Swan Lake Unleashes Tragedy, Love And Grace Onstage At Pacific Northwest Ballet

Swan Lake at Pacific Northwest Ballet on equality365.com

Swan Lake is considered by many to be the greatest classical ballet of all time.

Its timeless love story mixes magic, tragedy, and romance.

Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky for Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet in 1875-76. The four-act ballet was initially a failure. Ironically, it is now one of the most critically acclaimed and popular of all ballets. But it was not until Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s St. Petersburg production of 1895 that “Swan Lake” took the form we know today.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Swan Lake” dates back to 1981, when Kent Stowell, former Artistic Director and principal choreographer of PNB, and Francia Russell, former Artistic Director of PNB and Director of PNB’s Ballet School, mounted the production they had first created for the Frankfurt Ballet in 1976.

PNB’s 1981 production was a significant milestone–the first full-length ballet re-created for the company. Russell researched and staged what has long been regarded as the soul of Swan Lake” nearly all of Ivanov’s Act II, and Petipa’s Act I pas de trois and Act III Black Swan pas de deux. To enhance the story, Stowell made important changes in the order of the musical numbers. He also re-choreographed most of Act I, the national dances in Act III, and all of Act IV, rescuing the usually forgotten last act with a radiant pas de deux and giving the conclusion dramatic power and unity. Seattle patrons will also remember that Stowell’s production of “Swan Lake” was performed for the grand opening of McCaw Hall in 2003.

Sumptuous scenery, costumes, and lighting, and an achingly beautiful Tchaikovsky score, set the stage for the ethereal corps de ballet and the ultimate challenge for ballerinas all over the world—the dual role of Odette, trapped in the body of a white swan until the oath of her true love sets her free; and Odile, the evil Black Swan temptress.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Kent Stowell’s “Swan Lake” February 2 – 11, 2018. (Photo © Lindsay Thomas.)

Prince Siegfried falls in love with a lovely swan princess named Odette. Under the spell of a sorcerer, she spends her days as a swan swimming on a lake of tears and her nights in her beautiful human form. When the she comes to him in the human form of Odette, she tells her story. She is under the spell of an evil magician, Von Rothbart: By day she and her friends are turned into swans.

As in most fairytales, things are not that easy and the sorcerer has more tricks to play. That brings Odile, his daughter, into the picture. Odile is the black swan maiden and secondary antagonist in Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”. The white swan maiden is the heroine of the ballet while Odile is the antagonist.

As with all great narrative, good and evil collide. The juxtaposition of a ballerina playing two opposing roles only enhances this concept. The deception by Von Rothbart and Odile fuel the battle and, though it ends in heartbreak, the ballet concludes with a dramatic power that sends audiences out swooning.

It’s common in theatrical dance for each company to adapt a piece to their own style and emphasize various interpretations. The current production of Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake”, is a revised staging, featuring new scenic, costume and lighting designs by Ming Cho Lee, Paul Tazewell and Randall G. Chiarelli (respectively),

A swan symbolizes grace and beauty on many levels. It is associated with love, music, and poetry. In Roman mythology the swan was sacred to Venus, the goddess of love. In Greek tradition, a swan was often pictured singing to a lyre.

“Swan Lake” runs for nine performances, February 2 – 11 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street at Seattle Center. Evening showtimes are 7:30 pm February 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10, and 7:00 pm on Sunday, February 11, with 1:00 pm matinees on February 3, 10 and 11. (Note: Curtain-times for “Swan Lake matinees are earlier than PNB’s usual Saturday matinees.); tickets ($30-$190) may be purchased through the PNB Box Office:  Phone – 206.441.2424;  in Person – 301 Mercer Street at Seattle Center;  Online – PNB.org; Subject to availability, tickets are also available 90 minutes prior to each performance at McCaw Hall; discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. For group tickets, please contact Group Sales Manager Julie Jamieson at 206.441.2416 or JulieJ@PNB.org, or visit PNB.org/Season/Group-Tickets.

Swan Lake Production Team

Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composed in 1875-76

Choreography: Kent Stowell
Staging: Francia Russell (after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov)
Scenic Design: Ming Cho Lee
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Lighting Design: Randall G. Chiarelli

Approximate running time: 3 hours, including intermission

Artist’s bios

Kent Stowell was Artistic Director and principal choreographer of Pacific Northwest Ballet from 1977 until his retirement in June 2005.  Mr. Stowell began his dance training with Willem Christensen at the University of Utah, later joining San Francisco Ballet. He joined New York City Ballet in 1962 and was promoted to soloist in 1963. In 1970, he joined the Munich Opera Ballet as a leading dancer and choreographer. In 1973, Mr. Stowell was appointed ballet master and choreographer of Frankfurt Ballet, and he was named, with Francia Russell, Co-Artistic Director of the company in 1975. In 1977, Mr. Stowell and Ms. Russell were appointed Artistic Directors of PNB. His many contributions to the repertory include “Swan Lake”, “Cinderella”, “Nutcracker”, “Carmina Burana”, “Firebird”, “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet”, “Hail to the Conquering Hero”, “Carmen”, and “Silver Lining”. In 2001, the University of Utah honored Mr. Stowell with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Mr. Stowell’s other awards and honors include the Washington State Governor’s Arts Award, the Dance Magazine Award and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Seattle University. In 2004, Stowell received the ArtsFund Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award, the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and was recognized by the King County Council for his achievements in the arts. On June 12, 2010, Mr. Stowell was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts from the University of Washington.

