After fourteen years of dancing with the Australian Ballet, principal dancer Leanne Stojmenov still considers the professional stage an escape from the rigors of everyday life.
“It creates a feeling inside you,” Stojmenov said. “It can take you away on a story.”
Stojmenov will play the main role of Odette in the Australian Ballet’s production of Swan Lake, which plays at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles for five performances this weekend from October 9-12.
This is the Australian Company’s first visit to Los Angeles in over 40 years according to artistic director David McAllister , and a momentous return to the prestigious Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage.
Choreographer Graeme Murphy’s original take on the traditional story of Swan Lake will stun viewers, as it blends the traditional Tchaikovsky score with newer elements of drama in a large scale production. The New York Times connected the production to elements of tragedy in the story of Diana, Princess of Wales, in the despair of the heroine.
For those unfamiliar with the story of Swan Lake, the ballet tells the tale of romance between young Odette and Prince Siegfried, a romance that is thwarted by the evil magician Rothbart. Murphy’s version takes the traditional tale of Odette’s transformation into a swan at the hands of Rothbart and twists it to conjure Odette’s psychological breakdown.
The story as a whole is well known as tragically beautiful, playing into the #whatisbeauty campaign of the Australian Ballet company for their upcoming season. Their different productions represent varying manifestations of beauty, and the company has asked its patrons to define the word themselves through social media. The response has been enthusiastic from both sides, as audiences get more involved in their beloved ballet troupe.
To dancer Stojmenov, beauty in the tragedy of Swan Lake is unparalleled, and a tender concept to capture onstage.
“To me, beauty is showing vulnerability, and it’s what this production shows,” Stojmenov said. “You definitely have to show vulnerability to showcase reality and human characters in this ballet.”
Swan Lake, in particular, is rooted in its emotional impact, and Stojmenov described learning the role as twofold. After getting the steps down, dancers must take time to sync with their partners, as well as imbue the parts with appropriate feeling.
The result is a strong connection between the audience and the dancers as they experience the highs and lows of the story Stojmenov insists. Classical ballet is not just an experience in seeing people dance around.
“Ballet is such a unique art form. It can culturally expand you to see art in physicality,” Stojmenov said.
Response to the Australian Ballet has been enthusiastic: They are the busiest large touring company in the world, with over 200 performances annually, both locally and internationally. Their production of Swan Lake has toured London, Tokyo, Paris, New York and Shanghai before arriving in Los Angeles this weekend.
Among classical art forms, ballet has been one of the most successful at retaining its popularity, with a cultural interest in beauty, as well as companies’ efforts to connect traditional works with modern audiences. Swan Lake has been in the company’s repertoire since 2002.
“It’s so much part of the company’s DNA now,” McAllister told the Los Angeles Times. He described how many of the principal dancers had played ensemble parts in their pasts, and before working their way up through the production. Stojmenov is one such dancer, having played a signet ensemble role before playing the part of Odette.
She mentioned the emphasis placed on maintaining a balance between old and new in the world of ballet. Though tradition remains exalted, contemporary choreographers are exploring new artistic frontiers, pushing the boundaries of both original and classic works. Graeme Murphy’s choreography is widely applauded for walking this fine line with well-received results.
Stojmenov has been a principal dancer since 2011 and danced with the West Australian Ballet before her time at the Australian Ballet. She describes the dance community as her home, and the troupe as a tight-knit group.
“We’ve been known for going in headfirst,” she said, commenting on the company’s reputation for having athletic prowess. “And you feel that really strong energy on stage. It’s not just the principals; it’s everyone.”
This production of Swan Lake comes to Los Angeles as a part of the twelfth season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, a leading curator of performing arts in Los Angeles. The program is in its second decade and is well-known for supporting new works as well as continuing to bring some of the world’s most influential dancers and choreographers to the area.