The Champaign Urbana Ballet is performing “Swan Lake” this Saturday and Sunday, May 2 – 3, at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. A tale of love intertwined with exciting scenes of dangerous magic and memorable music, CU Ballet has brought new depth to this classic performance that debuted almost 140 years ago in Moscow.
“The show is family-oriented and can be enjoyed by any age group,” said Kay Greene, the Executive Director of CU Ballet. “It’s impressive what the volunteers got together for the show. We have a very strong volunteer core.”
The company relies heavily on community members and volunteers to help with the production aspects of their ballet performances. These volunteers help with both the set construction as well as costume designing—”Swan Lake’s” rich medieval style will surely awe the audience and add to their experience as viewers. Artistic director Deanna Doty has been in charge of creating a wholly unique look for the production.
“All of the materials that went into making the costumes for ‘Swan Lake’ were enough to cover five and a half football fields, if that helps to put it into perspective,” said Greene. “The whole thing is quite impressive looking.”
The CU Ballet is also incorporating a new idea into their show this coming weekend. In order to help viewers understand what is going on throughout the ballet, they will begin each matinee with a session of “miming.”
These sessions will have a dancer from the show perform a specific facial emotion or dance move and there will be a narrator to explain to the audience what it is supposed to mean. This is being done to add an element of education to the show as well as to benefit a diverse crowd with varying experiences with the art of ballet.
“This educational aspect is to show the audience what exactly is being done throughout the ballet. We will have a narrator explain the mimes exact movements,” said Greene. “We have partnered with the Girl Scouts and a lot of them will be in the audience this weekend.”
The dancers have been practicing 20 hours a week in order to perfect the choreography and prepare for the premiere this weekend.
“We have been practicing since the third week of January,” said Valerie Lisner, the dancer who will be playing the White Swan in the company’s performance.
Lisner and the two other leads are all high school students from the Champaign-Urbana area. As students, they must balance their dancing with their academic work.
“School comes first,” said Lisner. “Although dancing has become such a major component of our lives.”
The three leads have taken a lot of practice time to develop their characterization for the performance this weekend. The ballet is steeped in European and Russian folklore, and Tchaikovsky’s score is littered with leitmotifs, or short musical phrases that become associated with certain characters or moods. “Swan Lake” has many layers of tradition and a long performance history for the CU Ballet to draw from.
“They really have to incorporate their mind,” said Greene of the performers and the process of character building. “It is a combination of facial expressions and body movements.”
Taylor Fedderson, the lead who will be performing as the Black Swan, has faced the challenge of portraying such an “evil” character.
“She is very evil,” said Fedderson. “There is a need for stamina within this role. There is a scene where I dance for ten minutes straight.”
The 2010 film Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, explores the immense pressure that dancers face in the professional world. In some productions of “Swan Lake,” the same dancer plays both the White and Black Swan. Though they are often portrayed as twins or doubles, the dance styles for each character are radically different and physically intense. Two dancers that approach the roles need to see them as two sides of the same coin.
In a gesture towards the community that has helped support their work, the CU Ballet has partnered with local restaurants. Those who attend the Saturday night performance can visit Big Grove Tavern, Boltini, Cream & Flutter, Dublin O’Neils, Guidos, or Legends with their ticket stubs for a special “Swan Lake offer.”
The CU Ballet will be performing “Swan Lake” for two days only: this Saturday, May 2 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. as well as on Sunday, May 3 at 2:00 p.m. at the Virginia Theatre. For more information, visit thevirginia.org or call (217) 356-9063.