Black and white, Odile and Odette
By Lisa Macuja
Ballet Manila presents Swan Lake, the second offering in its 22nd season dubbed Flights of Fantasy and one of the most enduring fare in the classical ballet repertoire. On July 7, 1994, the author wrote the following piece on the challenging dual Odette/ Odile role in Swan Lake in her On Pointes column for the national broadsheet Malaya. At the time, she was about to dance the part for Philippine Ballet Theater. This is an edited version of that column.
Ballet Manila’s latest presentation of Swan Lake goes onstage on October 7 and 14, 6 p.m., and on October 8 and 15, 3 p.m., at Aliw Theater, CCP Complex, Pasay City.
I think the best way to sum up the dual ballerina role of the White Swan Queen Odette and her black counterpart Odile in one phrase would be: The worst case of schizophrenia for a classical ballerina.
Did you know that there are six kinds of swans? I didn’t, until I looked the swan up. There are the most known types which are the whistling swan and the trumpeter swan, and then the less commonly known ones like the elk swan, Bewick’s swan, the mute and the black swan. I wonder what type Odette would be? Going by the ballet, she’d probably be a “mute” as she lets Tchaikovsky’s music speak for itself.
Seriously, being a schizophrenic onstage is exhausting my limbs from their sockets. There’s only so much flapping one can de before “unknown-to-the-audience” kinks like a stiff neck, aching shoulders and a numbing left leg enter the picture. N.B. Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa were being utterly inconsiderate when they choreographed this full-length ballet. All three acts of Odette/ Odile have her standing and dancing mostly on the left leg, thus the unbalanced numbing sensation.
What?...You still don’t know what I’m talking about here? It’s just the most famous, most romantic and most demanding Swan Lake, “the mother of all classical ballets”. Based on a German legend, the story is a fairy tale in itself. Prince Siegfried comes of age and is urged by his Queen Mother to marry. Torn by the restlessness of youth, he goes to the lake late at night to hunt and there meets a magical creature, Odette, a princess bewitched by the evil Von Rothbart to remain a white swan until a promise of everlasting love breaks his curse. Determined to keep Odette, Von Rothbart brings Odile, the Black Swan in the likeness of Odette to the Prince’s ball. Fooled into thinking that Odile is the same swan-maiden that he met by the lake, Prince Siegfried swears eternal love to Odile and the curse is reinforced. Made aware of the deception, the Prince rushes to the lake to beg forgiveness from Odette and together their love overpowers the sorcery of Von Rothbart. Odette becomes a princess once again and yes… they live happily ever after.
While Odette is white, pure, soft and vulnerable, the black Odile is bewitching, cold, seductive and quite evil. While Odette’s movements are all adagio that demand total control, limbs that stretch on forever and continuous movement that flows from position to position with no visible cuts, Odile’s sharp turns, exact musical phrasing and choreographic technical precision present a complete turnaround.
White and black, good and evil, good triumphing over evil, and the saga continues. After a four-day rushed debut in Havana, Cuba almost four years ago when this writer had to replace an injured Brazilian ballerina in the Alicia Alonso version of Swan Lake with the Nacional Ballet de Cuba, the challenge of Odette/ Odile beckons again.
I hope my two personalities don’t follow me home.