Getting to dance a lead role in “Swan Lake” is a dream for any dancer. Getting to dance both female leads? Unreal. But for Joffrey Ballet dancer Jeraldine Mendoza, the dream is a reality as she is one of the company members dancing both Odette (the White Swan) and Odile (the Black Swan) in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake,” running Oct. 15-26 at the Auditorium Theater. The DePaulia spoke with Mendoza about performing in this version of “Swan Lake,” what inspires her, and how many pointe shoes she goes though per week.
Tell me about dancing in this production of Swan Lake
The story is a little bit different. It still includes the traditional story of “Swan Lake,” but the first act is a ballet company rehearsing the first act of a traditional “Swan Lake.” As the rehearsal continues, the man who plays Prince Siegfried starts imagining himself in the story of “Swan Lake” as if it’s real. The story plays out in his own head, so it kind of leads the audience to question whether or not it’s really happening or if it’s just a figment of his imagination.
Dancing this role is really special to me because, like any ballerina, it’s one of the biggest roles for a company member to dance. When you’re young and you’re starting out as a ballet dancer, the two major ballets you see as a young girl are “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake.” It’s every girl’s dream role to dance Swan Lake.
What has your inspiration for the role been? How have you been preparing?
In the summer when I was home in San Francisco, I asked my teacher Galina Alexandrova from my old ballet school (City Ballet School of San Francisco) to coach me a little bit on some of the variations, so she helped me out technically. And Chris Wheeldon has been very specific about his swan arms, so I’ve been working really hard getting what he wants me to portray in his ballet. And I’ve been getting inspiration from my fellow dancers and a little bit from different YouTube videos.
What has it been like working with Christopher Wheeldon?
Getting to perform his “Swan Lake” is a huge honor. He’s a really well known, really prestigious choreographer, so I was really excited and nervous to work with him. He’s very specific in what he wants. You can tell that this isn’t just some regular Swan Lake, it has Christopher Wheeldon written all over it. I think that’s great and unique. He wants to make it more modern. He’s super into having his dancers really tell a story. It’s not just whether the Swan queen can do triple or quadruple pirouettes, he really wants every movement to have a line and a specific notion behind it of what we’re trying to say and have it be really clear for the audience to read.
What is your favorite part about dancing this role?
I think for me it’s getting to portray the two different characters. I think that’s the best part for me because it gives you so much range on technicality and the acting aspect of it, really getting lost in the story.
Has it been difficult portraying the range between the two?
Yeah (laughs) it’s been the best part and also the worst part. The swan queen is really pure and she’s very nervous because she’s under a spell. So she’s very pure and honest. The black swan, who is the sorcerer’s daughter, she has this very teasing, evil personality and it’s actually really difficult to go from one role to the next, but I think the most helpful part of it is the music. With the music, you really feel it in you and it really helps you to change characters
Are you more like the Odette or Odile?
I think for me, I really don’t like to typecast myself as a dancer, but I think for me Odette might be my favorite one, but it’s really hard to choose. I myself am really shy and I get really nervous and I like to act like I’m confident even though I’m not always bold.
What is a typical day like for you?
I come to work around 9 a.m. I get PT (physical therapy) or warm-up for 45 minutes. And then class starts at 9:45 and goes until 11:15, and then from 11:30 to 6:30 we have rehearsals with a one-hour break for lunch.
How many pointe shoes do you go through per week?
Usually it takes me two weeks, but with “Swan Lake” since it’s such a huge production and there are only 40 dancers in the company, a lot of us have multiple roles, so I’ve actually been going through one pair of pointe shoes per day so yeah (laughs) it’s hard.