This year the immortal oeuvre of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky turned 150. Today the ballet Swan Lake is an internationally recognized performance. The most talented dancers perform it on the different stages all over the world. But just a few people know that the first two interpretations of “Swan Lake” turned to be a fiasco and the composer, who has breathed life into an ancient German legend, did not see the success of his brainchild.
According to the memoirs of contemporaries, Tchaikovsky took calm and even cold, the fact that the premiere of Swan Lake was received cold. Music written by the composer, was created to convey emotions and complex psychological state of the characters, but it was ahead of time and too complicated for the ballet style of that time. Romantic era has passed and the fairy tale about beautiful Odette, pursued by the evil witch-stepmother, did not have a success among Russian audience. Critics wrote that ballet was boring and unmemorable, the scenery was imaginative and artists didn’t perform well. Soon, the “Swan Lake” was forgotten. The second production of the ballet was forgotten as quickly.
In November, 1963 the great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died in St. Petersburg. It was decided immediately to honor his memory. Saint Petersburg Imperial troupe started preparation of the concert consisting of fragments from various Tchaikovsky’s works, including Swan Lake. Marius Petipa, chief ballet master, being aware of the failure of the first two ballet productions, immediately rejected the proposition to put on the new production. In contrast, Lev Ivanovich Ivanov, second choreographer of Saint Petersburg Imperial troupe, accepted the challenge and started to work on the choreography with great enthusiasm and inspiration.
Ivanov was not only a talented and gifted choreographer, but also a connoisseur of music. He was able to understand the structure of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece and had the courage to move away from the canons of classical ballet. Artificial wings were removed and the hand movements of artists resembled flapping of the swan’s wings during the dance. Marius Petipa was so impressed by the new version of Swan Lake that soon it was decided to revive the full production of this ballet.
The new ballet interpretation of the German folk story was changed a little. While ballet ends sadly with the death of lovers, good triumphs over evil anyway. Siegfried was forced to marry Odile, but he could not forget his love to Odette. They died together in order never again to be apart. The evil sorcerer Rotbar died too when he found out that love is stronger than death.
There are many productions of Swan Lake. Some of them differ a lot from the classical one. For example, in the interpretation of the Russian choreographer Nureyev the male artist who performs the role of Prince Siegfried is the central character and not the swan queen. But anyway it remains one of the most popular ballet of all times. If you have never watched ballet before, then you should definitely start with Swan Lake, a sad but beautiful story of two lovers.