FLASH SPECIAL: A Colorful & Romantic Winter Skate On SWAN LAKE On 2/20
Today we are highlighting many of the most romantic and memorable musical moments from the enchanting and timeless story of the passionate love of a swan - Tchaikovsky's SWAN LAKE.
White & Black
Beginning as a short ballet titled THE LAKE OF THE SWANS in 1871, SWAN LAKE was eventually presented in its first, surprisingly not well-received production four years later, yet it would eventually go on to became one of the most enduring and everlasting dance pieces of all time. Now, SWAN LAKE is coming to movie theaters nationwide in HD byway of the hallowed Royal Opera House Ballet and their elegant, classic and gripping staging of the performing arts masterpiece for a special one night only showing coming up on February 20.
Plus, this new presentation has a particularly note-worthy asset in the guise of its Prince Siegfried - for the first time at the Royal Opera House Ballet, the role will be played by an American, none other than famed rising dance star Nehemiah Kish. It's undoubtedly an international affair worth partaking in!
As far as some history on the piece itself: originally loosely inspired by the tragic tale of Bavarian King Ludwig II and his love for a finely feathered friend, in 1875, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky set out to fashion a new four-act ballet from what had begun as a much more modest musical exercise following a commission for the Bolshoi Theatre. Utilizing various source elements, many taken from Russian folktales and German fairytales - among them, "The White Duck" and "The Stolen Veil" - Tchaikovsky plotted the story of a pure swan queen, Odette, the White Swan, who was once a human girl, and tells of her romantic entanglement with a handsome prince, Siegfried, as well as the black spell cast over her by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart and his own intended swan queen for Siegfried to take as his bride, Odile, the BLACK SWAN. Romantic, tragic, magical and mysterious, the apparent ease and acuity with which Tchaikovsky plots the tale musically and dramatically is nothing short of expert and goes a long way in making the piece consistently engaging and entertaining throughout. Tchaikovsky crafted a careful and altogether quite curious experience and audiences remain entranced by the persuasive charms of SWAN LAKE - and, given the story is this juicy, with good reason. Love, betrayal and tragedy are met with elegance, magic and mellifluous music unlike any heard in ballet before or since - after all, there is only one SWAN LAKE.
The premiere production of SWAN LAKE in 1877 was a showcase for prima ballerina Pelageya Karpakova, who danced the role of Odette, while Victor Gillert essayed Siegfried, though the ballet was actually initially intended to be debuted by Anna Sobeshchanskaya. Alas, it was not well-received - to put it mildly. Critics complained that the score was near-Wagnerian without the dramatic weight to support such sounds given supposedly "stupid" treatment given to the story, while the choreography, cast, costumes and sets were similarly dismissed. Nevertheless, prima ballerina Sobeshchanskaya eventually did portray Odette soon afterwards in a SWAN LAKE staged by frequent Tchaikovsky collaborator Marius Petipa - premier maitre de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres - but not before commissioning another composer to write her a new pas de deux, understandably infuriating Tchaikovsky, who demanded that the ballet be presented with his and only his music, her act thereby forcibly encouraging him to compose a new piece in haste, which he did and which has since been incorporated into the final score proper. Obviously, then and now, prima ballerinas can challenge even some Broadway heavyweights and Hollywood superstars for the top diva prize and even a master like Tchaikovsky was not spared from such wanton whims! Yet, when she took the stage, all was evidently forgiven.
Of note, subsequent to the original Reisinger and Petipa stagings, modern choreographers such as George Balanchine, John Neumeier and Matthew Bourne have made SWAN LAKE their own, while it has remained a staple of repertories like the American Ballet Theater, and, of course, the Mariinsky Ballet Theatre. Then, there is Darren Aronofsky's 2010 feature film BLACK SWAN, with Natalie Portman in her Academy Award-winning performance, at turns, as both Odette and Odine.
Besides the many stage productions of the popular ballet over the decades and centuries, a number of pop culture utilizations of SWAN LAKE have cropped up and have introduced elements of its iconography to a new, and, very likely, unknowing audience, as well - indeed, BLACK SWAN is perhaps only the most recent example. Adaptations of the story most memorably told by Tchaikovsky's ballet include an original stage musical inspired by it, ODETTE: THE DARK SIDE OF THE SWAN, written by Alexander S. Bermange, as well as its elemental use in the multi-Tony Award-winning Elton John & Lee Hall screen-to-stage tuner Billy Elliot: THE MUSICAL - to say nothing of the yearly Rockettes tribute to Tchaikovsky in the RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR. Then, there is the classic and hilarious FUNNY GIRL spoof of Odette and SWAN LAKE, with no less than Barbra Streisand herself playing Fanny Brice in taking on the caustic tribute.
