The Swan Lake ballet is beautiful and timeless, having been performed all over the world since it was first composed in 1876. In the ballet world, it's legendary, and to the common audience member, it is often captivating.
Swan Lake, like all ballets, tells a story through choreography and music. There are no spoken words, and the music was composed before there were any dancers for it. Created by Tchaikovsky, the famous Russian composer of The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake was originally presented in four acts and is sometimes still performed this way. It tells the tale of Odette, a beautiful princess who is turned into a swan due to an evil curse.
There are many characters in Swan Lake:
- The Princess
- Prince Siegfried
- Wolfgang, a tutor
- A friend of the Prince called Benno von Sommerstem
- Master of ceremonies
- A man of evil brilliance named von Rothbart
- Odile, von Rothbart's daughter
- The Baronness
- Baron Von Stein
- Freiherr von Schwarzfels
- His wife
- A royal court, additional friends of the prince, more heralds, party guests, townspeople, swans, various other extras.
Origins of the Swan Lake Ballet
Although based on German folklore, some critics credit Swan Lake as a purely Russian work - both because of Tchaikovsky's heritage and the fact that swans are often used as love symbols in Russia. However, Swan Lake is, at least partially, based on the German story entitled "The Stolen Veil", as well as the Russian folk tale called "The White Duck". Friends of Tchaikovsky also have noted in various records that the composer was fascinated with the life of a Bavarian king who may provide the mold for the character Prince Siegfried. Finally, when it come to the origins of the choreography, the corps de ballet steps have been credited to Slavic ring dances. Overall, Swan Lake is considered to be a tie between German and Russian roots and inspirations.
The First Dance
The first production of Swan Lake premiered in March of 1876 and was not embraced by the audience. It was criticized harshly for every aspect from set design to the dancers. It was mainly considered to be too complicated for a simple ballet, and yet also extremely unimaginative at the same time. Even though it was heavily looked down upon, the ballet went on to more performances, and changes were made until it was improved to the point of becoming popular with many audiences.
Swan Lake Today
There have been many modern adaptations of Swan Lake, many of which still use much of the original choreography. This timeless tradition is what makes the ballet so special - classic dance steps combined with present day revivals. The most recent performances that were especially notable include a 2000 version by the American Ballet Theatre, and Graeme Murphy's 2002 version which was based on Princess Diana and the love triangle that entangled the end of her life.
Choose Your Own Adventure
One unique aspect of Swan Lake is that almost every version staged contains a different ending. Some of these are very romantic, while others are darkly tragic. It all depends on the the creative team behind that particular production, and it is always exciting to see the art that comes out of whichever ending is selected.
Swan Lake, with its beauty and grace, is sure to live on for many more generations, generating more imaginative storylines fused together with the classic elements that makes it a timeless masterpiece cherished by countless individuals.