The ballet Swan Lake is a tragic love story. A beautiful princess, Odette, is under a spell, and, by day, turns into a white swan. A handsome prince falls for her, but then he’s tricked into pledging his love for an evil witch, Odile, the black swan. And the spell cannot be undone.
Veteran dancer Cynthia Gregory made her debut as Odette/Odile in 1967, at the age of 20, on tour with the American Ballet Theatre in San Francisco.
"I didn't have a lot of time to prepare for Swan Lake, the full-length, when I did it the first time. Two weeks!" she recalls. "I was nervous for the first performance, but excited and thrilled to be doing it."
Gregory danced many classical roles in her nearly three decades with the ABT — but Swan Lake is one that defined her career.
"Swan Lake just always felt comfortable, like I was meant to do it," says Gregory. "The two roles were fun to do, the evil one, and the delicate, beautiful, tragic one." Dancers, she says, are often drawn more to one role or the other, the black swan or the white swan, but they find that "it's a pleasure to do the other one and to work on it."
As the Kansas City Ballet made plans to produce a new version of Swan Lake, artistic director Devon Carney invited the former prima ballerina to coach the company's dancers in rehearsal and share her experience.
"I value the classicism of Swan Lake," says Carney. "The story is timeless, it's a fantastic love story. And it's also a great opportunity for dancers to grow as artists."
Kansas City Ballet presents 'Swan Lake,' Feb. 19 - 28, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri. 816-931-8993.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.
The Artists In Their Own Words series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.