Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, with its mirrored Odette and Odile roles, is one of the most popular classical ballets.
Part of Swan Lake’s popularity comes from the duality of light and dark character elements in the Odette/Odile role. Performing the role challenges the ballerina to project completely opposite energies in one performance. It’s a role for master performers.
Subconsciously Odette/Odile helps us relate to the duality in our own character.
Swan Lake is a Story of True Love
Swan Lake tells the story of Odette, a beautiful princess who has been turned into a swan by the evil sorcerer Baron von Rothbart. Odette lives on a lake of her mother’s tears, but returns to human form at night.
Prince Siegfried is a handsome prince who is told that he must choose a bride at the Royal Ball.
Upset, Siegfried goes hunting with friends. Seeing a swan, he raises his bow, but the swan turns into a beautiful woman. Odette tells him that the spell can only be broken if one who has never loved before swears to love her forever.
Rothbart appears and Siegfried threatens him, but Odette warns that if Siegfried kills Rothbart while the spell is active, it can never be broken.
The arrival of dawn forces Odette and the others back onto the lake.
Prince Siegfried is charmed by princesses at the Royal Ball. Rothbart has come with his daughter Odile disguised as Odette. Siegfried dances with her and proclaims that he will marry Odile. A vision shows Siegfried his mistake. He returns to the lake heartbroken.
Odette is upset at Siegfried’s betrayal. Siegfried apologizes and the pair restore their love. Rothbart appears and insists that Siegfried honor his pledge to marry Odile.
Siegfried and Odette kill themselves by jumping into the lake. This breaks the spell, destroys Rothbart, and frees the other swans.
The maidens watch as Siegfried and Odette ascend into heaven together.
Swan Lake is a Russian Ballet
Tchaikovsky composed the score in 1875–76. It was the first ballet he scored. The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow in 1877. It was a failure. The conductor didn’t like the score and the ballerina used her own music and choreography instead.
When Czar Nicholas II saw part of the ballet performed at a memorial for Tchaikovsky’s death, the Czar ordered a complete new production. Contemporary productions are based on this 1895 revival by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. It was staged by the Imperial Ballet (Kirov Ballet and now Mariinksy Ballet) in St. Petersburg.
Swan Lake in New York City
New York City Ballet performs Peter Martins’ Swan Lake at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center, Tuesday – Sunday, September 19 – October 1, 2017.
Get tickets at www.nycballet.com
The Black Swan
Black Swan is Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman as Nina, a young ballerina who gets a chance to perform Odette/Odile. Nina is perfect for the light Odette role, but another dancer is perfect for the darker Odile. The rivalry to win the role ultimately brings out the dark side of Nina’s own character.
Black Swan was nominated for five Academy Awards. Portman won an Oscar for “Best Actress.”