Meet Emma Hawkes: the princess ballet dancer starring in Swan Lake

Playing the lead character in Swan Lake is no easy fit...

Swan Lake is a beloved and iconic ballet that tells the story of a young princess who gets enchanted into a swan and has an inner battle within herself, which is captured beautifully through the art of movement.

Most ballet dancers start dancing at a very young age, and for Emma Hawkes who plays Odette/Odile in the English National Ballet production of Swan Lake, this was the case. 

“I started dancing when I was eight,” says Emma, “and I’ve been dancing for twenty years now.” I was shocked because Emma does not look 28 and I said as much. “I turn 29 tomorrow,” she tells me and I wish her Happy Birthday.

Playing the lead character in Swan Lake is no easy fit. Not only are you playing Odette but Odile too, and they are opposites.

“Odette and Odile are so different. One represents light and the other dark and there’s this huge contrast between the two.” A huge part of the story relies on this contrast between the two and Emma loves playing both of these characters.

Swan Lake is a very well-known story and it has crossed over into different genres and audiences, including a Barbie film, and k-pop sensation BTS wrote a song based on the concept, which explores how a dancer has two deaths. One when they stop dancing and the other when they die.

I asked Emma if that was the case with her. “I can’t separate myself from dancing because I’ve been doing it for twenty years now.” Dancing becomes their life. 

With the number of adaptations, does it ever feel repetitive to put on the same show? “I think people find the story relatable.” Which makes loads of sense. The constant battle between the light and dark parts of you has been a concept for many modern pieces of media.

Many different companies stage this much-loved ballet so I ask for a spoiler-free description of this version and how it is different. “I think our version has more tragedy.” The Mariinsky Ballet version has a happy ending where Siegfried tears off Rothbart’s wing which kills him and results in Odette being restored to human form and living happily ever after. So, this may not be the Swan Lake we’re all used to. 

Swan Lake has a very short run at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. “I was there 4/5 years ago when we brought The Nutcracker to Manchester and I think it was also in the Palace Theatre, so I’m excited to be back.”

Music has always been important in ballet – it sets the tone and the mood for the show. “Films have themes now and Swan Lake’s theme is so iconic,” Emma says with enthusiasm, “and it’s such a beautiful piece of music to dance to. The music makes the show.” 

If you could only summarise the appeal of the show in five, how would you describe it? Emma says: “Love, friendship, tragedy, music and dance.”

Emma Hawkes will be Odette/Odile on Thursday at 2:30 and Saturday at 7:30. 

Tickets for Swan Lake

Swan Lake is at Palace Theatre Manchester from the 5th – 8th of October and tickets can be booked here.


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