learn more about how Susan’s extensive experience informed her choreography for this new production, running May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!

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It all started when Susan’s coach at American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Elena Tchernichova taught her Swan Lake behind closed doors. As a very young member of the corps de ballet, Susan had to learn the role in secret for fear that the company members would be upset that someone so young was learning the role. At the age of 19, she danced the first of what would be many performances of Swan Lake as Odette-Odile while on tour with ABT in Miami, with Mikhail Baryshnikov playing Prince Siegfried. 

Susan Jaffe Dancing the Role of Odile | Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

When she danced Swan Lake for the first time in New York City on April 28, 1982, The New York Times published a glowing review of her performance. “Susan Jaffe is the American Ballet Theatre’s wonderful new discovery, the star of the future who radiates a star quality so vibrantly now at the age of 19 that one is dazzled at the prospect of her development,” wrote New York Times Dance Critic Anna Kisselgoff. The review continues, “[Susan’s performance] was a beautiful triumph, a performance of amazing depth for a novice, but also thrilling in itself, in a young dancer’s understanding of this great Tchaikovsky ballet.” Read the full review here.

Susan danced Swan Lake every year after that, and was coached by some amazing people, including the legendary ballerina Natalia Makarova. In 1989, Susan was introduced to Irina Kolpakova, who had been Baryshnikov’s mentor and was the last student of the great Russian pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova.

“I wanted to learn from Kolpakova so much, I would’ve done anything,” Susan says. “So I basically stood in front of her with my arms at my side and said, ‘I don’t know anything. Teach me from scratch.’ I learned so much more than technique from her. She was one of the most brilliant, heartfelt performers that the world has ever seen.”

Susan went on to dance Swan Lake all around the world, guesting with companies in Sweden, England, Vienna and more. “I got to work with a lot of brilliant partners and experience other companies dancing Swan Lake as well,” Susan says.

Watch Susan performing the role of the Black Swan for American Ballet Theatre here:

Having danced the role of Odette-Odile so many times, Susan developed a keen understanding of the characters’ motivation, the symbolism in the music and dancing, and the themes of the ballet.

“It’s a great story of love and betrayal, and it really reflects our humanity,” Susan says. “When I sit in the audience and watch it, there are so many moments that I am moved to the depth of my soul.”

Susan says that one of the reasons why she loves Swan Lake is because of the wide range of emotions that the dancer portraying Odette-Odile has to convey. “It is the ultimate test of a ballerina’s powers, not only in character, but in physicality,” Susan says. “The dancer must show the softness and vulnerability of Odette, and the attack of Odile, a femme fatale. You have to develop all of those things in order to be a real interpreter of this role.

Susan Jaffe receives applause for her performance in “Swan Lake” | Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

Susan is bringing her expertise to this new production with her own choreography created after the original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. “It feels incredibly scary, but also incredibly exhilarating to be choreographing my own Swan Lake,” Susan says. While the storyline in Susan’s production will remain traditional, the new production coming to the Benedum this May will be her own rendition.

For example, Susan’s critical eye has adjusted Odile’s choreography. “When I was growing up, I saw a lot of Odiles that were just plain mean, and I thought, ‘The prince isn’t that stupid,’” Susan says. “If you’re going to be deceptive, you’re going to be alluring, kind, everything that the prince wants. So, I think that honors that the prince is truly deceived, not just by magic but by intention. I think, in that way, it’s almost more evil.”

Of course, when the prince isn’t looking, Susan says Odile will be glancing an eye at Rothbart, letting the audience in on the trickery happening onstage. “That’s how I interpreted the Black Swan — not as being mean spirited, but as being a siren,” Susan says. “I certainly had a lot of fun with that.”

The ending is another place where Susan has added her personal touch. “There are many endings to Swan Lake,” she says. “Mine is one of tragedy and redemption all at the same time. Because life is a dichotomy.”

Hear Susan discuss the inspiration behind her new choreography and get a peek into rehearsals:

You won’t want to miss your chance to see this new production of Swan Lake, running May 6 – 15, 2022 at the Benedum Center. If you would like to hear Susan speak about her new choreography in a conversation with acclaimed dance historian Elizabeth Kaye, join us for Director’s Cut at 6:30 p.m. on opening night.

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