Swan Lake Is a Respite in Beauty (and Tragedy)

Through its many seasons, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Swan Lake continues to enthrall. The current run performs through February 11.

Streaming version is available February 15-19 as part of the digital subscription package. See details here.


It felt irresponsible, at first, to enjoy the classic, apolitical tragedy of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Swan Lake in the face of worldwide destruction. It’s easy to see Swan Lake as a regressive piece of art, with its overtly patriarchal storyline and gender roles. But it’s more rewarding to view it as a universal story of how even the strongest force of love is sometimes not enough to conquer evil.  

While many classical story ballets end in a happy marriage between hero and heroine, Swan Lake tells the story of human impatience and folly. Many versions of the nearly 147-year-old ballet follow its doomed lovers off a cliff over the titular lake. But PNB’s version, by company founders Francia Russell and Kent Stowell, closes with Odette gliding gently and mournfully into the night fog, her prince left staring out into the abyss of Ming Cho Lee’s incredibly beautiful, simple full moon and towering leafless trees. 

Lucien Postlewaite and Leta Biasucci in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’. Photo by Angela Sterling.

In a 2009 interview, Russell names the “simplicity of the relationship” between Odette and Prince Siegfried as the driver behind this version’s ending and the final pas de deux. That “sublime tragedy” of Swan Lake, she describes, is what differentiates the ballet as a vehicle of the human experience: the universal fight for love when we are so often completely and utterly doomed but eager to witness the stunning beauty along the way. 

Friday’s opening night cast featured principal dancers Leta Biasucci in the dual role of Odette/Odile and Lucien Postlewaite as her charming but overly eager Prince Siegfried. Biasucci is an equally endearing Odette and infuriating Odile, her pristine technique sailing through 30-something consecutive fouettes while maintaining an increasingly outstanding stage presence. Biasucci’s tiny flicks of the wrist or arches of the back identify her as one of the ballerinas you remember, whose love of dance is so vast she cast spells over her audience with a simple over-the-shoulder glance.

Act I’s technically challenging Pas de Trois was performed with an immense amount of joy and precision by Madison Rayn Abeo, James Kirby Rogers, and Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan. The famous Act II Dance of the Little Swans, or Pas de Quatre, was danced in perfect unison by Abeo, Malena Ani, Clara Ruf Maldonado, and Yuki Takahashi. The scene is famous for its complicated movements requiring the quartet to hold hands with each other through the entire dance. An immense amount of empathy and patience is required to achieve the precision that so beautifully illustrates the theme of sisterhood loyalty that runs through Swan Lake. Noted performances also included soloist Amanda Morgan for Act III’s Persian Dance and Miles Pertl as the deliciously evil Von Rothbart. 

Set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, Stowell’s Swan Lake has always been big and beautiful, with 26 swans flitting in complicated formations around the misty lake created by scenic and lighting greats Lee and PNB’s own widely beloved Randall G. (“Rico”) Chiarelli, who died just last monthIt has also historically been mostly white — and not just because of the costumes. Over the past few years, PNB has continued to expand the representation among its talent to better reflect the country’s ethnic and racial diversity. Art imitating life, finally.

Swan Lake runs through 2/11 at Pacific Northwest Ballet (in McCaw Hall, Seattle Center/Mercer side). Tickets ($47-$227) hereDigital version also available for viewing 2/15-19 as part of the digital subscription; see info here. Accessibility notes: main restrooms are gendered and multi-stall, with gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms available by most of them. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible. Financial accessibility note: Pay-what-you-choose tickets available for Thursday night’s performance (2/8); see info here.

Run time: 2 hours 55 minutes, with two intermissions.

Melody Datz Hansen is a freelance dance writer in Seattle. Her work is published in The Seattle TimesThe StrangerCity Arts, and on her blog at