Artistic Director’s Notebook: Swan Lake

by Artistic Director Peter Boal


Ask anyone to name two ballets they have seen. I’m willing to bet Nutcracker would come first, Swan Lake second. We agree. Swan Lake is the second-most-attended ballet in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s history.


If Nutcracker is the gateway to the world of ballet, Swan Lake is the portal through which one passes into a world of infinite discovery. This path is laid out beautifully for our PNB audiences this year. We invite you to discover the many delights of our repertoire this spring with more enchanting stories for families (Snow White), cutting- edge creations (DIRECTOR’S CHOICE), mind-boggling ensemble work (EMERGENCE), and the intoxicating allure of the duet (LOVE & BALLET). Consider a subscription for this season or next to serve as your navigator on this journey into the joys of ballet.




Back to Swan Lake. Why all the fuss? To start with, Swan Lake has an incredible architectural base in Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. Head down to the orchestra rail during intermission and see all 64 musicians preparing to play. The score informs the story beautifully with motifs that trigger our memory, percussive drama that surrounds, and a poignancy so crystalline we can almost touch it.


Add onto the music masterful choreography. PNB’s Swan Lake, like most versions, employs choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov created in the late 1800s. This traditional choreography was staged by Francia Russell with a care and reverence that brings the ballet to wondrous life. PNB’s version also offers ample choreography by Kent Stowell. You’ll see Kent’s contributions in Acts I and III and in the exquisite pas de deux in Act IV.




Kent, with valuable input from Francia, is the mastermind behind this production. He assembled a team of contributors to create PNB’s current version, which debuted  with the opening of McCaw Hall nearly fifteen years ago. Ming Cho Lee, a frequent collaborator of Kent’s, created set designs. These haunting elements of crumbling castle and moonlit forest have a ghostly pallor. They seem to foretell tragedy in their imbalance and instability. Ming’s artistry is impressively distilled to a simple bold gesture. How the moon holds hope and love despite its inevitable wan.




Paul Tazewell’s costumes contrast with injections of primary and tertiary colors that lift us up. The fabrics and craftsmanship of these vestments remind us PNB has one
of the finest costume shops in the country. All of these elements are enhanced and underscored by brilliant lighting design. Rico Chiarelli brings a painter’s touch and an artist’s eye to all elements of PNB’s Swan Lake and to so many of the great works you will see on our stage.




In the end, it is really a story that compels us to buy tickets, feel our heart rates increase, shed a tear, and rise to our feet in collective and euphoric ovation. Swan Lake is a story of good versus evil, of temptation and tragedy, and love of the highest order. We would love to have you join us for this singular masterpiece from our trove of repertoire. I know you will be enthralled with Swan Lake. Let it be the first or second step of your discovery into the world of ballet, and be sure to return to McCaw Hall this spring to experience more of the treasures PNB has to offer.



–Peter Boal



Featured photo: PNB Company dancers in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake, photo © Lindsay Thomas.