Though Soloist Marisa Grywalski has danced in PBT productions of Swan Lake twice before, the upcoming production marks her debut as the Swan Queen. Marisa shares her journey from her first performance as a PBT School Graduate student to now dancing one of ballet’s most iconic roles. Don’t miss your chance to see her perform in Artistic Director Susan Jaffe’s new production of Swan Lake, running 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?
I started my journey with Susan and the role of Odette for one of our outdoor gala performances. I was to perform the White Swan Pas de Deux. She guided me through every moment, showing me not just where to step and how to angle my head, but explaining the intention, which is the most important aspect. Every moment has a meaning and every moment is an opportunity to tell the story of love, trust and tragedy. This holds true even today as she guides and teaches us all four acts. She often reprises the role to demonstrate what words cannot express. I see very much of her and the long history she has with Swan Lake in the choreography.
What part of the ballet holds a special place in your heart?
I love the entrance of Odette where she meets the Prince, as well as Odile’s entrance.
Tell us about your first performances of Swan Lake with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
I had the pleasure of dancing Terrance S. Orr’s Swan Lake twice. In my first experience when I was a PBT School Graduate student, I was one of the corps peasants in Act I. I also performed in the swan corps and was one of the princesses in Act III. This was my first time performing with the company where I was in all four acts. I loved every beautiful and painful moment; it was a real taste for corps de ballet life. I had responsibility and started to create positive and friendly relationships with the other professionals.
In the most recent production of Orr’s Swan Lake I danced again in all four acts, this time as a corps member of the company. I danced in the pas de six in Act I, as a big swan in Acts II and IV, and in Act III’s Spanish dance. I must mention that I danced all of these roles and every show with Danielle Downey by my side. Sharing all of these roles with her was so wonderful.
Can you talk about your pre-show ritual?
Sometimes I take a really hot shower before I warm up to get my blood flowing. I tend to spend most of my time on stage — lots of walking around, marking movements, getting used to the space and most importantly choosing my shoes for the night.
How many pairs of pointe shoes have you used during the rehearsal process?
I use a new pair of shoes for pas de deux rehearsals. They need to be new in order for me to rehearse properly. The support is critical, especially for adagio work. Once softened a bit I then use them for our morning technique class.
How do you prepare for this role?
Susan has brought in an acting coach, Byam Stevens, for the company to work with. He has been focusing on all interactions between Odette-Odile and Prince Sigfreid. After working with Byam, I would say there has been a shift in how I am approaching both roles. Also, the steps are beginning to feel more natural after further discovering where they are stemming from.
Walk us through what it is like to embody both Odette and Odile.
A dancer can spend their whole career developing deeper into these roles. I believe that we all have a bit of both characters in each one of us. For my first time learning these roles I started by exposing those similarities in myself. If it’s not coming from an honest place, then the audience will pick up on that.
Marisa will perform as Odette-Odile on Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. See the full casting list here and don’t miss your chance to see Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra May 6 – 15 at the Benedum Center!