By Vanessa Wolf
If you saw the Natalie Portman film Black Swan, then you got a sense – albeit fleeting and lacking much by way of plot line – of the ballet Swan Lake.
Make up for that and see the entire production – without the whole ‘going crazy’ business – this weekend only as performed by Maui’s own Alexander Academy Performing Company.
Swan Lake will open with select contemporary and jazz pieces choreographed by Academy faculty, offering a modern interpretation before the full-length ballet takes the stage.
Composed by Tchaikovsky in the late 1800s, Swan Lake was fashioned from Russian folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse.
According to promoters, “it is one of the most famous yet challenging ballets to perform given its complex choreography and multiple lead roles. Special to this year’s production, professional ballet dancer Nathaniel Hunt will join the AAPC cast as Prince Siegfried.”
We spoke to Danelle Watson, director of Alexander Academy of Performing Arts about the upcoming show.
Maui Now: What moved you to choose Swan Lake?
Danelle Watson: I knew after last year’s show where we introduced a section of the ballet Giselle to our students that they were ready for the challenge of a full-length classical ballet.
Swan Lake‘s music has always been a favorite of mine and the choreography was just what our students were ready to be challenged and motivated by.
When deciding what production to do, we – the teachers at Alexander Academy and I – look at what the dancers are ready to learn. We prioritize their educational experience and determine what our students are capable of achieving as an ensemble. I knew that we had a large enough corps de ballet, and enough upper-level students whose technique was strong enough to go for the complex choreography of Swan Lake.
Still, during the rehearsal process I have been continually surprised by what we have been able to accomplish with such a young corps de ballet – a third of our corps dancers are just 13 years old! They all continue to amaze me with their abilities.
MN: Do you have any past experience(s) with this ballet prior to directing it?
DW: I myself only learned variations from the ballet. One of our teachers, Nicole Humphrey, has performed Swan Lake in the past.
MN: Many people are familiar with the plot (at least slightly) and the gorgeous and complex set of Swan Lake from the movie Black Swan. What goes into building a set and designing costumes for a show like this?
DW: Our studio is donation-based, meaning that our productions and daily operations depend heavily on the volunteer commitments of our member families. We struggle with our budget, so our sets and backdrops are not extensive, and many of our costume pieces were hand-made by our dedicated group of volunteers. It is quite remarkable what we accomplish with such limited means. That being said, our costuming budget is higher than any of our previous shows, and they are gorgeous!
MN: A professional dancer is playing Prince Siegfried. When casting on Maui do you find you have too much talent to choose from or a hope that more youth (young men, in particular?) will take up dance?
DW: We had a hard time finding our Prince Charming; we searched the island, neighboring islands, the West coast…
I asked all my professional dance connections if someone had a recommendation that fit the description of being tall, technically trained, can pick up choreography quickly, and most importantly, must be a good role model for our students. Ultimately, I trusted a lead from an old friend of mine with whom I used to dance in New York City, and who had taught Nathaniel Hunt at Long Island University-Brooklyn.
Since the day Hunt arrived on-island a mere week ago, he has been a gem to work with. He has not only proven his ability as a dancer and quick learner, but as a mentor for all our students, especially those aspiring to be professionals themselves. We couldn’t be happier: we have all fallen for our Prince Siegfried!
MN: Do you have a favorite scene or performance in the show?
DW: Act II is the most famous and most anticipated part of the ballet. This is where the swan corp and Odette – the Queen of the Swans – perform intricate and exciting choreography. Moreover, the story line really develops in Act II: the evil Swan King Von Rothbart is introduced, the Prince and Odette meet … Every scene is filled with action and beautiful movement.
MN: Lastly, what would you say is the number one thing Maui audiences need to know such that they’ll be unable to miss this show?
DW: This is a unique opportunity to see a classical ballet on Maui – and not just any ballet, but Swan Lake, one of the most beloved ballets ever.
Alexander Academy Performing Company is the nonprofit branch of Alexander Academy of Performing Arts, the donation-based dance studio in Kula. The Company presents a full-length production each year to showcase the talent and skill of over 150 dancers ages three to adult for the enjoyment of the Maui community.
Swan Lake will be performed this Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and 16 at Seabury Hall’s ‘A‘ali‘ikuhonua Creative Arts Center.
Showtimes are 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with a multiple-show discount for those wishing to see different dancers in select roles or who simply wish to enjoy the show again.
Before each show and during intermission, the Company will host silent auctions featuring items from local businesses and artists. Proceeds from the silent auctions help offset Swan Lake production costs.
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