Ballerina makes lead-role debut in ‘Swan Lake’ at Kennedy Center

August 10, 2022 | WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Swan Lake' at Kennedy Center (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — There are two big reasons to see “Swan Lake” this weekend at the Kennedy Center. Not only will you see headliner Misty Copeland, you’ll also get to see another American Ballet Theatre star make her leading-role debut.

Devon Teuscher stars in the iconic dual role of Odette/Odile on Thursday night and the Sunday matinee in a demanding part rounded out by Hee Seo on Wednesday night, Veronika Part in the Saturday matinee, Isabella Boyston on Saturday night, and Copeland on Friday and Sunday nights.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Teuscher told WTOP. “[Copeland] is such a wonderful dancer and inspiring artist to the ballet world, so it’s such an honor to share the stage with her and be with her in the same role.”

Tchaikovsky’s classic needs no introduction, but in case you’ve been living under a ballet rock, here’s a quick synopsis: The story involves Prince Siegfried, whose queen mother is pressuring him to choose a bride. Unhappy with his prospects, he goes out into the woods to find himself and runs into Odette, a magical creature who’s half-swan, half-woman under the spell of the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart.

“He casts a spell where she is trapped in the body of a swan unless one man swears to marry her and be with her forever,” Teuscher said. “So the two meet and they have this magical evening. Then, Von Rothbart tricks Prince Siegfried — this is when the Black Swan comes in — she tricks him and he swears to marry her as well. … He’s sworn to marry two people, so they don’t live happily ever after.”

As is customary in the ballet’s tradition, Teuscher plays both roles of the White Swan (Odette) and Black Swan (Odile), juggling two very different characters in terms of emotion and dancing style.

Creatively and emotionally, she says she relates more to Odette, the White Swan.

“Naturally, I feel very emotionally and artistically connected to Odette, White Swan,” Teuscher said. “I feel more of a lyrical dancer. It’s something I artistically relate to more, the dramatic, sad type of role. … That seems a little easier. [Conversely] with the Black Swan, Odile, it’s quite a challenge to get artistically into that role because I don’t feel naturally seductive or evil. That’s very difficult for me.”

However, from a physical standpoint, she says she relates more to Odile, the Black Swan.

“It’s interesting because technically, physically, I relate more to Odile, the Black Swan,” Teuscher said. “I feel technically and physically more challenged by Odette. So it’s interesting, the two [styles]. There’s one thing that I feel more comfortable with in one, and in the other, not so much. So it’s just a fine balance of finding my comfort level in both and being confident in both aspects of both parts.”

Luckily, Tchaikovsky’s music remains the eternal compass for transitioning between the two.

“It’s such an iconic piece of music, especially in the ballet world,” Teuscher said. “It’s also used a lot in TV and movies because it is so iconic and dramatic and it just kind of carries you. … It really tells the story and can carry you through quite a journey just by listening to the music. It’s so nice as a dancer to have something … you can involve yourself in and be completely swept away just in that music.”

The score is both beautiful and haunting, its circular melody creating a swirling, hypnotic obsession.

“The iconic moment is the 32 fouettés, where Odile the Black Swan does 32 fouettés, which are the swirling, flipping, twirling motion,” Teuscher said. “She does 32 in a row and the music is swirling and whirling. That moment is her casting her spell on Siegfried. She’s swirling him into a frenzy [where] he can’t deny her. He can’t deny this beautiful, magical creature who’s doing these 32 turns in a row, and the music is doing the same thing. It’s just capturing the evil spell aspect of it. It’s very interesting.”

These symbolic spins weren’t lost on film director Darren Aronofsky, who used dizzying, circular whip pans in the movie “Black Swan” (2010), which won the Best Actress Oscar for star Natalie Portman.

“It really brought ballet to the forefront, which is always wonderful,” Teuscher said. “The art form is so beautiful — when it can get that attention, it’s great. [The movie] is very dramatic, but it’s also really iconic now and a lot of people can relate to it. If they know the movie and now they think, let’s go see the ballet and see what it’s about. So it’s great that it was brought forward to public audiences.”

While Aronofsky directed the film, ABT’s “Swan Lake” is steered by artistic director Kevin McKenzie.

“He really knows every single aspect of the ballet,” Teuscher said. “Every single part, every little, tiny detail and moment, he’s thought out. … He’s also a great dancer himself, so he can really help in that aspect as well. … I’ve really grown up working with him, which is great. I’ve been in the company for a long time, so he’s really seen me grow up and flourish and become this dancer he really trusts.”

Born in Pennsylvania, Teuscher began dancing at age 9 at the Champaign Urbana Ballet Academy in Illinois and bounced around to other schools before attending American Ballet Theatre’s summer intensive in 2002. She then moved to New York on full scholarship with ABT in 2005 before joining the studio company in 2006, serving as apprentice in 2007 and joining the corps de ballet in 2008.

“My parents kept putting me in soccer and tennis and I was horrible at all of it, but I had tons of energy,” Teuscher said with a laugh. “My friend was dancing and said, ‘Why don’t you try ballet class?’ So I did one ballet class and I was hooked. From the first class, I remember just adoring my teacher and wanting to be just like her. … I was instantly hooked on the beauty of this thing called ballet.”

Ballet fans are glad she chose ballet, though her swan skills might make for a killer soccer goalie.

“Bigger wing span,” she joked.

Listen to the full conversation with “Swan Lake” dancer Devon Teuscher below:

August 10, 2022 | WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Devon Teuscher (Full Interview), (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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