Read the transcript below! He has many insights to share on Prince Siegfried’s hidden loneliness, balancing the many demands placed on working artists, and the rewards of a rehearsal process. We spoke with him in the first few days of rehearsals, before he learned the full nuances of Edwaard Liang’s interpretation of the ballet’s plot—learn our version of the story here!
Can you give us a quick summary of your career and highlights so far?
Well, my name is Brooklyn Mack, and I’m originally from Elgin, South Carolina. I’ve danced with the Joffrey Ballet as an apprentice, American Ballet Theater Studio Company was my next job…I went to Orlando Ballet, where I was principal for three years, and then I went to Washington Ballet, where I danced for nine seasons. In the meantime, the in-between time, I’ve always been a guest artist all over. All over the world, really. And yeah, it’s kind of my career in a nutshell. It’s a lot of guesting and company time.
You performed Swan Lake with Misty Copeland in 2015. What has it been like to return to that ballet in all the following years?
I mean, yes, it was a very historic moment, but at the same time, I was very much doing my job and portraying the role, portraying the character. So doing Swan Lake subsequently, which I’ve done quite a few times—actually I was just performing it with English National Ballet in January at the Coliseum—every time it’s a slightly different experience, but it’s not all that different because I’m absorbed in the role. It’s one of my favorites, especially because it’s one of the few classical ballets that actually centers around the guy.
Most of them are very much about the story of the woman, whether it be Sleeping Beauty, where the prince just kind of comes in halfway through the ballet or near the end, and you don’t really know anything about him. But this is one of the few stories where it’s really centered around the guy and his experience and his loneliness. And I would like to think he’s kind of missing a father figure. And I can relate to that. Growing up, I just had my mom. She was mom and dad.
The pressures and the significance of what Misty and I went through performing that role in a major production in a major theater, the Kennedy Center—the significance of that is something that is separate from what goes on onstage.
Which type of works do you prefer dancing, the classics or contemporary work?
I don’t think I have a preference. I appreciate all types of dance, all types of art really. I love to tackle everything, but definitely dancing classics. I had to have it as part of my diet, my artistic diet. But just like any diet, you need variety, and you need different things for sustenance. I feel the same way about ballet and about dance in general.
What makes the performance really rewarding for you?
I mean, a lot of the rewards happen actually prior to the performance, through the process and in growing. You work with different repetiteurs, choreographers, and people that give different input. Then you can just add to yourself here and there to build up to, ultimately, what you’re going to present on stage. That is rewarding in and of itself.
But the most rewarding part that’s actually in the performance is…I guess when I am able, in the few times that it happens, to go to a place I like to call home. It’s basically where every aspect comes together and I feel like I become one with the music and my body is in complete control.
But at the same time, it’s almost like [my body is] moving by itself, you know, that I don’t have to necessarily think. And it’s just this perfect synergy that happens. That’s the most rewarding experience ever. Aside from that…If I’m dancing with others, it’s connecting, connecting with them on stage and having that shared experience and that synergy. That’s very different from just having it yourself, that shared synergy and being able to kind of become one with your partner on stage. I strive for it every time…It’s elusive, but I usually have a great time anyway.
How do you balance all the traveling, freelancing in your companies, artistic directing and also your family?
I don’t know. I honestly am still trying to find that balance. I haven’t been directing very long. I took over last season, halfway through the season when the Artistic Director left, so this is my first full season Artistic Director of Columbia Classical Ballet.
It’s really been difficult to find balance. But so far what usually has ended up happening is that anything that has to do with my personal career time gets the short end of the stick. So it’s nice when I can get away a little bit like this and get, you know, 6 hours out of the day to be in the studio and focus on myself.
What unexpected skills have really helped you in your career?
I do have a knack for writing contracts. Like I mentioned, in my company, we have very little infrastructure and somehow we didn’t have very many contracts on file, so I had to create a rehearsal director contract from scratch, the choreographer contract from scratch, and I completely revised the dancer’s contracts and…It is a kind of byproduct and perk of my many, many years of guesting and dealing with hundreds and hundreds of contracts. I’ve become pretty accustomed to the legalese and the jargon. So, yeah, I guess that’s an unexpected skill.
You’ve mentioned you don’t have a ton of time for me-time. When you do have time, what’s your favorite way to unwind after a day of rehearsals?
