From the studio to the stage: Black Swan, White Swan

We sat down with Nick and Laura Schultz, now ballet masters at the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Together they performed in the original Black Swan, White Swan production at Grand Rapids Ballet, under the direction of current Royal New Zealand Ballet Artistic Director Patricia Barker.  Nick performed the role of Siegfried and Laura played the White Swan. As a married couple, their natural chemistry helped them to develop the characters’ romance on stage.

What was the most challenging part of performing these roles?

Nick: This ballet is one of the most difficult pieces I have ever performed, both physically and emotionally. During this ballet my character is the first one on stage and the last one off each act, and never leaves the stage. He has to carry the whole show as well as telling a true and honest story. During the ballet he has pas de deuxs with all three other principle characters, White Swan, Black Swan, and Rothbart. Actually I had more duets with Rothbart than I did with any of the ladies. It is one of those ballets that when you are done you have such a sense of accomplishment.

Laura: The White swan is a different character to the classical in the sense that in this ballet she is more a part of his imagination. The movement quality is something that you have to keep pushing and trying to take your physicality to the next level. Physically there are some tricky lifts during the ballet, but with a good partner you trust, it will feel like you are flying. Emotionally there isn’t a lot for this character; however you are a big support for the Siegfried character.

How does performing a work compare to staging a work?

Staging this work is a big undertaking. It is a full two act ballet and there are 26 people involved in just one cast. We have to learn every single person and what each person has to do. When you are dancing you only have to worry about your part and have the ability to focus and give all your attention to those roles. When it was created on us we were able to bring our personal strengths into the work and help develop the characters. Now that we are staging the work, we try to give as much of the feelings and emotion we had while making it to these dancers so that they will understand where the piece came from. We try to give them as much information about how things should feel and be done. It is also nice that we are still young and can actually show them the movement and partnering ourselves so they have first-hand experience with it.

How do you find working and dancing together as a couple?

We love to dance together. Staging together is fantastic. We have the ability to openly discuss everything and tell each other our true thoughts. Not many couples have that luxury as there are politics involved in ballet companies. What is good about staging together is that we can come in with a good plan for the day and be on the same page, since we can talk and work at home as well.

Tell us about the differences between performing the traditional Swan Lake and the 21st Century Black Swan, White Swan.

We feel that being able to do both versions is a huge benefit. They are so very different, but the music drives both ballets. You cannot compare the two truly as they are so different in both story and movement. For instance, Swan Lake is a tour de force for the woman who has to dance two roles, while Black Swan, White Swan it a test of endurance and strength for the man. They are both emotionally poignant and test a performer to see how honest and true they can be. Physically in Black Swan, White Swan the women are all barefoot or in ballroom shoes, while in the classical they wear pointe shoes or character shoes. During Swan Lake the costumes are almost another character unto themselves, while in Black Swan, White Swan the costumes are minimal in order to show the body and movement.

RNZB Ballet Masters Laura and Nick Schultz performing in Grand Rapids Ballet's Balck & White. Photo: Ron McKinney

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