In 1977 Rudolf Nureyev, some of the prolific and influential dancers in ballet historical past, appeared on The Muppet Present to bounce a pas de deux with a pig – some poor overheated ballerina sporting a pig-suit, a white-feathered tutu and a white-feathered headpiece. “Swine Lake,” clearly. When Billy Elliot turns into knowledgeable ballet dancer within the grand finale of the film, he leaps onto the stage with the booming timpany of Tchavovsky’s music in a manufacturing of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. When Taylor Swift twerks in a tutu in her Shake it Off music video, after all she wears a white-feathered tutu. “Whaddya gonna do? Shoot the schvans?” Barbra Steisand asks in Humorous Woman, standing in entrance of her personal flock of tutued swans.
Someplace over the past 145 years, there was a collective, pop-cultural settlement that Swan Lake is ballet. The Nutcracker is ballet, too, but it surely’s Christmas ballet and is restrained by strict seasonal limitations. For all different instances of the yr, Swan Lake is ballet. In the event you go as much as a random individual on the road and ask them to call a ballet, you might guess cash that they’d say “Swan Lake” and possibly not “Le Corsaire.” So when ballet firms made their return to theaters this season after a hiatus from dwell performances, and after they trudged by their grueling, Omicron-affected runs of The Nutcracker, is it any shock that nearly each main firm had a manufacturing of Swan Lake on their season line-up?
New York Metropolis Ballet simply completed a run of Balanchine’s model of Swan Lake. Miami Metropolis Ballet is wrapping up a run of their new manufacturing of the ballet, and Washington Ballet additionally premiered a model new manufacturing this previous month. Philadelphia Ballet ran Swan Lake in March, Pacific Northwest Ballet is doing it in April, and American Ballet Theater, as ordinary, will likely be doing theirs on the Metropolitan Opera Home in June. It’s a tsunami of feathers taking up the nation.
These productions come on the tail finish of a digital monetary drought for many ballet firms – who scraped by for 2 years with experimental on-line and out of doors performances that might by no means be a match for the need of theater ticket gross sales. With title recognition and a musical rating identified to any ear, Swan Lake has been the proper return to sold-out exhibits. Miami Metropolis Ballet surpassed their monetary targets for Swan Lake, even including additional exhibits resulting from overwhelming recognition. Although they’ve been planning this manufacturing of Swan Lake since earlier than covid (Creative Director Lourdes Lopez first set the wheels in movement after their 2016 manufacturing of Balanchine’s Swan Lake was certainly one of their greatest promoting reps), the monetary aid have to be all of the extra candy in 2022. Washington Ballet had additionally deliberate for his or her new Swan Lake to be premiered earlier than Covid hit and likewise had bought out exhibits throughout their current run on the Kennedy Middle. Washington Ballet’s inventive director, Julie Kent, advised Observer that she attributes the lengthy wait to their success – extra keen ardour went into the manufacturing, and extra keen audiences confirmed up.
However what makes Swan Lake so particular? How does a ballet firm make their Swan Lake so particular? These firms aren’t competing with one another for ticket gross sales – they’re all in several main cities – however nonetheless, there’s a sure degree of credibility and esteem that comes with having your individual manufacturing of Swan Lake. One that may make the critics swoon. However the story is outdated, the steps are outdated, and that’s all a part of Swan Lake’s endurance – it’s a classical ballet. So how does a ballet firm make their Swan Lake totally different from the Swan Lake subsequent door.
To start out, nobody desires their Swan Lake to be too totally different. Completely different isn’t the aim – perhaps embellished, perhaps stripped down, and perhaps exaggerated, however by no means utterly modified. Julie Kent put it greatest – “it’s like everyone seems to be enjoying a sport of phone.” There are a lot of theories and variations surrounding the origins of Swan Lake and the story it follows. Some say it’s interpreted from a folktale referred to as “The Stolen Veil.” Most are accustomed to it as a narrative of a lady, Odette, cursed to dwell life as a swan in the course of the day and a lady at night time by the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart. She falls in love with a prince, Siegfried, who betrays her by proposing to the fallacious, similar-looking girl, Odile. Everybody dies, after all. So as to create a brand new manufacturing of this outdated ballet, many choreographers look to the previous and parse by the many years and many years and many years of notes for inspiration.
Alexei Ratmansky, who choreographed Miami Metropolis Ballet’s new, critically-successful manufacturing (which had its world premiere at Ballet Zürich in 2016), like most choreographers who tackle the Swan Lake problem, primarily based his reconstruction on the choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov that premiered as a revival in 1895. That is choreography you’d in all probability acknowledge – 4 little swans with linked arms pas de chat throughout the stage in virtually each single manufacturing of Swan Lake. However Ratmansky dug deeper – he regarded on the notations written ten years after the 1895 St. Petersburg premiere. In consequence, the forged of cursed ladies are extra human than swan – they don’t dance with wing-like arms such as you’ll see in most productions. The ballet begins with the well-known pas de trois the place Prince Siegfried’s pal Benno dances with two peasant ladies. And within the well-known pas de deux between Siegfried and Odette – Benno can be there, to assist the 2 navigate their tryst.
Julie Kent, who, alongside along with her husband, Victor Barbee, took on the reconstruction of Swan Lake for the Washington Ballet, was impressed by Ratmansky’s work with unique useful resource supplies. Like him, she studied the notation. She then labored with ballet historian Dr. Natalie Rouland to construct a basis of historic understanding and context. From there, she explains to Observer, it turned a technique of scaling all of it to suit the corporate. The Washington Ballet is a smaller firm, they usually carried out the ballet in a smaller theater – not opera home sized. She additionally wished to verify the story might be understood by a contemporary viewers. Within the ballet, a ball is given the place Prince Siegfried is supposed to select a bride. Kent virtually took this dance out utterly – the thought of choosing a lady from a lineup isn’t very 2022. As a substitute, she turned to historical past. She had every girl come as much as the prince alongside along with her household; it is a political association because it was accomplished prior to now, and the girl nonetheless maintains some company.
Different ballet firms take totally different routes. Balanchine labored off of the Petipa and Ivanov choreography as properly, however again the sometimes three or 4 act ballet into one easy, swan-heavy act. American Ballet Theater’s manufacturing is as story-book as you will get – castles, tiaras, a lot of magic. In an electronic mail to Observer, Angel Corella, inventive director of Philadelphia Ballet, described his interpretation of the choreography as faster-paced and extra energetic than different productions. All of those have 4 little swans pas de chat-ing throughout the stage with linked arms.
It’s thrilling to see how an organization interprets a classical work, but it surely’s concurrently the familiarity that brings audiences again time and time once more. “Our first in-person performances for the reason that begin of the pandemic, we wished to stage productions that will reignite the flame of pleasure and keenness in our viewers,” explains Corella, who’s imminently making ready for his firm’s run. The endurance of Swan Lake – regardless of the way it’s interpreted – its capability to dazzle and awe, the push of listening to Tchaikovsky’s overture – it’s laborious to think about another ballet that might shepherd ballet firms and audiences alike again to the enjoyment of dwell dance.