On the page, the story and themes from SWAN LAKE have been adapted in a vast array of ways, as well, with Mercedes Lackey's celebrated 1999 novel THE BLACK SWAN as well as Mark Helprin and Chris van Allsburg's 1989 politically-charged children's book retelling of SWAN LAKE memorable literary hits, plus poet and author Walter Dean Meyers successful verse retelling in 2009's AMIRI & ODETTE, which resets the locale to a contemporary inner-city, urban environment.
Of course, SWAN LAKE has also found its way into many TV projects and feature films over the years, with its references too copious to list in full here, but some of the most fondly remembered moments include: Rudolf Nureyev and a giant pig Odette on THE MUPPET SHOW; Dan Aykroyd's "Bad Ballet" comments on a vintage edition of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, as well as Jim Carrey poking fun at BLACK SWAN much more recently on the live late-night series; Toni Basil and company with the pas de deux on an attention-grabbing '80s commercial; 1981's anime adaptation of the ballet featuring many famous voice talents; 1994's animated film THE SWAN PRINCESS; Babs Bunny and company on TV's TINY TOON ADVENTURES; and, of course, BARBIE OF SWAN LAKE. Gamers, too, will also be familiar with some Tchaikovsky SWAN LAKE tunes and story points if they know SquareSoft's FINALY FANTASY II or the LucasArt's game LOOM, to say nothing of MARIO & SONIC AT THE WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES, which heavily features the ballet score in the figure skating section.
Alas, if only figure skaters could actually achieve the grace and elegance of SWAN LAKE's Odette!
Dark and mysterious enchanted forests to grand and elaborate palace soirees; intimate romantic moments juxtaposed with epic battles for power; the allure of pure, virginal love with that of something more dangerous, filled with dark magic - SWAN LAKE is a delightful melange of a masterpiece.
The Royal Ballet's production of Tchaikovsky's SWAN LAKE will be presented in Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide on February 20. More information is available at the official site here.
So, now, let's look at some of the most memorable SWAN LAKE-related moments, new and olf - focusing on many taken from pop culture and also a few from the performing arts, as well - while also taking a look behind the scenes at the new Royal Opera House Ballet presentation premiering later this month..
First up, view the trailer for Fathom's presentation of the Royal Opera House Ballet's SWAN LAKE.
Go behind the scenes of the Royal Opera House Ballet with this special backstage glimpse of SWAN LAKE and an analysis of one of the most moving choreographic sequences in the celebrated piece.
Hear the music of Tchaikovsky as never heard before after taking in this smart take on the tremendous tunes.
See the corps in rehearsal with this extended sneak peek at the Royal Opera House Ballet's SWAN LAKE.
Next, view the trailer for Darren Aronofsky's visionary, contemporary, impressionistic take on themes from SWAN LAKE with his 2010 feature film BLACK SWAN.
Matthew Bourne's radically reconceived, gender-bending SWAN LAKE was recently presented by Fathom in cinemas. Check out this Royal Variety Performance by the Bourne company below.
The Muppets take on SWAN LAKE with this classic parody featuring renown ballet star Rudolf Nureyev and a very special pig.
Here is the hilarious FUNNY GIRL parody of SWAN LAKE, taken from the 1968 film adaptation starring Barbra Streisand.
Check out this vintage performance featuring triple-threat Toni Basil leading dance troupe The Lockers in the unveiling of a re-envisioned interpretation of SWAN LAKE.
Witness the guffaw-inducing "Swine Lake" comedy routine - equal parts FUNNY GIRL and The Muppets - from the 2005 Royal Variety Performance in the UK.
After that, enjoy the theatrical trailer for 1994's THE SWAN PRINCESS.
Billy Elliot: THE MUSICAL famously featured a stunning sequence using Tchaikovsky's SWAN LAKE score and some elements of the iconic Balanchine choreography, as well.
Jim Carrey hosts SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and parodies BLACK SWAN - and SWAN LAKE - winningly.
As a special bonus, see "Prawn Lake" as presented by Pepe The King Prawn from The Muppets.
So, what element of the iconography of SWAN LAKE makes it so ripe for parody, adaptation and tribute, nearly 150 after its premiere performance? Furthermore, what would Tchaikovsky think of all of these various takes on his precious ballet masterpiece and its romantic, tragic, epic story and score? Plus, what is your personal favorite element of SWAN LAKE out of all its attributes? Surely, the Royal Opera House Ballet's presentation of SWAN LAKE covers the rainbow of emotion and feeling - black, white, red and everything else in between.