Brennan Wall moved to San Jose on her own at the age of 16 to be a part of Silicon Valley Ballet. She is now a company dancer with The New Ballet and will be playing both of the main roles in their spring production of Swan Lake.
What’s that like, moving away from your family and all that?
It was awesome. [laughs] I told my parents when I was younger that I was going to move away to train at a ballet studio. At first, it was like really young. I think I said, like, 15. They were like, “That’s too young.” I said, “Okay, fine: 16.” And it happened. I left home at 16. I was so happy. I was like, “This is awesome. I’m away from home. I’m doing what I love in this cool city. I loved it.”
You must get homesick, miss your family, and stuff like that.
She says, to be kind to her parents: “Yeah.”
[laughs] I do, but I’m also in close contact with them. I call them all the time. When I walk to the light rail to get here, I’ll call my pop or my mom, and I’ll tell them what’s up or ask them how they’re doing.
Yeah, I miss my family a lot because I have three amazing brothers. We sing together. They play all these instruments, and we’ll sing when I’m home. We’ll do all this stuff. Go to the beach. I miss that. But my home in general—I don’t really love where we live, so it’s not like I get homesick so to speak, but I do miss my family.
Yeah, but you love what you’re doing, as far as dancing.
Yeah, I love it. I’m so happy.
Have you done Swan Lake before?
No, I’ve never done it before. At first, I felt like I was the only one who didn’t know it because everyone’s watched it. And they know all the steps, and I had no idea. It’s totally new.
Why haven’t you done it before?
At my previous studio, Los Angeles Ballet Academy, my teacher tried to stay away from those things—the things that everyone did—because she wanted to stand out. My last recital there we did Oklahoma, and we used music from the musical. She was always trying to be a little bit different, just so that it was not the same things all the time, because that’s what everyone around us was doing. I guess that’s why I missed out on them. [laughs]
You are going to play the Black Swan and the White Swan, in one, for the performances, right?
Yeah, Odette and Odile. Odette is the White Swan. She’s sad, and she’s heartbroken. I thought that it was going to be harder for me to play her because I’m more of a strong person. I’m more aggressive. She is very soft, and her movements are slow and emotional.
I can definitely play emotional roles, as well, but I thought it would be harder for me than playing Odile, who is like her evil twin: comes in to trick the prince and make him fall in love with her instead of Odette. [Odile’s] very seductive, very strong, and her movements sharper. I thought that would be easier for me.
But as I’ve been getting into the White Swan role, it’s been really difficult to find the Black Swan. But I think I found it yesterday. Yesterday I was so mad because I had to do the variation, and there are all these turns in a circle. They call it a manège. You just have to go around in a circle turning, turning, turning, and turning. When you get to the end, you have to go into a double, and then switch into another double and land. I always fall over at the end, and I am so frustrated. I felt so bad because I kept ruining the act and doing it again. My teacher, Mr. Linh, at some point, he was just like, “Stop, stop, stop.” He had to stop me. Rehearsal ended, and I didn’t want to stop.
Did you want to keep dancing, rehearsing?
I can’t, personally, just leave it like that. It just feels so wrong. It feels like I’m being lazy. I kept doing it. He stayed with me, even though he was on break. He stayed, like, an extra 20 minutes. I just kept doing it again and again.
But I found the Black Swan during that. I could feel it settle. It was just this anger over not being able to do it. Then, knowing that I could work on it over and over again, knowing I have that strength. It gives you a feeling of power, I think, to know when rehearsal’s ended, you can keep going and doing it again and again. I sort of found it.
It’s so hard, then, to transition, which is what everyone says is the problem with those two roles. It’s, like, almost the emotional transition that is so hard.
How long of a transition do you get? Is there any scene where you’re on, run off, switch, and then come back—like that quick?
Yeah, there’s one. After intermission, you switch into the Black Swan, and then switch back into the White in, like, five or ten minutes. Then, I have to switch right back into the White Swan. It’s like you have to drop all that, all of those layers, and then return to that sad place. I don’t think she’s weak, but it’s just that she’s living this heartbroken scene I think.
Have you ever been heartbroken?
I like to think I have. I don’t know if I could have been at 18. I’m sure I’ve felt like I have been before, but I don’t think I’ve actually been heartbroken.
Have you, then, been the other one?
The one trying to steal a man from somebody else? Definitely. I think on a daily basis. [laughs]
Interview and photography by Daniel Garcia