This is a new series of blogs about the great ballet classic stories, that we may or may not be familiar with. You may have seen one of them, you may have seen them all, so this series will either reignite your passion for your favourite, or enlighten you with a new story.
How could I begin without starting with Swan Lake. It is my, and I’m sure, many of yours, favourite ballet. It is a tale of enchantment, love, perseverance, deceit and betrayal. The main character, Odette has been put under a curse by the evil Rothbart. By day she is forced to live as a swan, with others who suffer the same fate, only transforming to her human form at night. The only way to break the spell is for a man to declare eternal love for her. Enter Primce Seigfreid. He discovers Odette on a hunting trip and completely captivated by her, falls in love. He slowly wins the love of Odette, and invites her to a ball at the palace. Rothbart is furious that his spell might be broken, so sends his daughter Odile, to the ball. She entices and tricks poor Siegfried into him thinking she is Odette, and he declares his love for her. At this, Odette’s heart is broken. Unable to cope with living as a swan forever, she takes her own life, as does Prince Siegfried, who is distraught at the realisation of what has happened. Don’t worry though, true love conquers all, all they are reunited in death for eternity.
I’m not entirely sure what makes Swan Lake such a hit. I think it’s a real combination of things coming together to create a masterpiece that even non ballet lovers have taken to their hearts. The music, written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is wonderful at setting the tone for each event. The costumes for the swans encapsulate the elegance, the signature moves and positions which are immediately recognisable, and the wonderful choreography and perfect synchronicity of the corps de ballet, which have a huge role in telling the story, and wouldn’t be the same without them.
My favourite part about Swan Lake, which has always inspired me, is that the roles of Odette and Odile, are played by the same ballerina. Each role is strenuous enough that they could be separate roles, so the prima ballerina must have enough strength and stamina to be able to perform both. It’s the most physically demanding of all the balllets. Not only must the ballerina have the technical ability, she must be the ultimate actress. She must be able to portray Odette/Odile in their own right. Facial expressions, subtle changes in posture, demeanour. If you’ve ever seen Swan Lake, it’s the ballerina is almost unrecognisable from when she starts as the white swan, the epitome of purity, delicate, shy, elusive, unassuming and gentile, to when she enters as the black swan, bold and brash, sly, seductive and confident. They are polar opposites, and for the same ballerina to use all her skills and allow her to transform, is a true spectacle and what contributes to the magic.
I cannot write this blog without talking about ‘the dying swan’ scene. The music is haunting. It was created for the great Anna pavlova. If you haven’t seen her perform it, I urge you to look it up. Yes, you can tell how much ballet technique has progressed, but the feeling she puts into it is like no other. She really becomes the dying swan. You can feel her pain and heartache. You can feel her beginning to get tired and let go, then the frantic last moments of resistance before she finally gives in and succumbs to death. She is mesmerising.
Ultimately, I think it’s the love at the heart of the story that captivates us. Two peaople coming together, so beautifully, only to be torn apart. We love when love prevails, even if that has to be in death. Love knows no bounds, and Odette and Seigreid remind us of that.
Be sure to keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook pages, where I’ll be posting some videos and photos of the iconic steps and poses!