by Anna-Marie McLemore
Until I was in my late teens, I knew little to nothing about the story of Swan Lake. I knew there were swans, and a princess in it. I knew I’d danced to music from the ballet when I played the wood fairy during a production of Rapunzel (don’t ask me what the wood fairy’s role in the story is, because as far as I could tell, my role was to distract the audience with arabesques and glitter while the set designers got Rapunzel’s enormous fake braid into position).
But when I was seventeen or eighteen, I was in a bookstore with some friends, and, as usual, I wandered into the picture book section. And the book that caught my eye that day was a midnight blue cover with shimmery silhouettes of wings. It was a picture book version of Swan Lake.
I would say that my friends were alarmed at finding me crying in the picture book section (don’t pretend it hasn’t happened to the best of us), but by then they were very used to it. They’d seen me hugging books about stray pets finding homes and tearing up over characters making their first friends.
But there was more of an edge to this particular instance of picture-book-crying. Yes, it was partly about the heartbreaking ending of Swan Lake. But it was also about realizing that the world so often deems women either pure, virtuous princesses like Odette, or heartless seductresses, like Odile. As a Latina girl, and a queer girl, I knew which I’d be cast as, more often than not.
Where was the black swan’s story? Where was the version of Swan Lake that asks why Odile does what she does, that acknowledges how men craft her into the villain she becomes?
Like every Odette, every Odile has a story. Blanca & Roja gave me the chance to imagine hers.