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Swan Lake: Onstage, principal ballerina Maria Mosina is both good and evil

Maria Mosina (as Odette) and Igor Vassine in a 2008 performance of Swan Lake.
Maria Mosina (as Odette) and Igor Vassine in a 2008 performance of Swan Lake.
Courtesy of the Colorado Ballet

Maria Mosina is almost as graceful a speaker as she is a dancer. Almost. A principal ballerina with the Colorado Ballet , Mosina began her career with the Bolshoi Ballet Grigorovich Company in Russia, and it is with a soft Russian accent that she describes her career as "completely natural" but "always consuming." Later, as she searches for words to describe why every part is, in a way, her favorite one, she apologizes for this accent. But she doesn't need to -- Mosina's insight is, after all, that of a dancer, a lifestyle that comes with a language of its own. This is the vocabulary she's having trouble translating.

"It's hard to explain because I'm both human and a dancer," she says. The first attribute, in many ways, is why she is so talented at the second. Show and Tell sat down with Mosina to talk about Swan Lake, its heroine and villain, how Natalie Portman changed them and why they will always hold an important niche in pop culture.

Watch Mosina dance (and perform 32 fuetes) in a 2008 performance of Swan Lake:

Westword (Kelsey Whipple): What originally inspired you to dance?

Maria Mosina: I started to dance as a baby. I just liked to dance, to move. It came naturally. There's an expression, I think, in English, that it was in my nature. When I was 10 years old, my mom put me in ballet school in Moscow, and I have known since that age that I would be a professional ballet dancer. In Russia, there are professional ballet schools, so when they accepted me to the school, it came with the preparations for that to be my life. It's an 8-year education that includes all forms of ballet, everything, every day. It's different here.

If you could perform only one role for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

It's hard to say because when you start to prepare for a ballet, no matter whether it's classical or contemporary or whatever, you're changing everything about yourself in order to do that. You are that part for as long as you play it. At that time, at that moment, it's your favorite piece to do, especially in classical ballet. So right now my favorite parts are the white swan and the black swan because I think about nothing else.

Of the two -- Odette and Odile -- which part do you most relate to?

I think my favorite part is the white, Odette, because I think she is a deeper person and it's incredibly hard to choose whether to be a human being or a bird. It's a lyrical part, and you have to be active to play her. You have to be very well-trained to do classical expression in her part, to be a human, a queen, and then later a bird in the same piece. The second act with Odette is the key of the entire ballet.

What qualities does it take, then, to play Odile?

Odile is the type of woman who just walks into a castle and knows she will in. She's a femme fatale, so I just have to know that I am the queen of the ball, the queen of everything, and let that come out. I have to act with my entire body.

The Colorado Ballet enlists three principal dancers in Swan Lake, each of whom plays both swans. What is it like to watch the other two women dance the same part?

I'm just watching as a member of the audience. I'm not comparing or thinking about me. I'm just understanding what the other principals are trying to say through the dance. I separate myself completely.

Each principal couple has their own style. Each dancer has their own interpretation but with the same steps, of course. It's very interesting to watch the other principal dancers and see that they're doing something different than you are. It's one of the most physically demanding ballets of all time for the principal female, and it's important for us to have time off in between shows in order to maintain our roles.

We are physically different and have different characters. Some of us are softer and more lyrical, and some of us appear to be more human, while others are better at portraying the bird. Some of us have more technical difficulties, even. I could never compare myself, but if I'm thinking about my interpretation, I've danced this throughout my entire career. Every time, it's a little bit different, and it's interesting to repeat this part because you grow and your character changes and you add little steps or change the emotions. It's very important to have a connection between me and my partner, and that is also different every time.

Maria Mosina (as Odile) and Igor Vassine in a 2008 performance of Swan Lake.
Maria Mosina (as Odile) and Igor Vassine in a 2008 performance of Swan Lake.
Courtesy of the Colorado Ballet

How has your portrayal of the roles changed since the last time you performed them?

I think now I put more human aspect into the white swan, that I'm more of a woman even if I'm a swan. My human nature comes out more strongly.

What was your reaction to the ballet's pop-culture revival in Black Swan?

It's a good movie, and Natalie Portman did a good job as an actress, but from a professional side as a professional ballet dancer, it's different. In the movie, everything is bigger than life. The technical stuff when she has red eyes and that kind of thing, it's interesting. When you're dancing, it's not possible to go crazy like she did. The ballet is much different for a dancer than it is for an actress.

Do you think the film has affected the public perception of the ballet?

Of course, of course. It's more popular now, and more people know about Swan Lake and know about ballet overall. More people are interested to come and see the ballet and hear the masterpiece of the Tchaikovsky music.

At the same time, there seems to be this idea that Swan Lake is one of the more staid, traditional ballets, that it's unavoidable once a year. How do you respond to people who interpret traditional to mean it's boring?

It's a masterpiece. When you go to a museum and see a masterpiece painting, it's the same with Swan Lake. After more than a century, it's still in every ballet company in the world. The music and choreography are just beauties, and the simple story about love and tragedy and drama will always make people come back. That doesn't mean it's boring.

As Swan Lake concludes and you leave the stage, what is the last emotion you're left with?

Actually, my partner and I have to climb to the stairs and jump over and over right before the end. The idea is that we're jumping into the lake and dying. I feel that I'm so tired, and I'm exhausted. That's it. That's all I'm feeling.


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