An inspiring night at the Grand Ballet

The Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for Performing Arts in Medford packed in a diverse and enthusiastic crowd Monday night. Many were young ballerina hopefuls with their mothers in tow. It’s a rare treat when an international ballet troupe alights in our humble town.

The Russians were coming, and I wanted a good seat. The Russian Grand Ballet performed Tchaikovsky’s romantic tale of transforming love, "Swan Lake." I was little more than a cygnet when I last saw "Swan Lake," from high in the aerie section of a large theater. I nearly waited too long to buy a ticket this time. The show was nearly sold out, but I managed a single.

The lights went low, a hush followed, and the atmosphere sparked with live anticipation. Music began, giving us the chance to clear the fog of the ordinary — to wait for the spectacle planned solely for our enjoyment.

Finally, the curtain rose on a small group of dancers in party regalia. Prince Siegfried was coming of age. Imagine my utter surprise when one character playing Wolfgang, the prince’s tutor, bore a striking resemblance to Bill Murray! I suppressed a laugh that tried to surface. Not here, Peggy, I reminded myself. Bill didn’t do much dancing, not that I would expect it of him. Rather he gestured and smiled approvingly as the dancers paraded before him. I discovered later that he wasn’t Bill Murray at all, but Andrey Litvinov, one of the choreographers. I guess he’s like Hitchcock, who enjoyed a walk-on in his films.

Anyway, the story is a magical tale of evil sorcery turning the beautiful maiden, Odette, into a swan except during nighttime hours. Only an unblemished youth swearing eternal fidelity to her will break the spell. Tale as old as time. No motive was given for Von Rothbart, the sorcerer’s utter meanness. That’s just how some characters choose to spend life. But prima ballerina Olga Kifyak as Odette (and Odile), moved and floated in breathtakingly graceful form across the stage, convincing as a swan.

Though I had paid for one of the best seats in the house, my view happened to be partly obscured. I kept eyeing one empty seat in front of me in the second row. Finally, before the final act, the usher agreed I could move. I asked the young woman next to it if the seat was available. She said it was, so I settled there and we enjoyed a special conversation before the final curtain rose on the evening. I learned that she had once been a ballerina hopeful, but serious problems with her back had grounded her, preventing her dream of becoming a professional dancer from coming true. She told me that seeing this ballet was on her bucket list. She said that seeing the dancers onstage made her long to return.

I could envision this lovely young woman up there in a beautiful white costume, moving and floating among the rest, and I so wished it could happen.

Meanwhile, after a masterful attempt at deception on the part of the sorcerer, Prince Siegfried triumphed and did indeed prove true and worthy of saving fair Odette. But this did not happen before Siegfried and the theater audience became enchanted by Odile, Odette’s evil look-alike when she balanced high on pointe and performed 32 consecutive fouettes. That’s twirls to you. We applauded and yelled appropriate encouragements, while at the same time harboring a bit of a grudge against her false face that might doom poor Odette to a life of feathers.

My new friend cheered and clapped, appreciating more than most the athleticism we’d just witnessed. And though she won’t be dancing onstage, she now teaches young children the art of ballet through Brighton Academy in Grants Pass. She also has a daughter who would not be if the stage had taken her.

At the close of "Swan Lake," Odette emerges with her prince, fully human. True love triumphs.

— Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Email her at

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