Wings are powerful

Posted on 30 November 2021 By Behind Ballet Editorial Team

The dual role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake is the pinnacle of the ballerina's art. It is, in fact, a triple role: she must embody a bird, a tragic queen and a scheming seductress. Principal Artist Amber Scott talks about her preparation, both mental and physical, to become Odette, the White Swan.

Scott’s ballet career, it might be said, started with Swan Lake. When she was very small, her parents took her to see The Royal Ballet’s production. Entranced, she did “swan arms” in her seat all the way through, and her mother thought it might be an idea to enrol her in ballet classes. Now, as a principal artist, Scott realises the intricacy of those seemingly simple movements. “My arms and back are always aching after Swan Lake. Wings are powerful on birds: that’s what they use to elevate themselves. I always imagine the wings starting from the centre of my spine and coming out. You use your whole body, almost like you’re in water. Your elbows are doing circles, and your arms aren’t going straight up and down – it’s a curved movement.” To Scott, Odette’s fluttering quivers in her first solo are the bewitched queen shaking the water off herself after her transformation from bird to woman.

Photography Jeff Busby

Scott begins her preparation for a performance in the afternoon, with upper body work and massage, particularly of the neck: “Your neck has to be quite strong, because you’re trying to replicate the curve of a swan’s neck. I get all the different muscles in my neck massaged before a show.” She also focuses particularly on her fingers, warming them up with lots of movement so they are just as mobile and flexible as her feet. “Having that energy in your hands sends something back into your centre – it frames your energy sphere.” Sitting in front of her mirror, switching on the lights and putting on her make-up, Scott starts to fully enter “another world”. As for each of her major roles, she keeps a special perfume to wear as Odette/Odile – Au Lac by Eau d’Italie.

Photography Jeff Busby

In the lead-up to her debut as Odette, Scott spent time watching swans in the park, imprinting the shapes of their floating and flying bodies in her mind. “There’s a lot of breath in [Odette's] choreography. There’s a lot of strong, beaten, upward movements, and then a slow float down.” She listened to the Tchaikovsky score over and over again, until she “could almost hear a song of what I’m saying [to the Prince] in my head.” She shared her 'song' with Adam Bull, her Siegfried, and he did the same for her. Scott’s relationship with Bull, her partner over many years and many significant roles, has been an intrinsic part of her performances. As she prepares in the wings for her first entrance, she watches Bull’s yearning solo – “watching him relaxes me” – and then, as she prepares for her entrance, she pretends that she’s flying in to land on the lake, where her destiny awaits her.

Photography Kate Longley