Famously Fearless Ballerina Stages Swan Lake

One of the most renowned ballerinas in U.S. history, Cynthia Gregory earned worldwide acclaim for her fearless leading performance in Swan Lake in 1967, when she began her career with American Ballet Theatre at just 20 years old.

Leaning on a 30-year career spanning 80 ballets, the Las Vegas resident has now staged a new production of Swan Lake that Nevada Ballet Theatre will premiere at The Smith Center in February as the centerpiece of its 45th season.

Below, Gregory discusses her illustrious career and Swan Lake’s timeless story of ill-fated love.

You’re famous for your interpretation of Swan Lake – can you describe your bold approach?

I was young and just starting out, and it was really my very first full-length classical ballet role with the American Ballet Theatre. It was a very exciting time for me and very scary, at the same time.

I always felt from the very beginning that I really wanted to tell the story. That was very important to me. A lot of dancers would just do the steps. I watched Russian dancers do Swan Lake and theirs was a particular style that was gorgeous.

I had a mix of styles in my dancing so that mine was a little bit more …not casual, but not as confined. I was more open and telling my story.

Can you describe your approach to staging this production now, 50 years after you first performed it?

I really want the story to get across of the star-crossed lovers. When they first meet it’s their destiny, they both feel that from the very beginning, and they think it’s going to be a happy destiny and it all turns out tragically.

Even though it’s a fairy tale, I like it to be believable in its own way. I want every dancer in the ballet — from the corps all the way through the dancers in the ballroom scene to the black swan — I want them all to really believe in their characters so that it all comes through to the audience.

Swan Lake remains one of the world’s most beloved ballets. Why is that?

I don’t really know. Maybe it’s that the lead plays two characters, she’s the beautiful, soft, tragic white swan and the gorgeous, alluring black swan; and there’s a lot of great dancing.

There’s the music, too. I love The Nutcracker, but my favorite music that Tchaikovsky wrote is Swan Lake.

What advice are you giving to Nevada Ballet Theatre’s dancers?

It’s a classical ballet that’s been done for over 100 years, and I want us to go forward with it. The dancers of today are much better than the dancers of when (Swan Lake) was first done. Their beautiful technique and beautiful lines will be even better.

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