Swan Lake ballet, Op. 20, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was composed in 1875–1876. The scenario, initially in four acts, was fashioned from International folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger. The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on 4 March 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Although it is presented in many different versions, most ballet companies base their stagings both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, first staged for the Imperial Ballet on 15 January 1895, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. For this revival, Tchaikovsky’s score was revised by the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre’s chief conductor and composer Riccardo Drigo.
Many critics have disputed the original source of the Swan Lake story. The libretto is based on a story by the German author Johann Karl August Musäus, “Der geraubte Schleier” (The Stolen Veil), though this story provides only the general outline of the plot of Swan Lake.
In many International fairy tales the Swan Maiden is a mythical creature who shapeshifts from human form to swan form. Despite the name, males are found in a small number of legends. The key to the transformation is usually a swan skin, or a garment with swan feathers attached. The folktales usually adhere to the following basic plot: A young, unmarried man steals a magic robe made of swan feathers from a swan maiden so that she will not fly away, and winds up marrying her.
The Russian folktale “The White Duck” also bears some resemblance to the story of the ballet, and may have been another possible source. The contemporaries of Tchaikovsky recalled the composer taking great interest in the life story of Bavarian King Ludwig II, whose tragic life had supposedly been marked by the sign of Swan and who—either consciously or not—was chosen as the prototype of the dreamer Prince Siegfried.
Pyotr Ilyich Chaykovsky; (1840 – 1893),[a 2] anglicised as Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky /ˈpiːtər …/, was a Russian composer whose works included symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, chamber music, and a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Some of these are among the most popular theatrical music in the classical repertoire. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, which he bolstered with appearances as a guest conductor later in his career in Europe and the United States. One of these appearances was at the inaugural concert of Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1891. Tchaikovsky was honored in 1884 by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension in the late 1880s.
In spite of the poor reaction to the première, Swan Lake later became one of the most popular and most often performed ballets in opera houses all over the world. Its famous theme is often played in other productions as well to symbolize true love.
Many different endings exist, ranging from romantic to tragic:
In the original 1877 ballet, Siegfried struggles with Von Rothbart and tears off one of his wings, thereby destroying his powers. Siegfried has broken the spell of the swan maidens and marries Odette. A version danced by the Mariinsky Ballet in 2006 follows the original ending closely: Siegfried and Odette’s true love defeats Von Rothbart and Odette is restored to human form to unite happily with the prince. This version has often been used by Russian and Chinese ballet companies. A similar ending was used in The Swan Princess.
In a version which has an ending very close to the 1895 Mariinsky revival, danced by American Ballet Theatre in 2005, Siegfried’s mistaken pledge of fidelity to Odile consigns Odette to remain a swan forever. After realizing that her last moment of humanity is at hand, Odette commits suicide by throwing herself into the lake. The Prince does so as well. This act of sacrifice and love breaks Von Rothbart’s power, and he is destroyed. In the final tableau, the lovers are seen rising together to heaven in apotheosis.
In a version danced by New York City Ballet in 2006 (with choreography by Peter Martins after Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa, and George Balanchine), the Prince’s declaration that he wishes to marry Odile constitutes a betrayal that condemns Odette to remain a swan forever. Odette is called away into swan form, and Siegfried is left alone in grief as the curtain falls.
In a version danced by San Francisco Ballet in 2009, Siegfried and Odette throw themselves into the lake, as in the 1895 Mariinsky revival, and von Rothbart is destroyed. Two swans, implied to be the lovers, are then seen flying past the Moon.
In a version danced by National Ballet of Canada in 2010, Odette forgives Siegfried for his betrayal and the promise of reconciliation shines momentarily before Rothbart summons forth a violent storm. Rothbart and Siegfried struggle. When the storm subsides, Odette is left alone to mourn the dead Siegfried.
In the 1986 version Rudolf Nureyev choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet, Rothbart fights with Siegfried, who is overcome and dies, leaving Rothbart to take Odette triumphantly up to the heavens.
In the 2012 version performed at Blackpool Grand Theatre by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia the Prince drags Rothbart into the lake and both drown. Odette is left as a swan.
There are many adaptations of this beloved fairy tale: several action films, a Chinese acrobatic version of the ballet, computer/video games, animated theatre productions, like the Swan Princess, musicals, television movies, dance productions (The Swedish dancer/choreographer Fredrik Rydman has produced a modern dance/street dance interpretation of the ballet entitled Swan Lake Reloaded. It features the “swans” as being heroin addict prostitutes who are kept in place by Rothbart, their pimp. The music used in the production uses themes and melodies from Tchaikovsky’s score and incorporates them into hip-hop and techno tunes) and in literature Swan Lake (1989) is a children’s novel written by Mark Helprin and illustrated by Chris van Allsburg, which re-creates the original story as a tale about political strife in an unnamed Eastern European country. In it, Odette becomes a princess hidden from birth by the puppetmaster (and eventually usurper) behind the throne, with the story being retold to her child; Amiri & Odette (2009) is a verse retelling by Walter Dean Myers with illustrations by Javaka Steptoe. Myers sets the story in the Swan Lake Projects of a large city. Amiri is a basketball-playing “Prince of the Night”, a champion of the asphalt courts in the park. Odette belongs to Big Red, a dealer, a power on the streets and The Black Swan (1999) is a fantasy novel written by Mercedes Lackey that re-imagines the original story and focuses heavily on Odile. Von Rothbart’s daughter is a sorceress in her own right who comes to sympathise with Odette.
Black Swan, the 2010 American psychological thriller and horror film is the story of a ballet dancer who wins the lead in “Swan Lake” and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan – Princess Odette – but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan. Directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis, it has appeared on many critics top ten lists of 2010 and is frequently considered to be one of the best films of the year. It was also featured on the American Film Institute’s 10 Movies of the Year. On January 25, 2011 the film was nominated for five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing) and won one for Portman’s performance.
Necklace by Barbara Rabatin entitled “The Black Swan in the year of the Rabbit”, commemorating the movie’s première in 2010, the Chinese Year of the Rabbit.
National Art Centre, JAN 30 – FEB 1, 2014 Swan Lake by the National Ballet of Canada, choreographed by James Kudelka.