Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Melody Herrera is the new bird in Swan Lake

Photo by Amitava Sarkar: Dancers Melody Herrera and Simon Ball perform in Houston Ballet's Onegin.
Photo by Amitava Sarkar:
Dancers Melody Herrera and Simon Ball perform in Houston Ballet's Onegin.

Melody Herrera, Houston Ballet's youngest principal, finally gets to take flight as Odette/Odile in Stanton Welch's Swan Lake. The tiny ballerina, last seen as the spoiled French queen/party girl Marie Antoinette, makes her debut in this iconic role. Herrera fills us in on life in the greatest ballerina role with feathers:

29-95: So how does it feel to be the newest member of the flock?

Melody Herrera: I am thrilled to be dancing Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. It's such an epic ballet; it's the mothership as far roles for female principals.

29-95: I have heard from other dancers that the role is a bit like having a truck run over you. Then it backs up and runs over you again. Is that true?

MH: Yes, and the truck is aiming directly at my left calf. It runs over and over it again. Then, I still have to do those 32 fouetts on the left leg during the Black Swan Pas de deux. It's the hardest classical ballet, which is also what makes it so fun.

29-95: Describe the fun?

MH: It's an all you can eat buffet ballet, in that you get a bit everything, the best and the hardest, especially in Stanton's version.

29-95: How is Welch's version of Swan Lake different?

MH: You are not just a swan. Odette starts out as a maiden, so I have all these sweeping romantic pas de deux with lots of gutsy acting and storytelling. Then, I have to dance all the swan stuff on top of all that. There are also two transformations, from white swan to black swan, and from human to swan.

29-95: White swan or black swan?

MH: I was afraid you would ask that. In my ballerina soul I love white swan. There's something so tender about her and I love the rescued damsel in distress aspect to her character. Still, I have a blast doing black swan; the part is so full of bravura.

29-95: Let's talk about those dreaded and delicious 32 fouetts that black swan needs to crank out flawlessly. Do you count? I do.

MH: I bet you do. It's in the music and I have grown up around the Tchaikovsky score, so I know it very well. I can't stop turning until the final note of the music.

29-95: Welch created the part of Marie Antoinette in his recent world premiere ballet Marie especially for you. Now you are doing a part that thousands of ballerinas have done before you. How does that situation change your approach?

MH: Since I'm the rookie swan, I am trying not to get too fancy. I want to keep the purity of the ballet so I am going for heartfelt and less frills.

29-95: Did watch other ballerinas in the role?

MH: Yes, I have seen several, some live, on video, and YouTube. I remember watching Natalia Markova's swan a lot. She's such an old world ballerina and there's something special about that. I am trying to maintain that feel, and not get too new.

29-95: Did you observe birds as well?

MH: Yes, always. I grew up around birds in Santa Cruz, California. But just recently I watched a flock of swans at a park near the theater we were performing at in Spain. They have these super long curved necks. So being a bird is all about the neck and back.

If you are trying to be an animal, you better watching them.

29-95: So you think of yourself as a swan while you are dancing?

MH: Oh yes. Technically, I am a woman trapped in the body of a swan.

Houston Ballet presents Swan Lake June 11-21 at Wortham Center. Orchestra side front tickets start at $18. Houston Ballet is offering a 50% discount for select performances for customers who purchase both Swan Lake and Nutcracker. Student rush tickets will be available Sat., June 13 at 1:30 pm. (Student rush tickets are always subject to availability.)

Reprinted from