From the irresistible pull of swan arms to the allure of feathered tutus, swan-inspired characters outrank other bird roles in the realm of ballet. Here’s a throwback to three of the most famous swan roles as interpreted by past generations…
Distilled through black and white, foregoing scenery, and emphasizing movement as the medium of storytelling, this 1970s Kirov film brings the emotional core of Swan Lake‘s pas de deux into focus with sophisticated simplicity. Odette’s enigmatic, love-him-or-love-him-not relationship with Siegfried is told through the power of musical motion with little aid or accent of acting–flowing through reserve, release, tension, ease, energy projecting outward, and drawing inward…
Odile actually didn’t acquire her avian identity until the 1940s…Before then she was simply a femme fatale who could be costumed in a variety of colors including red and green. But, safe to say, the little black dress makeover certainly stuck. It’s hard not to imagine that this was her signature look all along. Here’s a clip, also from the 70s, of Kirov soloist Elena Yeteyeva performing the variation and coda fouettés.
“Often imitated, never duplicated”… For something seemingly simple in design–mostly bourrées and upper body movements–Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan, created for Anna Pavlova, has eluded so many of its subsequent performers. Pavlova’s watermark on the work, as seen in this 1925 film, is the translucent abandon and leaf-in-the-wind quality of her arms and upper body: ballerina grace, but with a sense of unsettled drifting.
April showers bring May flowers…What’s your favorite ballet flower scene? Here are some memorable ones:
Rose Adagio—The Sleeping Beauty
Are flowers the way the to the heart? Not in this case. Princess Aurora doesn’t find true love with any of her rose-bearing suitors, but her dance with them is one of the most famous in all of ballet.
Garland Waltz—The Sleeping Beauty
Flowers, flowers everywhere! Presumably the village people didn’t suffer from allergies. Or perhaps some good fairy freed them from that curse… (This clip doesn’t show the entire stage, but I do like the close-up view of the Mariinsky’s version.)
Lilac Fairy’s Variation—The Sleeping Beauty
What floral-inspired magical creature saves the day and rocks a purple wig at the same time? The Lilac Fairy, of course! But, before all of the drama—a dance.
“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…”—Giselle
Spoiler alert: the flower tells the truth.
Le Jardin Animé—Le Corsaire
If you didn’t get enough flowers in the “Garland Waltz,” this scene in Le Cosaire basically blossoms into balletic botanical garden.
Waltz of the Flowers—The Nutcracker
Beautiful any time of year… Besides, there’s a good chance this music dances through your head all year anyway.
“In “Walpurgisnacht,” Ms. Mearns gives the single greatest ballerina performance of our era —hurling out fantastically bold, amazingly precise, rivetingly complex dance coloratura with musical blaze and rich colors. I say “hurling out” — this is exultant, space-filling dancing, with a strong element of swagger — but I don’t underestimate the twinkling wit of Ms. Mearns’s delivery, the driving impulsiveness of her self-contradictory turns to right and left, the subtleties of her unexpected pauses.”
Balanchine’s Waltz of the Flowers is my favorite version of this dance I’ve seen thus far. In my 2015 artsBHAM review of Alabama Ballet‘s production I wrote:
“The “Waltz of the Flowers” is the choreographic highlight of the ballet — a continual folding and unfolding, circling and whirling, drawing together and drifting apart. […] In Dewdrop, Balanchine may well have created the most choreographically memorable character in the ballet with her springing, gliding, at-home-in-the-air movements.”
Beyond the masterful choreography, the color of the costumes and the warmth or coolness or exuberance or reserve or anything in between that their palette evokes unavoidably plays a role in the overall impact of the dance.
Here are videos of different wardrobe interpretations of the Waltz of the Flowers from six productions of Balanchine’s Nutcracker. (Not among these videos are Alabama Ballet since their costumes are based on the Karinska designs used by New York City Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet because I couldn’t find a clip of their Waltz of Flowers, but here’s a photo.)
What do these hues suggest to you? What do they help highlight in the music and choreography? Which do you like best? Or least? Are there colors that you think would work better? Let me know your thoughts in the comments…
“For all its beauty and hazy, mysterious texture, Faure’s music […] wafts a melancholy perfume. At the end of “Emeralds,” four women leave and three men drop to a knee, nobly seeking a love that eludes them. […]
“Emeralds” uses Faure’s incidental music for plays, “Pelleas and Melisande” and the “Shylock” music for “The Merchant of Venice.” A dramatic thrust emerges from the apparently misty sound. The legend of Pelleas and Melisande – doomed lovers – is a clue to the unattainable happiness Balanchine’s cavaliers seek at the close. […] In “Emeralds,” he gave us the most unreal of his ballets.”