Francia Russell was Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet and Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School from 1977 until her retirement in June 2005. She is responsible for the addition to the Company’s repertory of many works of George Balanchine. Ms. Russell joined New York City Ballet in 1956 and was promoted to soloist in 1959. She retired from the company in 1961, danced for a year with Jerome Robbins’ Ballets USA, and taught on the faculty of the School of American Ballet in 1962-1963. In 1964, Balanchine appointed her ballet mistress of NYCB. Ms. Russell was one of the first ballet masters chosen by Balanchine to stage his works. She has staged more than 100 productions of Balanchine ballets throughout North America and Europe. In 1987, she staged the first Balanchine ballet in the People’s Republic of China for the Shanghai Ballet, and in 1988-1989, she staged the historic first authorized performance of Balanchine’s work in his homeland for the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg. From 1975 to 1977, Ms. Russell and Kent Stowell were Co-Artistic Directors of Frankfurt Ballet. Ms. Russell’s numerous awards include the Washington State Governor’s Arts Award, the Dance Magazine Award, an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Seattle University, and the Brava Award from Women’s University Club of Seattle. In 2004, Ms. Russell received the Arts Fund Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award, the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and was recognized by the King County Council for her achievements in the arts. On June 12, 2010, Ms. Russell was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts from the University of Washington.

Ming Cho Lee is one of the foremost set designers in America today. His extensive credits include work in opera, theatre, and dance. Born in Shanghai, Mr. Lee attended Occidental College and UCLA. In collaboration with Kent Stowell and the production department of Pacific Northwest Ballet, he designed sets for “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet” (1987), “Firebird” (1989), “Carmina Burana” (1993), “Silver Lining” (1998), and “Swan Lake” (2003). He has worked with other leading American dance companies such as Martha Graham, American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, Eliot Feld Ballet, and José Limón. He designed over 30 production for Joseph Papp at The Public Theater, and has designed sets for opera companies including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and San Francisco Opera. He has designed for Arena Stage, Mark Taper Forum, Guthrie Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and Broadway and internationally for Covent Garden, Hamburgische Staatsoper, Teatro Colon, Royal Danish Ballet, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, the Hong Kong Cultural Center, and Buhnen Graz. His numerous awards and distinctions include a Tony Award, Obie and Irene Scharaff awards for sustained achievement, New York Drama Desk, and New York and Los Angeles Outer Circle Critics Awards, three honorary doctorates, awards for long-term achievement from six major theater and opera organizations, membership in the Theatre Hall of Fame, and the Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture from New York City. His work has been shown in two separate retrospectives at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and in Taipei, as well as a 2011 exhibit at the Shanghai Art Museum. As an architectural consultant, Mr. Lee designed theatres for Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre and the State University of New York at Purchase. He holds the Donald Oenslager Chair in Design and is a professor in the design department at the Yale University School of Drama.

Paul Tazewell has been designing costumes for theater, film and television, dance, and opera for over 25 years. In 2016, he received the 2016 Tony Award for best costume design for Hamilton, and the Emmy Award for outstanding costume design for “The Wiz Live!” His extensive resume includes work on a number of Broadway and off-Broadway shows, including “Caroline, or Change”, “A Raisin in the Sun”, “Guys and Dolls”, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty”, “Def Poetry Jam”, “On the Town”,” Dr. Zhivago”, and “Side Show”. Mr. Tazewell has received Tony Award nominations for “Bring in ‘Da Noise”, “Bring in ‘Da Funk”, “The Color Purple”, “In the Heights, Memphis”, and “A Street Car Named Desire”. His awards include the 1999 Jefferson Award in Chicago, The Princess Grace Fellowship Award, and four Helen Hayes Awards, among others. In 2002, Pacific Northwest Ballet commissioned Paul Tazewell to design costumes for the world premiere of Donald Byrd’s “Seven Deadly Sins”. Mr. Tazewell is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts and NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He was a resident artist and associate Professor of Costume Design at Carnegie Mellon University (2003-2006).

Randall G. Chiarelli served as Pacific Northwest Ballet’s lighting designer and technical director from 1979 to 2005.  He served as technical director of San Francisco Ballet from 2005 to 2006 and returned to PNB in November 2006. He has created the lighting designs for most of PNB’s repertory, including Kent Stowell’s full-length “Swan Lake”, “Firebird”, “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet”, “Carmina Burana”, “Cinderella”, “Nutcracker”, and “Carmen”, and re-created the lighting designs for PNB’s entire Balanchine repertory. His scenic designs for PNB include “La Sonambula”, “Divertimento No. 15”, “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”, and “Carmen”. His concert credits include designs for Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and Tony Bennet. Student and apprentice to pioneer lighting designer Thomas R. Skelton, Mr. Chiarelli is a Seattle native and received painting and sculpture degrees from the University of Washington.

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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