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BYU Theatre Ballet Breathes New Life Into Iconic Ballet ‘Swan Lake’

An interdisciplinary collaboration brings an original flair to “Swan Lake” and “Reflections”

Swan Lake dancers

Dancers Jeremy Platt and Mia Watson perform in “Swan Lake.” (BYU Photo)

Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s “Swan Lake” has enchanted audiences across the globe for almost 150 years. Generations of dancers have dreamed of performing the roles of Odette, her dashing prince and the graceful swans. The next company set to take it on? BYU’s own Theatre Ballet.

Set to the music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, “Swan Lake” explores themes of drama, sorcery, death and love in what has become some of the most popular ballet repertoire in history. Staging and performing such an iconic piece has been both intimidating and exhilarating for the BYU dancers. 

“It’s daunting, but it’s also a great challenge to take on,” said dance major Sasha Chopelas. “That’s one of the things I love about Theatre Ballet — they’re always pushing us. We’re all going to grow from rehearsing and performing this.”

The ballet — which runs just over two hours — calls for grit and technical virtuosity.

“When a lot of people go to see the ballet, they see the pretty tutus and the beautiful dancing and it looks so easy,” said Chopelas. “But it’s grueling. It takes not only physical strength and endurance, but mental strength as well.”

“This show requires so much stamina,” added dancer Ryan Hatch. “Every time we exit the stage we’re all dripping with sweat and everyone is exhausted, but I think that’s what’s so exciting about performing — all the exhaustion and hard work that goes into it. There’s no feeling that matches that.”

In addition to endurance, “Swan Lake” requires a commitment to unique and detailed stylization in order to build its characteristic magical atmosphere. 

“This ballet is very stylistic,” said dancer Alex Marshall . “None of the arms are traditional ballet arms, and there’s a lot of style and acting that goes into it on top of the physical aspect.”

Swan Lake dancers

Dancers Ryan Hatch and Ana Brooks prepare for “Swan Lake.” (BYU Photo)

Preparing “Swan Lake” has given the members of Theatre Ballet a rich experience in interdisciplinary collaboration. The performance will feature live music from BYU’s Philharmonic Orchestra and Slavic folk dances from members of the International Folk Dance Ensemble. The collaboration brings an extra dose of authenticity and originality to the classic work. 

“Dancing to live music is so different from dancing to pre-recorded music,”said Chopelas. “It’s so much more exciting and real, and the audience can really immerse themselves in the ballet.”

The concert will also feature Gerald Arpino’s “Reflections,” a fast-paced neoclassical ballet.

“They’re two very different choreographers and styles,” said Marshall. “It’s exciting to have both pieces in the same show.”

The dancers worked long, hard hours with a répétiteur  — a tutor specially licensed to set a choreographer’s work — to perfect the piece. But they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Chopelas was struck by the authenticity and tradition of the process. 

“One of the coolest things about working with répétiteurs is the history that they bring to it and the fact that they worked personally with these great choreographic minds,” she said. “They’re passing on that flame. It’s so much fun, and I feel so lucky that we get to work with people like that.”

Whether preparing a modern classic like “Reflections” or a fairytale favorite like “Swan Lake,” the dancers of Theatre Ballet throw their whole selves into the work — body, mind and soul. 

“It’s so much more than just tutus and pointe shoes,” Hatch said. “Ballet is blood, sweat and tears.”

Tickets and Show Details

Performance Dates and Times: Jan. 23-25 | 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 25 | 2 p.m.

Location: de Jong Concert Hall

Price: $14-16

Tickets:  Available in person at the BYU HFAC or Marriott Center Ticket Office, by phone at (801) 422-2981 or online at