By Jon Teeuwissen, MOT Artistic Advisor for Dance
Swan Lake is perhaps the most well-known ballet, next to The Nutcracker. Petipa choreographed this famous ballet, danced to a glorious score by Tchaikovsky, in 1877. Swan Lake is the love story of Prince Siegfried, who on a hunting trip encounters a flock of swans, falls in love with the Swan Queen, Odette, and swears his allegiance and undying love to her. As a result of a curse by the evil sorcerer Baron von Rothbart, Odette can only take human form between midnight and daybreak. Only faithful, true love can break the spell. This love is expressed in the White Swan pas de deux, danced to one of the most familiar sections of the music, and is both gentle and tender. During this pas de deux, Odette’s timidness and sense of fear of the Prince transitions to acceptance of his love and hope for the future.
To prevent his spell from being broken, von Rothbart transforms his own daughter, Odile, to look exactly like Odette. Dressed in black, she is presented to Price Siegfried at his birthday party, and he thinks she is actually his beloved Odette. Filled with seduction, confidence and bravura dancing, the Black Swan pas de deux is in complete contrast to the White Swan pas de deux. Technically one of the most difficult variations for a ballerina, this piece is famous for its 32 fouettés, a turn requiring the dancer to use her leg to whip herself around, made even harder turning on pointe. Many consider it to be the most exciting dancing in the entire ballet.
Swan Lake doesn’t end well. Thinking she is his Odette, Prince Siegfried swears his love for Odile, both destroying his future with the Swan Queen and dooming her to death. In most productions, the prince, distraught, commits suicide by jumping into the lake. But there have been many variations on a theme. The Bolshoi Ballet created great controversy in the ballet world with a 1984 production that had a different ending, where Prince Siegfried and Odette lived happily ever after.