Most balletomanes are familiar with the swans circling en pointe, their arms undulating like wings to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsy’s poignant score.
The Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico will bring that image spiced with a hint of humor to its performance of “Swan Lake.” The production opens at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 at the KiMo Theatre.
Based on the German fairy tale, “Swan Lake” tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse.
BRT director Katherine Giese has recruited former Joffrey Ballet principal dancer Mauro Villanueva to dance the role of Prince Seigfried, whose search for a princess propels the story.
“Katherine reached out to me after I was retiring from full company life,” the 32-year-old dancer said. “This is not a traditional version. It’s playing off the traditional version with a twist. The steps are difficult, but the storytelling is very important. It’s more complex than people imagine.”
Choreographer Alex Ossadnik has updated and condensed the ballet from its original four hours to two and lightened the ending to appeal to family audiences.
“It’s the epitome of the ballerina in the beautiful tutu,” Giese said. “The whole good versus evil (theme) is always a fan favorite.”
Ossadnik’s choreography adds a comic spin at the ball as the prince surveys a parade of princesses from around the world, all vying for his attention.
The evil Baron von Rotbart (danced by Michael Smith, another Joffrey veteran) has turned the Queen Odette into a swan. Only at night, by an enchanted lake, does she return to human form. At the prince’s ball, Rotbart transforms his daughter Odile to appear identical to Odette. The prince falls for the sorcerer’s ruse and dances with her.
“She’s the black swan,” Giese said, adding, “In a way, Rotbart is intoxicating everyone.”
Albuquerque’s Erika Ray portrays Odette in her first performance in the role.
“It’s a very different role from anything I’ve ever danced,” said Ray, a University of New Mexico student and a company member. “The most challenging part is trying to capture her emotion. She’s a swan, and a prince is falling in love with her and it seems so unreal.”
Ray began dancing at the age of 5, first performing professionally at 14.
“It’s a very pretty art form,” she said. “I don’t like hip-hop. And the way that (ballerinas) move is so beautiful. I’m quiet and ballet is a very silent art, so it was perfect for me.”
And at the end, the principals usually die; Odette sometimes commits suicide. Giese decided to leave the conclusion more ambiguous.
Traditionally, “they sacrifice themselves for the better good,” she said. “I like to say it’s ‘happily ever after.’ They’re sitting in a field of flowers.”
Second only to “The Nutcracker” in popularity, “Swan Lake” premiered in Moscow in 1877.