My favorite way to unwind after a day of rehearsals…That’s difficult. It’s a difficult question, because it’s difficult to unwind if I haven’t gotten enough work done, because it’s going to plague my mind and not let me relax or sleep or enjoy anything. So, I guess my favorite way to unwind is getting work out of the way.
But in a scenario, maybe before directing especially, a great way to unwind after a day of rehearsals is just to go eat something good, have a drink with friends, stretch. Stretching is good. And sometimes unwinding is actually, for me, working a little bit more, like just being in the studio by myself and being able to digest all the things, all the corrections and information that I received that day, and just go over it and work it out in a way that really just translates to me and my body.
That’s actually, even though it’s more work, it’s also a way that helps me unwind.
What’s it like being in the studio with Edwaard?
It’s wonderful being in the studio with Edwaard and working with him. I’ve worked with him a number of times over the years, especially when I was with Washington Ballet. Edwaard came and created a number of ballets on us there, and it was always a great experience. He’s extremely creative and makes the most amazing pas de deux. He has a lot of great insights with regards to movement and movement quality approach.
Tell us about your role in Swan Lake and the story.
In Swan Lake, I will be playing the role of Siegfried, who is the prince in the story. The prince is coming of age. I’m not certain about this version and what Edward’s ideas are as far as backstory, but I always think of Siegfried as kind of a party boy. Like I said, he’s coming of age and it’s his birthday party, celebrating. He’s drinking a bit—which he’s not supposed to be doing, because when his mother, the queen, comes in, he quickly hides that drink and greets her. It’s at this time that she says, ‘You know what? You’re coming of age and it’s time for you to find a princess and get married.’
That hits him like a bag of rocks. He’s not ready for that at all. He wants to just keep living his young life, keep partying and trying to be as carefree as possible to escape that inner longing and loneliness. And he hasn’t ever found anyone that he’s remotely close to being in love with.
He doesn’t want to be forced into some kind of arranged marriage. So, he’s not too thrilled about that. His mom, seeing his reaction, gifts him a crossbow for his birthday, and that he is thrilled about because apparently it’s state of the art, must be the newest model or what have you.
He shows all his friends and he ultimately decides to go hunting. That’s when he encounters the swans. And initially, of course, he’s going to hunt them. He’s going to shoot the swans, until he sees one of the swans transform into this beautiful, beautiful woman. He hadn’t found anyone he was remotely in love with, but he was immediately enthralled with this beautiful swan woman named Odette.
After getting to know her a tiny bit, he falls head over heels. The rest is kind of history. He swears his love to her but, unfortunately, she’s controlled by Rothbart, an evil wizard who transforms from an owl into a man freely. He’s transformed countless women into swans in this ballet.
The only way to break Rothbart’s spell is if someone swears their love to one of the swans. That’s a very unlikely scenario, but of course, Siegfried does so. Unfortunately, he gets duped, because at the royal procession where Siegfried is supposed to pick a princess, Rothbart brings in a doppelganger of Odette named Odile, and Siegfried thinks she’s Odette.
At the end Rothbart asks, ‘Do you love her?’ And he says, ‘Of course I do.’ And he says, ‘Do you swear it?’ and he swears it, but it’s to the wrong swan. And then Odette is revealed with a broken heart, and Siegfried is distraught that Rothbart seemingly has won, because he got what he wanted. Odette is going to remain a swan and remain under his control. I don’t know Edwaard’s ending yet, but typically Siegfried storms out after Rothbart and Odile to try to, I guess, reverse things, and also to find Odette. And he ultimately does find her, of course, heartbroken and actually contemplating suicide. He tries to convince her not to kill herself and that he loves her.
Rothbart comes back in and reminds everybody that he is in control of her now forever. Ultimately, she does decide to jump off a cliff and Siegfried follows because they loved each other. They hope that they can be together in the afterlife. That act of love was strong enough to create some magic because it’s Rothbart’s undoing. He loses his power and the swans unite against him, and he dies and they’re freed. In some of the versions I have done, Siegfried and Odette are reunited in the afterlife, and you get to see them floating away.
But I have no idea how this one ends. It could be very different. But yeah, I like that sad but semi-happy ending. Love…Love transcends. That’s the message, and it’s a beautiful message.
Minor edits have been made by BalletMet staff for clarity.