Interview: Ballerina Mackenzie Richter Tells BroadwayWorld About the Magic and Spectacle of Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE

This gorgeous, classic production is running from June 8th-June 18th!

By: Jun. 01, 2023
Interview: Ballerina Mackenzie Richter Tells BroadwayWorld About the Magic and Spectacle of Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE
Houston Ballet Soloists Mackenzie Richter
and Naazir Muhammad in Diamonds.
Choreography by George Balanchine,
© The George Balanchine Trust.
Photo by Lawrence Elizabeth Knox (2022).
Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

The Houston Ballet's 2022-2023 season is being capped off by one of ballet's greatest love stories, Swan Lake. In the ballet, the everlasting love between Prince Siegfried and Odette  a maiden who is turned into a swanis tested by the evil knight Rothbart and his black-swan enchantress, Odile. Houston Ballet's Artistic Director Stanton Welch developed this version of Swan Lake, which is inspired by John William Waterhouse’s painting, The Lady of Shalott. The show features lavish sets and costumes by Kristian Fredrikson, and it even utilizes composer Tchaikovsky's full score. In addition, Welch choreographed this adaptation with the characters' psychological complexity in mind, giving the work nuance like never before.

I had the chance to speak with Mackenzie Richter, one of the ballerinas portraying Odette/Odile in Houston Ballet's 2023 Swan Lake run. They gave me some insight into their experience of performing the iconic lead role, the technical spectacle of the show, and what makes this certain production so special.


To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What is your history with dance and the Houston Ballet?

I started dancing in my hometown in Warner Robins, GA, in the middle of nowhere, and then I moved to Houston in 2014. I joined the Houston Ballet in January of 2016. However, I am leaving the Houston Ballet at the end of this season which is only in about 3 weeks and I'm joining Ballet Zurich in August. Cathy Marston will be the director; she was the choreographer of Summer and Smoke, and after I worked with her, I just felt something come over me. I knew that I wanted to work with her more, so I asked to audition for her company. She was excited, and she eventually offered me a contract!

Do you have a favorite role and/or show that you have performed with the Houston Ballet?

I have two that I want to touch on! A few years ago, in 2020, I debuted the role of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, which is a really iconic role for ballerinas. You know, it is one of the hardest ballets to do, and it has to be my favorite full-length ballet up to now. It is very technically challenging, and I felt that I lived through the life that Aurora went through. That was really special for me because I was only 21. Then, as I mentioned earlier, a favorite recently would be Angel in Summer and Smoke. Working with Cathy was just different; I just connected with her differently than I had with other choreographers, and she was really interested in my input about the character. I believe this collaboration is not something that you come across in the ballet world that often. Having that creative connection with Cathy and with the role of Angel was just wonderful. I really felt like myself in that piece. I had a nervousness before the performances, but I was also excited to just be myself on the stage. I crawled around and was creepy sometimes, and then I was very angelic and upright other times. It was a really cool role to explore! 

I understand that you are a lead ballerina in Houston Ballet’s upcoming production of Swan Lake. In case our readers do not know this show, can you give us the storyline of the piece?

Odette basically has left home because she feels like she wants something different for her life, and she finds herself in this forest setting. In the forest, she runs into two people: Rothbart (who takes control of her and changes her into a swan) and Prince Siegfried, who is supposed to be marrying a princess of another nation. Odette and Siegfried fall in love, but Odette is being controlled by Rothbart, and Rothbart ends up tricking Siegfried into falling in love with Odile, which is the BLACK SWAN; Siegfried swears his love to her instead. I will not spoil the ending, but that is the gist of the story!

What is your role within “Swan Lake”?

I will be playing Odette/Odile. In this version of the classic story, the main woman plays both the White Swan and the BLACK SWAN as well as the maiden versions of both forms. I think that is different from other versions of Swan Lake; Stanton Welch (the artistic director of the Houston Ballet) has added in the actual human version of the White and Black Swans.

What is your favorite part to perform in this piece?

