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Swan Lake

Swan Lake is one of the most famous and critically-acclaimed of ballets, with music by Tchaikovsky.

It was first performed at full length in Saint Petersburg in Russia on February 17, 1895. Tchaikovsky was dead by then and it was based on an earlier, smaller-scale work, which had premiered on March 4, 1877. The choreography at the premiere was by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, and many later stagings have followed their work more or less closely.

A single dancer dances the twin roles of Odette and Odile, which is one of the most taxing of all roles because it requires acting two entirely contrasting characters, as well as the strenuous showpiece dancing itself, including thirty-two fouettés. This feat was put into the choreography because it was a party piece of Pierina Legnani, first prima ballerina assoluta of the Maryinsky Theatre, who created the role in 1895. Pavel Gerdt was her Siegfried.


It concerns a prince, called Siegfried, who falls in love with a princess called Odette, who is in human form at night, but has been turned into a swan by day by the evil magician Von Rothbart. She has a retinue of other swan-maidens to attend her. The prince while out hunting sees her dancing in a moonlight glade by the lake .

The Swan Lake was formed by the tears of Princess Odette's parents when Von Rothbart kidnapped her. When he appears and Siegfried threatens to kill him, Odette intercedes. Only when someone sacrifices their life for the Swan Queen will his power be destroyed.

The spell on her may be broken if a prince pledges eternal fidelity to her. Von Rothbart insinuates his own daughter Odile into the court, making her seem identical to Odette. The prince dances with her, and proclaims to the court that he wants to make her his wife.

At that moment the real Odette appears outside at the window. Prince Siegfried realizing his mistake flees the castle to follow Odette. She disappears into the lake, and he pursues her there. Unable to be wed in life, they are united in death. Von Rothbart and his power and his castle fall; the Swan Maidens are free and human, and dance homage to the souls of the lovers.