What It’s Like to Prep for the Lead Role in Swan Lake

“I pushed myself as much as I possibly could without getting hurt,” says Tess Reichlen, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet who just wrapped up back-to-back performances as Odette/Odile in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. “After rehearsal, I’d go home, take a bath, and be couch-ridden for the rest of the day. The part is that intense.” Arguably the most epic role in all of ballet, the Swan Queen is also one of the most technically challenging—and physically demanding. “I’m playing a swan, not a human,” says Reichlen. “That requires a totally different use of the body.” Reichlen is not one to be intimidated, though. “I think it’s important to live up to the ways in which the greats have danced this role,” she says. “But it also matters that I make it my own.”

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Like most ballerinas, Reichlen has been doing her own makeup since she was in the corp. She keeps an arsenal of M.A.C. contours, blushes, lipsticks, and eyeshadows in her dressing room at Lincoln Center, and uses Make highlighter on her eyebrows and cheekbones. Once she’s made up, NYCB’s resident hair-and-makeup artist Suzy Alvarez wraps Reichlen’s hair into a tight, low bun and tops it with a handmade, feathered headpiece from the company’s in-house costume department.

See more of the dancer’s two-hour transformation from white swan to her cunning counterpart in the slideshow below. The New York City Ballet performs through October 15 at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.

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