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A quartet of BSO musicians and Boston Ballet dancers create ‘White Swan’

Jessica Zhou, Paulo Arrais, Derek Dunn, and Elita Kang recorded their collaboration, "White Swan."
Jessica Zhou, Paulo Arrais, Derek Dunn, and Elita Kang recorded their collaboration, "White Swan."

Though she has devoted her artistic life to the violin, Boston Symphony Orchestra/Boston Pops Assistant Concertmaster Elita Kang has loved ballet since she was a child. When COVID-19 curtailed the orchestra’s work in Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, Kang came up with an idea, a collaboration between the Boston Pops and Boston Ballet. She reached out to Boston Ballet principal dancer Paulo Arrais, and a new work was born, inspired by the famous Act II pas de deux from “Swan Lake.” Kang and principal harpist Jessica Zhou recorded the music, and Arrais choreographed a duet for himself and his real-life partner, Derek Dunn, also a Boston Ballet principal dancer.

The piece was posted Thursday on the BSO (bostonpops.org/athome) and Boston Ballet (bostonballet.org/love) websites.


Boston Ballet and the Boston Pops: Swan Lake
Swan Lake

For all four players and dancers, the project offered a rare opportunity to work with other performers who, amid their usual rehearsal and performance schedules, have little chance to venture outside their artistic silos. “Not until this have I had this close opportunity to collaborate, because probably everybody is doing their own thing," said Zhou. "Doing something together is amazing.”

The elegant Act II pas de deux was originally choreographed to be danced by a ballerina as the white swan Odette and a male dancer as Prince Siegfried. Arrais has created a contemporary ballet duet for two men, and its romantic lyricism has both muscular heft and sweep, as the two dancers move from room to room in the home of their colleague, Boston Ballet Soloist Isaac Akiba. The dance was filmed by Akiba as well, interspersed with video of the two musicians playing their parts of the Tchaikovsky score individually — Kang in an empty Symphony Hall and Zhou at home. BSO audio engineer Nick Squire contributed technical assistance and Ernesto Galan provided video editing support. (The Boston Globe is a sponsor of the project.)


For Arrais, the project has helped him reinvent how to share his artistry and vision. “Relearning and creating right now is very important,” he says. “Art can be very soothing in times like this.”

“We’re all eager to get back to performing live, but until then, this learning curve is forcing us to become more creative,” Kang says. “The fact that we are still able to do what we love to do in some respect is a real gift. … We can remind people that we’re still here, that we’re still making music. … In spite of it all [this project] has actually expanded our horizon and taken the edge off some of this worry for a little bit.”

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.