A Swan Song


When people think of ballet, the first thing that generally comes to mind is Swan Lake. It’s the quintessential ballet with dazzling white tutus, a handsome prince, a beautiful princess in distress, and set to music by a famous composer. The chances are good that even people who have never set foot inside a theatre have seen it, as it’s often been filmed and televised. It would take a cold heart indeed to remain stoic and unmoved by the inherent grace and majesty of the piece.

Tchaikovsky is the famous composer who wrote the vibrant score between 1875 and 1876. He also came up with the original idea, which was refined by Vasiliy Geltser and Vladimir Begichev, who was the director of the Moscow Imperial Theatre at the time. Swan Lake made its acclaimed debut at the world renowned Bolshoy Theatre in 1877. Since then it has gone from strength to strength with all ballet dancers coveting the main roles of Odette and Siegfried.

Like most enduring stories, the premise is simple. A prince (Siegfried) runs off in defiance of his father’s decree that he must marry. To vent his anger he decides to shoot a swan from a flock flying by. But his desire to kill disappears when the swans land and a beautiful young woman (Odette) emerges from their midst. Naturally they begin to dance, and Siegfried learns that Odette is actually a princess who is under the spell of an evil sorcerer. By night she has her feminine form, but by day she assumes the form of a swan.

It’s love at first sight for Siegfriend, but before he can declare his undying devotion, an act which would break the spell, the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbert, appears. Siegfried can’t exact revenge and kill him, however, be Von Rothbert’s untimely death will doom Odette to remain under the spell forever. Many twists ensue, as Von Rothbert tricks Siegfried into declaring his love for his daughter, Odile. When he realises his mistake, Siegfried escapes to the lake, where he and Odette drown themselves. As a consequence, Von Rothbert loses his power over them and also dies. No one said that all ballets have to have a happy ending. In fact, it’s the tragedy of the piece that has led to its perpetual popularity.

If the story appeals to you, but you don’t have the stomach for ballet, you could always catch the ice show version, called Swan Lake on Ice. If that still seems a bit heavy, there is always Barbie of Swan Lake, or the feature-length anime version.

In case you’re interested, the phrase “swan song” doesn’t relate in any way to the ballet, as I may have implied in my title. It stems from the ancient belief that the Mute Swan (protected by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasion Migratory Waterbirds) is utterly silent its whole life, until it sings one achingly beautiful song just before it dies.

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Source by Sandy Cosser

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