Swan Lake: ‘A beautiful, magical experience’
Swan Lake: ‘A beautiful, magical experience’
By Allison Brophy Champion
Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” positions itself as the quintessential ballet with its unmistakable score, graceful choreography and dark, tragic tale of young love.
Lifelong dancer Rose Marie Allen, like others before her, is putting a new twist on the classic dance born in her love for the art.
A ballet dancer over the age of 50, Allen—founder of the Culpeper Ballet Theatre—is producer, director and star of a condensed version of “Swan Lake” coming to the State Theatre stage for one night only at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Allen will perform the primary roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan alongside 15-year-old Gabriel Busch, portraying Prince Siegfried.
“It’s not about getting old,” Allen said in a recent interview. “It’s about doing your passion.”
Growing up in Alexandria, the Culpeper resident danced as a girl with the then-newly formed Virginia Ballet Company under the direction of the late Oleg Tupine and Tania Rosseau, the husband-wife team who danced with companies in Europe before immigrating to the U.S.
“When I was very little, I went to see the National Ballet of Washington perform ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the Kennedy Center,” Allen said of how she came to first love the dance. “That was it. I knew it then. I just dance and I love to teach.”
She teaches ballet to youngsters ages 5 through adults in her home studio in Rixeyville.
Allen studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and American University with additional experience in association with The American Ballet Theatre and The New York City Ballet.
She has danced in “The Nutcracker,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake,” but never as the lead.
When Allen held auditions earlier this year for her local production of the classic ballet, her White Swan never emerged. So she took the role.
“The reason why I do it is it’s life or death,” Allen said. “You only live so long. Do what you love. I am going to do it and I don’t care what anyone thinks. It’s about what you’re giving. I am giving my heart to the community—a beautiful, magical experience.”
A cast of 10 will dance the one-hour ballet Wednesday night in Culpeper with two intermissions.
Gabriel Busch, a home-schooled student from Culpeper, started dancing almost two years ago, also with the Virginia Ballet Company, now located in Fairfax. He embraced ballet upon seeing his younger sister dance.
“I fell in love with it—the people, the stage, the experiences, the performances,” he said. “I love the acting in ballet.”
“Ballet is acting,” she said. “You have to have that or otherwise people will fall asleep.”
Busch has danced secondary roles in previous ballets, but never the lead.
“I knew it was possible,” he said of getting the part of Prince Siegfried. “This is a great opportunity,” Busch said while acknowledging, “These are large shoes to step into.”
It’s been an interesting experience partnering with Allen, he said.
“It’s wonderful to be able to work with someone who has such experience in the field,” Busch added. “And it’s very different from what I’ve done—I’ve never partnered with anyone older than 18.”
Allen said she would have loved to have cast a young girl in the role typically danced by a teen, but that she couldn’t find someone who could dance it like her.
“I can still do this,” she said. “I’m an old lady, but when you see me dancing you don’t see that. It isn’t about how I look. What am I feeling? What am I emoting? What am I doing?”
Allen, graceful and strong for any age, dances every morning. It’s a healthy addiction, she said, and her passion is evident.
“I meditate. I stretch. I work it. I sweat,” she said. “It’s what makes your heart strong.”
Gabriel loves that she’s bringing local ballet to the local theater, and hopes it will generate more interest in the type of dance. His sister, 6-year-old Dorothy Shirley, also trains at the Virginia Ballet Company and is dancing as Petite Swan, Swan and Maiden in “Swan Lake.”
The little girl did splits and danced all over the lobby of the State Theatre during a recent interview, stopping only long enough to say that when she was born, her toes were pointed like a ballerina.
“I’ve never been on this stage before,” Dorothy said.
Mary Shirley, mother to Gabriel and Dorothy, is also dancing in “Swan Lake” as the Queen Mother.
“We’re a dance family,” she said. “I was trained primarily in tap and jazz with a background in ballet.”
Shirley commended Allen for the artistic undertaking coming this week to the State Theatre.
“Rose has really taken on a great challenge and I think she’s going to see it to fruition,” she said.
Ballet dancers are angels, Allen said.
“It’s a magical, ethereal, euphoric feeling,” she said.
Her production of “Swan Lake” could create the same in the audience. Gabriel thinks so.
“They can expect a big performance from a small group,” he said.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for children, and can be purchased at the box office or culpepertheatre.org.
Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540/825-4315.