Anna Campbell

June 2012


Swans + Lake = Magic

I’ve had a wonderful time putting together this month’s post. Youtube and I have become as one!

I’ve always loved ballet. Right from when I was a little girl, it just seemed so magical and beautiful. And I have to say it still does. My favorite ballet has always been Swan Lake. I still think it’s one of the most romantic works of art ever created.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this tragic story of the beautiful Princess Odette, transformed into a swan by the evil Von Rothbart, and her gullible lover Prince Siegfried. Poor old Siegfried. He falls in love with a girl who’s poultry, for goodness sake! That’s not a girl to take home to Mother – unless she’s in a foil bag, of course. Then when he finally gets to introduce Odette to Mother, the evil Odile has disguised herself as his beloved. He breaks Odette’s heart and curses her to an eternity as a swan when he claims Odile as his bride. One of my favorite parts of the ballet is when Odette flaps her wings wildly against the palace windows to stop Siegfried from making that fatal declaration of love for the WRONG WOMAN! Gets me every time. You want to stand up and say, “She’s behind you!”

All jokes aside, I never fail to find this beautiful, anguished story heartbreakingly moving. Whether the ending is all darkness and despair as Von Rothbart kills Siegfried, leaving Odette forever enchanted; or Odette and Siegfried throw themselves in the lake and therefore break Von Rothbart’s power (pity about their own tragic love but at least they do a good deed in the end); or my favorite ending (I’m a romance writer after all) when Odette and Siegfried jump into the lake, break the curse, and are seen in the distance floating off in a magical swan boat to a better world. The Royal Ballet in London uses that ending and it always leaves me sobbing. And the music, which has changed from relentless minor to major just before the ending bears out the idea of redemption for the tragic lovers.

Like most people, my favorite part of the ballet is the second act where Siegfried and Odette meet and fall in love to music of such sublime beauty that it always makes me want to cry.

Look at this beautiful video of Natalia Makarova and Ivan Nagy dancing the White Swan Pas de Deux in the American Ballet Theatre production in 1976. Isn’t it beautiful? Such tenderness.

Another breathtaking moment from the second act is when the swans fly into Siegfried’s view. Rows and rows of graceful women in white under the moonlight, performing arabesque after arabesque. Magical!

And I couldn’t resist including everyone’s favorite, the Dance of the Little Swans. A couple of years ago, the Paris Opera Ballet visited Brisbane near where I live and I was lucky enough to see this magnificent company perform La Bayadere (I’d love to see them do Swan Lake). Here is the Paris Opera Ballet in 2008:

And just for something different, like all the classics, Swan Lake has had a number of interpretations layered over it across the years, to greater or lesser effect. I love the traditional Swan Lake so I’m always sad when I don’t get tutus and moonlight and guys in renaissance costume. But one version that I’ve seen and really liked caused a sensation in 1995. It’s still playing around the world to packed houses.

Why is it so controversial? All the swans are played by men and tragic, gentle Odette has turned into a virile male as likely to kill you as kiss you. Actually real swans in the wild are violent and territorial so there’s some biological basis for this interpretation. To the traditionalist, it sounds bizarre, but in practice Matthew Bourne’s version works stunningly well and packs a huge emotional punch. If any of you have seen Billy Elliott, the final scene where Billy leaps out onto the stage comes from this version of Swan Lake (the Swan King is played by the incredibly sexy and powerful Adam Cooper, a wonderful performance).