Thursday, February 5, 2015

Story 68: The Origins of "Swan Lake", Ballet

(Note: I have no idea how the ballet of Swan Lake came to be commissioned)

(An office in 1800s Russia)
Ballet Theater Company Owner: Ah, Pyotr!  Come in, my friend!
Tchaikovsky: (Enters and sits in front of the owner’s desk) Thank you.  Did you listen to the music yet?
Owner: Did I ever!  It was amazing – haunting – moving – any complimentary adjective ending in “ing”!  And the tale couldn’t be more tragic: Romeo and Juliet meets enchanted women-birds!  And I love how our prima ballerina can dance not just one but two main roles!  I tell you, the audience will be weeping so much by the end of Act I, the tears can be used to fill the lake at the end of Act II!
Tchaikovsky: Thank you very much; it means a lot to me that your company will perform it.
Owner: But of course!  I will have you meet with our choreographer later today so you can give him some notes.
Tchaikovsky: Notes?
Owner: You know, where to have the dancers go and such, so his vision will match yours.  Just give me an idea: starting from Act I, tell me briefly what you want the dancers to be doing during each movement.
Tchaikovsky: Oh, well, in the beginning, Siegfried is being knighted, and he is happy about that, so he dances.
Owner: Yes, yes.
Tchaikovsky: His family, friends, and servants join him for a bit, but there is a section where it is only him dancing while everyone can just sit and watch, I suppose.
Owner: I see.
Tchaikovsky: Some ladies can dance with him at times, just to mix it up a little, if you want.
Owner: Perhaps.
Tchaikovsky: Then, the Evil Genius leads Siegfried to The Lake.
Owner: Oh yes, the oboe and harp bit!  So chilling.
Tchaikovsky: Yes, I gave myself goosebumps while I was writing it.  That is when all the swan-women make their entrance – they probably should be flapping their arms a lot so the audience knows they also are birds.
Owner: But aren’t they ladies at that point?
Tchaikovsky: They are, but they have been swans during the day for so long that they have started to identify as them.  Their costumes should reflect this mental state.
Owner: Hmmmmm….
Tchaikovsky: Odette then makes her grand entrance and has several solo pieces – I do not mind if the show stops dead multiple times for the ballerina to take her bows at the end of each of her dances.
Owner: Thank you – it happens frequently in our productions.
Tchaikovsky: Good, because between her dancing as Odette and dancing as Odile, I think this may happen about six times throughout the show.  Siegfried joins her on a few, so factor in his bows as well.
Owner: Not necessary – no one cares about the guy.
Tchaikovsky: All right, the choreographer can figure all that out.  For Act II, Siegfried’s mamma parades ladies from different countries in front of her son so he can choose one to marry – many showcases there.
Owner: As in –
Tchaikovsky: Group dances, individual dances, pas de deux, pas de trois, the whole deal.  Everyone else on stage sits and watches again.
Owner: Hm, I don’t like paying dancers to sit.
Tchaikovsky: Maybe you can rotate the performers?  Anyway, Odile and the Evil Genius make their grand entrance, and more solos and dances with Siegfried –
Owner: And literally show-stopping bows –
Tchaikovsky: Of course, until Siegfried mutely declares that he will marry her thinking that she is Odette, then it is painfully revealed that Odette is a separate person and he really is marrying her evil doppelganger.
Owner: How?
Tchaikovsky: How… what?
Owner: How is this revealed?  They’re played by the same dancer!
Tchaikovsky: I don’t know, have one of them behind a curtain or something!  The bottom line is, black swans and white swans dance, Odette eventually returns to the stage –
Owner: Argh, another solo.
Tchaikovsky: She dances with Siegfried, the Evil Genius either kills her or she kills herself, depending on which mood you are in, Siegfried is sad and wants to join her, and curtain.
Owner: You have me wondering now why the Evil Genius went through all this in the first place.  If he wanted Siegfried to marry Odile, shouldn’t he have led Siegfried to her instead of to Odette in Act I?  The boy seems to have a thing for swans, so what difference would it have made if Odile was there first?
Tchaikovsky: They are not swans!  They are women enchanted to be swans by day!
Owner: That’s an oddly specific curse – did you ever look into the Evil Genius’s backstory for his motivation?  I’m just curious.
Tchaikovsky: That is not the point!  The point is the music!  And the dance!  And the emotion!
Owner: And the money.
Tchaikovsky: The money helps.


  1. Interesting; I can just see the two of them discussing the ballet as a business transaction. I love the last two comments.

  2. Interesting; I can just see the two of them discussing the ballet as a business transaction. I love the last two comments.