Anything But A Swan Song

Royal Winnipeg Ballet brings youthful energy to a classical favourite

Ask any dance fan about their most-loved part of Swan Lake and you will practically hear their heart melt in time with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score.

The classical Russian ballet - first performed in 1877 - has achieved cult status thanks to the inescapable human desire for desperate love stories, which has been supplemented by stunning choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, Tchaikovsky’s spellbinding music and Darren Aronofsky’s recent award-winning film Black Swan (2010).

For André Lewis, Artistic Director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB), presenting the classic ballet is a no-brainer. The audience favourite has been performed for Winnipeg audiences since 1987 and is brought back approximately every five years.

“It’s one of those works that you never tire of because it’s such a feast for the eyes,” Lewis says. “It’s such an incredible love story and I think that’s why people connect with it.”

Katie Bonnell, an apprentice dancer with the RWB, says that having the opportunity to dance in the beloved work is a dream come true.

“It’s my first time dancing in Swan Lake and I’m so excited,” Bonnell says over the phone. She is fresh out of morning rehearsal and her voice is slightly breathless. “Swan Lake is my favourite classical ballet of all time so I’m just beyond excitement. It’s very surreal.”

After growing up in Oakville, Ontario, Bonnell didn’t begin her serious ballet training until joining the RWB Professional Division (PD) at the age of 17, a late start for female dancers. Now 23, Bonnell rose through the ranks to join the RWB’s Aspirant Program and is now in her second year as an apprentice.

“I feel very lucky and fortunate,” Bonnell says of her young career. “I had some amazing teachers back home who got me here and then PD and Stéphane Léonard (Director of the Aspirant Program) took me and moulded me into the dancer I am today.”

In preparation for the much-anticipated opening night, Bonnell and the rest of the company rehearse Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with morning class every day at 9:30 a.m. The rigorous schedule is necessary for the difficult physical demands of the work but it also breeds a tightly knit dance community for Bonnell.

“We are very much a big family. Everyone is so supportive of each other,” Bonnell states. “It’s quite a young company right now with a youthful spirit. It gives the company a really nice energy.”

Similar to your everyday dance lover, Bonnell’s favourite part of Swan Lake is the music.

“Being able to hear the score everyday is amazing,” Bonnell says. “Getting to experience it with the live orchestra is going to be so incredible.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 22 of The Uniter (February 25, 2015)

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