American Ballet Theatre’s ‘Swan Lake’ Released an Ocean of Emotion

When I look at something beautiful, I tend to cry. I don’t overtly sob (I’m not that hormonal), but a silent tear or two will stream down my face as if it’s nothing at all to wash away the meticulously placed blush from my cheeks.

And it is something. My Naked blush/bronzer/highlight trio was not cheap.

The infamous trickle of tears happened when I first saw the Washington Monument upon moving to DC last June.

It happened when I saw Michelle Obama’s face at Trump’s inauguration, because she was throwing so much glorious shade.

And it happened last night in the opera house at the Kennedy Center, beneath the most gorgeous ceiling I have ever seen, when I witnessed the pure beauty that was the American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake.

Last night was my first time in the Kennedy Center, and my first time viewing Swan Lake since I was a dancer in my youth. Let me start by saying I was blown away as soon as I entered the building.

The opera house was stunning, with ruby red carpeted floors and golden detailing on nearly every surface. I knew from the get-go that I was in for a treat.

After I took my seat and fixed my eyes to the stage, I noticed a curtain made of scrim, and as it lifted after the prologue, the immaculate world where the dancers would play for the next two hours was revealed.

The ballet opened with Princess Odette (Hee Seo, South Korea) falling under the spell of an evil sorcerer, von Rothbart (Patrick Ogle/Thomas Forster), and accompanied by quite the impressive orchestra.

I have always been a fan of live orchestras during performances, and Swan Lake was no exception. The infamous score came to life in new ways under the direction of the conductors, and despite being familiar with the music already, it seemed as if I was hearing it for the first time.

The ballet continued with Prince Siegfried (Cory Stearns, New York), coming of age and searching for the woman he will marry, as he will soon become king. Despite the Queen Mother’s (world-renowned Nancy Raffa) best efforts to introduce him to eligible princesses, Siegfried escapes the party, where he ventures into a moonlit clearing in the woods and first discovers Princess Odette, who miraculously transforms from swan to princess right before his eyes.

Cory Stearns’ portrayal of Prince Siegfried was lovely to watch, and I found myself wanting more and more. He glided effortlessly through the air with every leap. Aside from his technique as a dancer, Stearns’ theatrical performance was pure. He reacted in a manner that was noticeably honest, without overdoing it as one could find to be easy to do in playing for such a large audience. He was a pleasure.

Act two was a tale of forbidden love laced with the undeniable beauty of both Stearns’ and Seo’s craft and onstage chemistry. It was clear the two longed to be together, but the passion came to a halt when von Rothbart returned whisking Princess Odette away into the darkness, and the audience was left to ponder both fates as we broke for a 20-minute intermission.

When we returned for act three, we saw Siegfried’s struggle to choose a wife at the ball, until Odile, the Black Swan (Seo), arrived and seduced him, and very well, I might add. He agreed to marry her, only to be fooled after he saw an image of Princess Odette grieving at the castle doors.

Hee Seo’s portrayal of the Black Swan was breathtaking. There was an added layer of personality thrown into the mix that we didn’t see as Odette. She was still poised and elegant, but her eyes were razor sharp and focused on her prey as she floated weightlessly around the stage, landing every jump and sticking every pirouette in perfect harmony with the orchestra. She would flash a conniving smile when she locked eyes with the prince. It was captivating and one of my favorite moments from Seo.

After rushing to the lake after Odette, and in a heartbreaking conclusion, Siegfried and the princess realized their fatal end as being the only way the two can be together as lovers. Because of Siegfried’s promise to marry Odile, Odette was forever doomed to remain a swan unless she took her own life. Siegfried promised to take his too if it meant the two can be together, and the curse would be broken.

The lovers took their owns lives, and the ballet ended with the two reuniting in life after death in what was the prettiest death scene I have ever witnessed.

The audience roared with applause and countless “Bravos!” And it was well-deserved. The principal dancers blew it out of the water, but the company as a whole was unstoppable throughout the duration of the ballet.

Although this was a grand production, it was the smaller gestures I appreciated the most, such as a slight smile from a dancer or a flick of the wrist or shake of the hips to signify the ruffling of a swan’s feathers. Every detail was rehearsed and perfected.

American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center is not to be missed. Performances run through this Sunday, January 29. Tickets start at $59. For more information, visit

The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600;


Kaitlyn McQuin

Kaitlyn McQuin hails from New Orleans and is a writer, actor, and funny lady with an affinity for caffeine and Amy Poehler. Though her articles typically cover theatre, Kaitlyn also enjoys writing for the millennial crowd. Some of her work has been published on Mavenly + Co., Thought Catalog, and Red Beans and Life. In her spare time, she enjoys staying active, scouring DC for the perfect beer, and teaching her mom how to properly use FaceTime. You can find more of her writing on her blog, Powered by Sass, where she tells it like it is about balancing careers, remembering to pay your bills, and loving someone in the military.