Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Swan Lake

My previous post was about my experience seeing City Ballet perform pieces from one of the most famous ballets of all time, Swan Lake.  Many people consider it the epitome of classical ballet, and I have to say I agree.
 A beautiful woman named Odette is transformed into a swan by Rothbart, an evil sorcerer.  She is made queen over the other unlucky girls who found the same fate.
Meanwhile a prince named Siegfried is celebrating his 21st birthday without a care in the world.  That's until his mother informs him she is holding a ball the next night to select a suitable bride for him.  His friend Benno suggests going on a hunt during his last night of freedom.  Siegfried gladly agrees and rushes off into the forest.  Once by himself he encounters Odette.  Before his eyes the swan turns into a woman.  Odette begs Siegfried not to harm her or her swan maidens.  She has to hold him back from killing Rothbart because their lives are intertwined.  If he dies she dies.  She gives away the real secret of breaking the spell, which is the oath of eternal love sworn to her by another.  Siegfried and Odette fall in love but are separated at the first ray of light.  She takes on the shape of an elegant swan and her swan maidens do the same.
Siegfried is aloof at the ball and his mind is with Odette at the lake.  Suddenly Rothbart arrives at the ball with the swan queen.  Or so he thinks.  It is actually Odile, Rothbart's daughter, made to look like Odette.  Siegfried dances with her, and convinced she is Odette proposes to her.  Siegfried gets a horrible surprise when Rothbart and Odile let our a triumphant laugh and break the news that he gave his love to the wrong person.  Siegfried races to find Odette.  She still loves him and finds it in her to forgive.
There are several different endings.  Some have happy endings that show the power of love overcoming the curse.  Others are less forgiving of Siegfried and keep the curse from being lifted because of his mistake.  Odette throws herself into the lake out of despair and Siegfried follows as a dying Rothbart looks on.  The curse is lifted from the other swans and Odette and Siegfried are reunited after death. 
Within this story are a few of ballet's most iconic moments.  The white acts have to be very exact.  These are the second and fourth acts, and they are called this because every swan wears a white tutu.  The patterns and shapes the core de ballet run through have to be done as though it's one dancer, making the choreography and unique swan arms even harder to master.  If they fail in doing this however, the intended look is lost.  Some would say the core de ballet are the real stars in this particular ballet. 
The dance of the four cygnets has to be just as synchronized but at a much faster pace with the four girls arms linked together until the very last move.
The challenge of these parts do nothing to diminish the dual role of Odette and Odile.  Technically it's so precise but artistry mustn't be forgotten.  The ballerina has to stay within the rigid restrains of the demanding choreography while bringing something emotional to the table.  Perhaps the most intimidating thought for the ballerina is that she has to play two characters in one night.  These two roles are as opposite as you can get.  Odette is pure and gentle but Odile is full of fire.  Odile's movements have to be sharper with an evil and seductive quality.  Everything about Odette should be soft and innocent.
In the middle of this very demanding ballet Odile has to whip out thirty two fouettes.  Now days it's expected that doubles and triples will be thrown in. 
The music is a masterpiece as well.  Tchaikovsky was a genius, and it shows in the way he composed this score. 
With all it had going for it, it's hard to believe the ballet was a flop when it first premiered in Moscow, Russia during the year 1877.  Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa did the ballet proper justice when they rechoreographed it.  Their version took place in St. Petersburg in 1895 and became a big hit that is sill loved by ballet people all over the world.
If I could choose any role for myself I would choose Odette and Odile.  I first decided this would be my dream when I was about eleven and I watched the ballet on tape.  The case described it as the most challenging role for any ballerina, and of course that meant I had to reach that level.  For whatever reason I always want the hardest thing to attain.  My want for this part has evolved into something more.  Now I really do love the ballet for what it is .  I tend to favour Odette.  I can relate to her because I am the type of dancer that is graceful and lacks a lot of flair.  I'm not a born trickster and I struggle with turns.  But Odette and Odile are a package deal so I have to learn how to overcome that.  Little by little I am, although I will always love Odette more.  I practice her part in empty studios after class all the time, perfecting my swan arms.  I hope one day I can achieve this, but if not that's OK.  Well, I'm trying to be OK with it that is.  We'll see how it goes.

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