Veteran company dancer Eugenia Zinovieva has danced everything from Sugar Plum to Carmen in her time at FBP, but next week she’ll make one of the most exciting debuts of her career as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. This coveted role in the classical repertoire is unique in that the ballerina must dance as two different characters: Odette, the ballet’s sympathetic heroine, and Odile, a coy villainess, capable of cruel deceit. We sat down with Eugenia to hear how she’s preparing for this role of a lifetime…
FBP has performed Swan Lake a number of times over the years. It’s a classic that never gets old–our dancers and audiences alike always come back to it. What do you think it is that makes this ballet so iconic and powerful?
I think, similar to the Nutcracker, it’s familiar to people. Tchaikovsky’s music is just so memorable, it really sticks in your head. And the image of a flock of white swans also so striking. I think the imagery and the themes in the music–similar to in a work like Phantom of the Opera, where everyone knows certain parts of it–really work to draw people into the story.
How many times have you danced Swan Lake before? What other roles have you danced in the ballet?
I’ve only danced Swan Lake once before, but I danced just about everything except Odette/Odile! I did Pas de Trois and the Prince’s friends in Act I, Swans and Big Swans in Act II and IV, and the Hungarian Princess in the third act. I got to do a lot of different roles all in one go!
Since Odette/Odile is such a major role, do you feel that the rehearsal process is more intense this time around?
No actually! It’s so nice just to focus on one role. Even though it’s kind of two roles, it’s so much more cohesive and I have a bit more time offstage. In this part, when I’m onstage I can focus less on just getting through it, and more on the actual dancing!
What have been the biggest challenges and rewarding aspects in preparing for your debut as Odette/Odile?
One challenge has been finding the different ways to separate the characters of Odette and Odile. Sometimes I may think that I’m differentiating them in my head, but the way my movements come across I’m told, ‘Oh, you’re doing that too much like Odette, you need to be more like Odile.’ It’s really about finding the different head movements, Odile’s sharpness versus Odette’s control, which takes a lot of practice and focus.
What’s been really rewarding to me, though, having seen so many ballerinas perform this before me, between watching it on youtube and seeing it live, is finally getting to do those same movements onstage. Getting to create the same characters and go through the same process as all these other crazy-talented ballerinas is just amazing to me.
Having watched countless other ballerinas dance Odette/Odile, is this a role that you’ve dreamt of getting to dance yourself?
I honestly never thought that this would be something I get to do! I mean, I think it’s every girl’s dream to do Swan Lake, but I never imagined that I’d actually be dancing Odette. That’s crazy!
Congrats! We’re all so excited to see you make your debut in this role! What parts of the ballet are you most excited to perform onstage?
I really enjoy Act III where I dance as Odile. There’s still a lot that I’m working, on but I really enjoy the acting in that section. I love just getting to be this sassy, kind of evil character, with a dark side to her. She’s toying with the prince the whole time, and that whole section has just been really fun to work on.
Of the two characters it sounds like enjoy dancing Odile more, but what are some of the things you like about each character?
I definitely feel more comfortable with Odile’s choreography. Physically, I feel more comfortable doing faster movements onstage. She’s got turns and jumps, whereas Odette is more about control and balance, which is more difficult for me as a dancer. But Odette also has all these really gorgeous upper body movements, with the way that she expresses through her arms and head. When I find a moment like that, where I can open up my upper body more, that feels really nice. So I am enjoying finding that part of this role as well. Still, Odile is more fun physically with jumping and turning!
Where have you found inspiration throughout this rehearsal process?
I have watched a ton of videos online, pretty much every video I could get my hands on of other professional ballerinas doing this role. I’m trying to take a little bit of inspiration from each of those. I also get inspiration from Milica Bijelic, our rehearsal director for Swan Lake. She’s done this role so many times, and she has a lot of wisdom to share. I get inspiration from my partner, João Sampaio, too. We always draw off each other’s energy and ask each other, ‘How can we make this better? How can we work together to make this look really good?’
I think I can speak for you and all the members of this company in saying that Swan Lake is a very special ballet. What do you think our audiences will take away from this treasured classic?
Swan Lake really takes you away. It’s human, because you have all this emotion. I was watching the scene with the prince the other day, where he realizes he’s been tricked. You can just see the heartbreak, and I think that’s an emotion that everyone can connect with. Yet at the same time it’s magical. I mean, we’ve got all these swans onstage and it’s just beautiful. You get the chance to take yourself out of reality… but you can still connect with it.
See Eugenia take the stage as the Swan Queen next weekend, May 10-12, at The Vets! Click for tickets!
Please Note: Eugenia Zinovieva dances Odette/Odile May 10 and 12. Kirsten Evans dances Odette/Odile May 11. Casting is subject to change without notice.
Rehearsal photos by Dylan Giles.