Interview: Ballerina Mackenzie Richter Tells BroadwayWorld About the Magic and Spectacle of Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE
Houston Ballet Soloists Mackenzie Richter as Odile
and Naazir Muhammad as Prince Siegfried
in Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake.  
Photo by Lawrence Elizabeth Knox (2022).
Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Oh my gosh… there are so many! Both pas de deuxs of the White Swan and the BLACK SWAN are my favorite. I like showing the contrast because I do have a soft, delicate side that portrays the White Swan more, but I also have this spicy, sassy side that I like, which comes out in the BLACK SWAN. That’s my favorite part: being able to do both and show my versatility.

How big of a cast does this production have?

There are a lot of people involved! It's definitely a very large cast. I don't know the exact number of roles, but the whole company is on stage, being used, and quick-changing a lot.

What does a typical day of rehearsal look like for this production?

Since we now have everything in place, we're going into full runs of Swan Lake, so we will have class in the morning and then usually a six-hour rehearsal day. On a rehearsal day, we'll typically do two runs of Swan Lake, one before lunch and one after lunch. Depending on the cast, I will be either Odette/Odile or other roles, such as the Spanish Princess. The directing team tells us a couple of days before or on the morning of rehearsals what cast it's going to be for the day.

How many casts are there? 

I believe there are five casts, so 5 different Odette/Odiles and a few Sigfrieds as well as a few Rothbarts. There are five different configurations of the cast.  

What is the purpose of having multiple casts? Does having multiple casts allow for everyone to have a break, or does it offer variations to repeating audience members?  

I wouldn't say that anyone really gets to rest during cast changes because basically everyone is still in every show in some capacity. The directors have given me a couple of shows off around my Odette/Odile show just so I'm at my best physical condition around that time, but mostly everyone is in every cast.

What are the costumes like for this production?

Interview: Ballerina Mackenzie Richter Tells BroadwayWorld About the Magic and Spectacle of Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE
Houston Ballet Soloist Mackenzie Richter
in Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake.
Photo by Amitava Sarkar (2018).
Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Odette herself has four different costumes. They're pretty simple, actually. She doesn't have actual feathers on her tutu, but it has this piping throughout that mimics the shape of feathers, which I think is really pretty. Odile also has this look but in black versus white. Then, in the human form, Odette has a long, flowing dress that is white and embellished a bit on the top. Overall, it is simple and not too shiny. Odile’s human form has a lot of sequins, but it is still very sleek. Plus, Odile has long hair in the human form, so I put on a wig with long, curly hair. It gives me fairy/mermaid vibes!

Are there any technical spectacles or design elements in this production that we can look forward to?

Interview: Ballerina Mackenzie Richter Tells BroadwayWorld About the Magic and Spectacle of Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE
Houston Ballet Soloist Mackenzie Richter
in Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake.
Photo by Amitava Sarkar (2018).
Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

The whole ballet is a spectacle, and we are using the full depth of the stage. In the first act, there are some cool trees that are on stage. The second act is actually my favorite; the set is beautiful and orange. There is this one moment where everyone's at the ball and Prince Siegfried is supposed to be picking one of these princesses, and he ends up picking Odile. The stage has these wings that start moving, and everyone realizes that something weird is going on here. That moment is really neat to see. Then, in the third act, there's this dragon that sits on the stage. Both Odette and Siegfried jump off the dragon into the lake, which is cool!

Have you played the role of Odette before? If so, have you changed anything or developed the character more since you first performed it?

I have never performed the full thing altogether, but I have performed White Swan and BLACK SWAN pas de deuxs in gala settings we have at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. I also played as the BLACK SWAN in Japan a few years ago. I definitely believe things have changed. I have actually been rehearsing this ballet for five years, and the more you get it into your body, the more you pull from deeper places within yourself. There is then a deeper understanding of the movement. You find more detail in everything. So, I have gotten more detailed with my choices and how I play the role. 

You said that you have been rehearsing this role for five years. What do you exactly mean by that? 

