Three swans in readiness Elizabeth Lamont, Chenxin Liu and Alanna McAdie prepare for their turns in the famous dual role of Odette/Odile

Late February sunlight streams into the studio as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet principal artist Elizabeth Lamont rehearses for Swan Lake. She, along with fellow principals Chenxin Liu and Alanna McAdie, is dancing in the dual lead role of Odette/Odile — a part that not only requires emotional dexterity, but the technical ability to whirl through the ballet’s iconic sequence of 32 fouetté turns as Odile.

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Late February sunlight streams into the studio as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet principal artist Elizabeth Lamont rehearses for Swan Lake. She, along with fellow principals Chenxin Liu and Alanna McAdie, is dancing in the dual lead role of Odette/Odile — a part that not only requires emotional dexterity, but the technical ability to whirl through the ballet’s iconic sequence of 32 fouetté turns as Odile.

Dance preview

Swan Lake
Royal Winnipeg Ballet
● March 8-12, Centennial Concert Hall
● Tickets at

A feat of physics and artistry, fouetté en tournant — or “whipped turning” — involves quick revolutions of the raised leg while the dancer turns on the anchored foot. It’s easily among the most difficult — and, to audiences, impressive — steps in ballet. Lamont’s rotations are tight and light; even without the stage lights and the costumes, she dazzles.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s shimmering score, Swan Lake — which returns to the Centennial Concert Hall after eight years tonight and runs until Sunday — is one of the most famous classical ballets of all time. Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s notoriously demanding choreography makes this version a draw for both dancers and audiences alike, but the role of Odette/Odile also offers a compelling study in contrasts.

In the ballet, the wicked sorcerer Baron von Rothbart has trapped Princess Odette in the form of a swan, and when Prince Siegfried threatens to break the spell, Rothbart transforms his daughter Odile into Odette’s likeness in an attempt to seduce him. Odette is the sweet, innocent white swan, and Odile is the seductive, deceitful black swan — two starkly different women, portrayed by the same dancer.

This will be the first time each of the three principals will be dancing the role of Odette/Odile live in Winnipeg.

“Odette/Odile was always on my bucket list of dance roles,” Lamont says, her rehearsal leotard and tunic now covered by a puffer vest. “There’s usually one where you feel a little bit more confident than the other, and I do really like turns so I think a lot of people would say that I would feel very confident in the Odile or black swan role. But actually, I’m starting to fall more in love with Odette, the white swan, because of her tenderness.”

Liu performed as Odile only in the pandemic-era digital production, Visions of Swan Lake, which featured select excerpts from the full-length ballet. She’s excited to inhabit both swans this time around, though she still feels a pull in Odile’s direction. “Personally, I like black, Odile, more than Odette,” she says. “Odette is pretty, but it’s just my personal preference. There’s more acting.”

McAdie performed Odette to Liu’s Odile in Visions of Swan Lake.

“What I’ve found really interesting is, because the characters Odette and Odile are so different, I find every day I go into rehearsal I feel more like one or the other,” McAdie says. “Some days I feel really confident and feisty, so then I’m excited to do the Odile. But then other days I’m more solemn, so Act 2 and Act 4 with Odette feel more satisfying.”

McAdie has dreamed of performing in this role ever since she was blasting her Tchaikovsky CD in her childhood bedroom (yes, that’s right: while some kids were busy annoying their parents with pop punk, McAdie was cranking the waltz from Swan Lake). The music, she says, helps a lot when it comes to getting through the rigorous choreography.

“If I get overwhelmed by like, ‘Oh, we have to rehearse so much again,’ the music starts and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m pretty lucky. It’s OK.’

Lamont says the role involves a delicate balance of artistry and technicality.

“It can be a challenge for me to get bombarded by the technical brain and, ‘Oh, no, that didn’t go right — I should have pointed my foot or I fell out of the turn, what do I have to do?’” Lamont says. “But if you get stuck on that one thing, you’re going to be lost. And that’s not what the audience is looking for. They want you to be in that character. It’s technically demanding. Artistry is super demanding because you’re playing two roles, and the hardest part about it is that the artistry has to come first, even though the technique is so hard.”

But while the demands of the role are heavy, the load is shared with a partner in the role of Prince Siegfried. Lamont is paired with second soloist Zachary Rogers, McAdie with second soloist Michel Lavoie and Liu with principal Yue Shi.

“I know my partner really well in real life,” Liu says wryly. Shi and Liu got engaged onstage in December following a performance of Nutcracker.

“Actually, we’ve had a good relationship in this rehearsal process — when we do really well, ugh, I love him, but if something happened during the rehearsal, we hate each other a lot,” she says with a laugh. “Because we’re so comfortable together, we just say things right away.”


The return of Rusalka

The Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble — who last appeared onstage with the RWB in Nutcracker — will be joining the company in Act 3 of Swan Lake.

This will be the first time Rusalka dancer Mikayla Knysh, 26, has done the Mazurka scene, and she’s thrilled.

“It’s such an honour,” she says. “There’s actually no current dancers who have performed Mazurka with RWB before, so it’s very special.”

As the Mazurka is a Polish folk dance, Rusalka’s guest appearance in Swan Lake differs from Nutcracker in that Rusalka will not be performing its own choreography. To that end, the ensemble has been working with a pair of former RWB company dancers: Dmitri Dovgoselets and Tristan Dobrowney, to get the Mazurka down.

“One thing that I had a very difficult time wrapping my head around was just the difference in the music and the counting and to be able to follow along with the melody and with this music — it’s just so much different than what we’re used to,” says Rusalka dancer Dylan Turchyn. “It was pretty rough at the beginning when (Dovgoselets and Dobrowney) first started teaching us the actual dance. But then it was amazing. Once you kind of just immerse yourself in it and spend two or three hours a week on it, then it just kind of clicks.”

“Now, we can’t get the music out of our heads,” Knysh adds.

For Dobrowney, who is now the co-artistic director of the Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, seeing the dancers master the Mazurka has been really rewarding.

“They’ve really grown into it now,” he says, adding that he’s seen marked growth in the last few weeks. “They’re totally different dancers.”

Rusalka is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, against the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. Dobrowney says its been powerful to see Ukrainian newcomers watch Rusalka performances, and witness the preservation of Ukrainian culture here. For Rusalka’s dancers, many of whom have long familial ties to the ensemble, taking the stage with the RWB is significant.

“I think especially right now, with everything that’s going on in Ukraine, it is extra special to be able to have the freedom to represent our culture and represent something that’s so meaningful to us and so many generations of dancers that have danced before us,” Knysh says.

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Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.

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