Principal Dancer Hannah Carter is no stranger to Swan Lake. She has danced the show with the Royal Ballet School in Granada, Spain, with the Estonian National Ballet and twice with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. As she prepares to reprise her role as Odette-Odile for the second time in her career, Hannah shares insight into the many ways she prepares for this technically demanding ballet and how Artistic Director Susan Jaffe has inspired her. Don’t miss your chance to see Hannah in Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!
What has it been like to learn Swan Lake under the direction of Susan Jaffe, who is such an iconic Swan Queen?
Susan is such an impressive actress. That is what stands out to me above anything else while working with her. This ballet is so physically hard it’s easy to get wrapped up in the technique and steps — and while that is so important, it’s just as important for us to be telling the story in the same way we would in Romeo and Juliet, for example. I watch her give me corrections and try to mimic the way she stands, walks, moves her head, arms and neck, for example. She fully embodies the role and transforms into Odette and Odile.
Watch Artistic Director Susan Jaffe speak about her new choreography and get a sneak peek into rehearsals with Hannah Carter and Yoshiaki Nakano!
How do you prepare for this role?
There are multiple ways to prepare. It’s like a few different lanes that all join in the middle.
Stamina: It’s a very hard ballet and I do not want to be wasting energy thinking about how tired I am, so cross training to build up my stamina is one lane.
Studying: Watching other dancers in our company and on YouTube (or anywhere online) is another lane. Learning from others is so important in my opinion because it helps me build layers on top of my own artistry and opinions. Maybe another dancer does something that works better for me as well.
Rehearsals and Repetition: We want to build muscle memory so that our mind is as empty as possible. Just as stamina is important, I don’t want to be thinking about what comes next or how to do a step. I want my body to automatically do it so that my mind is free to focus on the artistry.
Can you talk about your pre-show ritual?
I am so superstitious — almost to a fault! I’m trying to break away from that a little because when I am very nervous it becomes all consuming. But what I usually like to do is when we get into the rehearsal process of running the sections and the whole ballet we usually practice some steps before, so I always want to practice them on stage before going on. I am not one of those people that like to be alone before going on stage because I get nervous. You can usually find me backstage with everyone and feeding off of the whole performance’s energy.
But my #1 ritual is getting a vanilla tootsie roll from Répétitrice Marianna Tcherkassky!
How many pairs of pointe shoes have you used during the rehearsal process?
Gosh, I’m not sure! I’m sewing and breaking in about two pairs of shoes a week minimum.
What part of the ballet holds a special place in your heart?
I think the beginning of the White Swan Pas de Deux is one of my favorite moments. It feels so quiet and intimate. We’re the only two moving on stage at the time and it just feels so secretive and special.
Walk us through what it is like to embody both Odette and Odile.
I find becoming Odette a little easier than Odile. Odette is loving and gentle while still being strong and proud. She has long and soft lines and a sadness about her. Odile I find to be more of a challenge. It’s a lot of fun to dance her role, but it’s hard to not slip into Odette from time to time. While she is still a swan, she has sharper lines and strong eyes. I want the audience and other characters on stage to feel like they shouldn’t look at her but at the same time can’t take their eyes off of her.