The new production needs a new swan queen. A fresh face to present to the world. But which of you can embody both swans? The white and the black?” – Thomas Leroy

This week is 135th anniversary of the premiere for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at the Bolshoi which set the scene for one of last year’s big Oscar winners, the ‘Black Swan’.

There are perhaps some parallels between the ‘Black’ and ‘White’ Swans with ‘Leaders’ and ‘Managers’, but I think that they are more misleading than useful. What interests me more is the portrayal of the insanely difficult task in playing both roles. The ‘Swan Queen’ requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. The ballet’s role of the ‘Swan Queen’ is apt in its prestige and rarity to describe the executive to can both lead and manage with equal virtuosity.

When the Artistic Director Thomas Leroy lays out this challenge, he also injects a bit of embracing failure ethos as well…

  • Thomas Leroy: The truth is when I look at you all I see is the white swan. Yes you’re beautiful, fearful, and fragile. Ideal casting. But the black swan? It’s a hard fucking job to dance both.
  • Nina: I can dance the black swan, too.
  • Thomas Leroy: Really? In 4 years every time you dance I see you obsessed getting each and every move perfectly right but I never see you lose yourself. Ever! All that discipline for what?
  • Nina: [whispers] I just want to be perfect.
  • Thomas Leroy: What?
  • Nina: I want to be perfect.
  • Thomas Leroy: [scoffs] Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence! Very few have it in them.

‘Perfect’ is the enemy of the good, and the nemesis of Swan Queens of all domains.