by Stephanie Wolf, 89.3 WFPL
The lead role of Odette/Odile in the ballet “Swan Lake” is a doozy.
Louisville Ballet dancer Erica De La O has danced it before, and it never gets easier.
“It’s a big one,” she said. “It’s a lot of work.”
The role involves difficult choreography, immense artistry and almost-Herculean stamina. And despite her previous experience with the part, De La O said, this time around will “be the biggest challenge of my career, and it has been on every angle.”
That’s because De La O’s life is very different from when she joined the Louisville Ballet in 2003.
For one, she says her body is not the same — things have started to hurt more.
She also has a toddler now. There’s less time for all of the extra things that come with a dancer’s life, like getting to the studio early to warm up or cross-training outside of rehearsals.
“Post-baby, post-COVID and stuff, it really did change me,” De La O said.
De La O will take her final bow with the dance company Saturday evening, making this appearance her swan song for Louisville audiences.
As she approaches her retirement from a 20-plus-year performing career, De La O said she’s feeling many emotions.
“Sad, excited, good… It also feels a little surreal because you’re still like in dancer mode, where you still have to do pliés and tendus and get the work done.”
‘A dancer dies twice’
“It’s a heartbreaking moment to let it all go,” Louisville Ballet artistic director Robert Curran said of the inevitable moment when a dancer decides to or has to retire.
Curran quotes famous modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham.
“Martha Graham said that a dancer always dies twice, once when they retire from dancing, and then when they leave the body,” Curran said.
Graham also reportedly said, “the first death is the more painful.”
Curran knows first-hand how hard it is to stop dancing. He made the decision to retire from the stage at 35, after more than three decades of dedicating his life to the art form.
Some dancers dread it, he said.
“You think about the risks that you take, or the partnerships that you build, or the stories that you tell, and the amount of times you kind of tear your soul out in front of the audience,” Curran said. “And then, you can’t do it anymore.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ballet has had several retirements: Emily Reinking O’Dell, Hailey Bowles and Luke Yee at the end of the 2019-2020 and John Aaron Brewer and Erin Langston Evans at the end of the 2020-2021 season.