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What does it take to be the lead in ‘Swan Lake’?

Seo Hye Han is stepping into the lead role with Boston Ballet’s “Swan Lake” for the first time.
Seo Hye Han is stepping into the lead role with Boston Ballet's "Swan Lake" for the first time.

For a ballerina, few parts are as coveted as the dual role of Odette and Odile in “Swan Lake.” At first she’s the skittish White Swan, Odette, queen of a flock of swan-women who’ve been enchanted by the sorcerer Rothbart. Prince Siegfried stumbles upon Odette by the lake, and they fall in love. But then at Siegfried’s 21st birthday in the palace, the ballerina turns up as Odette’s evil twin, the Black Swan Odile, and seduces Siegfried into forgetting about Odette.

For Boston Ballet’s upcoming production of “Swan Lake,” soloist Seo Hye Han will be dancing this demanding role for the first time with the company. Here’s what she had to say about the experience.


Q. Have you danced Odette/Odile before?

A. Yes, with Universal Ballet in Korea, but it was a different version; the choreography was by Yuri Grigorovich. It was still a traditional version. I was 21 or 22 then.

Q. How did you get the part?

A. Actually, I wasn’t in the cast. Somebody got injured, so I jumped in. We didn’t have that much time before the show, I remember, and for Odette and Odile it is not so easy to do everything in 25 days. And then my director was really crazy about fixing everything, so it was one of the hardest times in my life. But it was a great experience.

Q. When did you first see “Swan Lake”?

A. Before I started ballet, so I was 7 or 8 years old. ABT [American Ballet Theatre] came to Korea, and Julie Kent was dancing Odette and Odile, and it was amazing. I just melted. I think that was the beginning of seriously thinking about ballet. I started ballet at age 9.

Q. Did seeing “Swan Lake” make you want to dance Odette and Odile?


A. I think every ballerina wants to be Odette and Odile; it’s one of the dream roles. People think that if we can do these two roles, we can do any role.

Q. And how did you come to be cast in this production?

A. Mikko [Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen] just called me and said I’m going to do Odette and Odile, and I said, “Wow, thank you.” It’s hard to explain, it’s more than exciting.

Soloist Seo Hye Han in costume as Odette for Boston Ballet’s “Swan Lake.”
Soloist Seo Hye Han in costume as Odette for Boston Ballet’s “Swan Lake.”Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Q. Is one role easier than the other for you?

A. Personally, I think I look better as the Black Swan. Some people think that the White Swan is easier, because there is not that much technique. But for me, turning and jumping are easy. For me, the White Swan is a thousand times harder than the Black Swan. The White Swan is pure, she’s just beauty, and there’s a kind of sadness, because she’s been kidnapped by the evil Rothbart. She was a human; now she’s half human, half bird. The Black Swan is more like a strong character, and I can do it better. I can do the White Swan, too, but I want it to be better, and that’s what I’m really challenging myself with now.

Q. Who is helping you with this challenge?

A. Larissa [balletmaster Larissa Ponomarenko] wants me to use my arms from my body, not from the shoulder. Have you ever seen a swan? Swans have huge wings, bigger than their body, and that’s why she wants me to do it. It’s difficult, because I have to pull the arm out so much; I’m already having pains in my back and my neck. But Larissa always looks very elegant whenever she shows me, she’s beautiful. I feel highly honored to get something from her. She’s teaching me so many things. She’s fixing everything in my head, my eyes, and my nose, little things, so I really look like a bird.


Q. Who are you scheduled to dance with?

A. Jun [second soloist Junxiong Zhao].

Q. Has he done Siegfried before?

A. No, it’s the first time. The White Swan pas de deux, everything is about the partnering, and if the man doesn’t know anything, it’s twice as hard for the lady. But Jun is working so hard. We met yesterday, it was our day off, but we practiced everything, and he’s really helping me a lot. Jun and I danced together in “Onegin” [as Olga and Lensky], and people were saying we have chemistry onstage, and I believe that. I’m really happy to be dancing with him.

Swan Lake

Presented by Boston Ballet. At Boston Opera House, April 29-May 26. Tickets: $45-$220. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.