Interview: Ballerina Mackenzie Richter Tells BroadwayWorld About the Magic and Spectacle of Houston Ballet's SWAN LAKE
Houston Ballet Soloists Mackenzie Richter
in Diamonds.
Choreography by George Balanchine,
© The George Balanchine Trust.
Photo by Lawrence Elizabeth Knox (2022).
Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Houston Ballet does Swan Lake pretty often, and the first time I learned Odette/Odile was when we did the production five years ago. I was just a cover then, and I rehearsed a ton. I think Stanton had a plan for me to eventually perform the full thing. However, a ballet is a lot of steps, and it takes a really long time to be ready for that. Five years ago, when I was 19, I could have performed the full thing. In my head, I was ready, but now, looking back, I think that I was really not ready just because there is so much to dive into…so many intricacies of the characters. This version of Swan Lake is also a lot more dancing than the usual version because of the human additions of the characters. It has been a long time since I've started learning this version specifically, and Swan Lake is just in the back of your mind when you start ballet. It is just such an iconic ballet! So, I've been trying to do this version throughout the last five years. I have even performed excerpts of it, so all of this has culminated and gotten me ready for this time around. 

That's so exciting! I mean, Swan Lake is just one of those ballets that, as you said, everyone knows, even if they're not a ballerina. For example, everyone knows Barbie Swan Lake, right?

Yeah, I grew up watching that, too!

Is there anything else you would like to share about this production?

Dang, that's a hard question, but I think five years ago, I didn't have the life experience I have now. For example, five years ago, I wouldn't have had this deep feeling about the moment when Siegfried betrays Odette, but now— not to bring my personal life too much into it—I feel things more deeply. Also, I think now is a really good time mentally for me to go through this journey. I have this really genuine feeling when I am rehearsing and when I am on stage, and I think that is really important for our performances.

To finish us off here, when and where can we see this production?

My show will be on Saturday, June 17th at 1:30 pm. The Houston Ballet is performing this production from June 8th to the 18th at the Wortham Theater Center in Houston. We’d love for everyone to see this; everyone always loves this show!


This beautiful production is running from June 8th-18th, and you can buy your tickets for the show Click Here! Tickets start at only $25.




RELATED STORIES - Houston

1
IM NOT A COMEDIAN… IM LENNY BRUCE Makes Houston Premiere in October Photo
I'M NOT A COMEDIAN… I'M LENNY BRUCE Makes Houston Premiere in October

The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center will present a two-run limited engagement of “I'M NOT A COMEDIAN… I'M LENNY BRUCE” starring critically-acclaimed actor Ronnie Marmo. Learn more about the play and how to get tickets here!

2
Review: THE LARAMIE PROJECT at THEATRE SUBURBIA Photo
Review: THE LARAMIE PROJECT at THEATRE SUBURBIA

They have a mix of genders, races, and experience levels to work with. The result is what community theater is all about, a perfect blend of people coming together for a common cause. You can feel their love of the piece and each other radiating from the stage. This is why people adore and do community theater.

3
Main Street Theater Receives Stabilization Grant From MAAA and Houston MOCA Photo
Main Street Theater Receives Stabilization Grant From MAAA and Houston MOCA

Main Street Theater has announced that it is among a select group of regional organizations to receive a Mid-America Arts Alliance Houston Arts and Cultural Stabilization Grant.

4
KATIE: THE STRONGEST OF THE STRONG Comes to Houston Grand Opera in October Photo
KATIE: THE STRONGEST OF THE STRONG Comes to Houston Grand Opera in October

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) will present Katie: The Strongest of the Strong, part of its Opera to Go! series for students and families, from Tuesday through Thursday, October 10 through 12, at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Learn more about how to attend here!

Videos


#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Vincent
Midtown arts (12/24-12/24)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Funny Girl
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (8/20-8/25)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# The Lion King
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (7/11-8/04)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Wait Until Dark
The Center for the Arts & Sciences (10/27-11/05)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Mean Girls (Non-Equity)
Lutcher Theater (11/04-11/04)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# The Addams Family
Alvin Community College Theatre (10/21-10/29)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Forever Plaid
The George Theater (9/06-10/01)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Taming of the Shrew
Points North Theatre (9/30-9/30)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# NUNSENSE
MVE/BBYMT Studio Theatre (9/28-10/08)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Come From Away (Non-Equity)
Lutcher Theater (3/14-3/14)
VIEW ALL SHOWS  ADD A SHOW  

Recommended For You