Black & White: Swan Lake

by Bri Kilroy

There’s a point in life where we begin to see meaning beyond what is in front of us. Some refer to it as “seeing the bigger picture” or “taking a new perspective.” Either way, we know the world isn’t always black and white–in fact, it never is.

Choreographer Mario Radacosky saw a visual representation of this as he observed swans in a lake outside his hospital room window. While he saw a swan’s innate perfection and grace (white), he recognized the level of aggression it possesses (black). As for the gray that seeps between the two, the experience inspired him to approach a classic tale in a contemporary manner and create Black & White: Swan Lake.

Performed by the Grand Rapids Ballet (GR Ballet), Black & White: Swan Lake follows the traditional plot of Swan Lake, but presents the choreography in a way that reveals things aren’t as simple as a battle between good and evil. The performance features familiar characters such as Prince Siegfried and the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart, but rather than being introduced separately, Von Rothbart symbolizes the prince’s inner malevolence as he’s faced with the story’s conflict.

“Von Rothbart represents an inner-cancer taking place within [Prince] Siegfried,” Patricia Barker, artistic director for GR Ballet, said as she described how each character embodies emotions within us. “People have told us that the performance made them feel like they were onstage, living the story themselves because they connected with it so well.”

Radacosky created Black & White: Swan Lake with the intent of having the audience unearth their feelings rather than only experience the visual elements of the dancers and stagecraft, although both are quite beautiful. Princess Odette, bound to the life of a swan during daylight hours, speaks to a part of us that may feel stuck in a place we yearn to free ourselves from. Then there’s the wicked Odile, representing the black swan, naturally coaxing us to the side of deception and betrayal. Audience members are moved to discover that the separate characters onstage represent the spectrum of human emotion.

In its second year, Black & White: Swan Lake evokes new responses from those who have seen it before and those who are seeing it for the first time. As you sit in the auditorium armed with experiences and outlooks that you’ve collected over time, contemplate the emotions the performance is stirring within
you and how those feelings impact your interpretation of the story.

Black & White: Swan Lake runs February 10-12, with matinee and evening performances to accommodate the high demand for showtimes. Tickets can be purchased by calling the GR Ballet’s box office at (616) 454-4771 or online at

What: Black & White: Swan Lake
Where: Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
When: February 10-12, 7:30 p.m. (Fri and Sat) and 2 p.m. (Sat and Sun).
Tickets: Starting at $44

Bri Kilroy is a Grand Valley and AmeriCorps alumna who learned to type through vigorous Mavis Beacon trainings. She also passes as an artist, illustrator and author of this bio.

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