Carla Körbes and Casey Herd in Swan Lake. Photo © Angela Sterling
As far as stereotypical girly-girls go, I’m pretty sure I’ve got it locked down. As a little girl I wore frilly pink dresses, ribbons on pigtails and dreamed of being a prima ballerina. I remember being fitted for my first pair of pointe shoes. I recall stuffing lambswool into the toe box but my toes bleeding anyways, and I loved it. This love affair with ballet has never ended. I don’t dance classical ballet anymore, but I still enjoy the art of it.
Swan Lake, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Op. 20, 1875-1876), is one of the most classic and recognizable ballet scores. Even if you’ve never seen the ballet, you’ve likely heard the music. Something that I find so interesting about the history of Swan Lake is that the ballet was originally choreographed by Julius Reisinger in 1877 for the Imperial Ballet, Moscow and flopped. It wasn’t until 1895, when Swan Lake was restaged for the Imperial Ballet, St. Petersburg, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, that the ballet was well received.
The story of Swan Lake is magical, romantic and tragic. Something for everyone, no?
Act 1 opens to a grand bustling stage. Our “hero,” Siegfried is celebrating his 21st birthday but he quickly spirals into a depressed state after his mother, the Queen announces that he must choose a bride at the grand ball to be held in his honor the following evening. To console his heavy heart, Siegfried gathers his friends to accompany him on a hunting adventure in the forest beyond the castle. Honestly, this is my least favorite scene simply because so much is happening at once and I don’t want to miss any of it!
Ominous fog rolls in for the beginning of Act 2 as Siegfried wanders through the forest. He separates from his friends and finds himself beside the lake of swans. He is about to shoot a swan with his bow but to Siegfried’s shock, the swan transforms into a lovely woman, Odette, the Swan Queen. Odette tells Siegfried that she and her ladies are cursed by the evil sorcerer, von Rothbart, living as swans by day and transforming to human form after dark. I absolutely love Act 2. The swan ladies dance with grace, elongated elegance and true to a flock, in V-formation. They are breathtaking even during rehearsal!
In this short period of time, Odette and Siegfried fall deeply in love and Siegfried vows that he will defeat the evil von Rothbart and break the spell by remaining faithful to her forever.
The following evening at the grand ball (Act 3), Siegfried only has eyes for Odette. He cares not for any of the princesses that his mother has invited. Suddenly, Odette appears – or so Siegfried thinks. We, the audience, are aware that the party crashing guests are actually, the evil von Rathbart and his daughter, Odile, who looks identical to Odette. Siegfried is spell bound and dances the evening away with Odile. And even though we are rooting against Odile, she has the most awesome solo.
The captivated Siegfried declares his love for Odile but soon realizes he has been tricked.
The grand finale, Act 4, starts with a melancholy tune from the orchestra as we return to the lake of the swans. Once serene, the lake is now filled with chaos and flashes of lightening. The swan ladies are fluttering about as von Rathbart appears to gloat over his evil triumph. Siegfried is distraught as he seeks out Odette and begs for her forgiveness. Of course Odette forgives Siegfried but their fate has been sealed. She belongs to von Rathbart and Siegfried will never see her again. They dance a final pas de deux and sadly, Odette slowly fades into the fog while Siegfried collapses from a broken heart.
If you haven’t seen Swan Lake (or you just need a good cry), there are still 4 more performances at the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Two performances today (Saturday) and two more tomorrow. I’ve seen Swan Lake a handful of times and the Pacific Northwest Ballet never disappoints.
Have a lovely weekend! XOXO, Em