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.
“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.”
Here’s a clip of American Ballet Theatre performing the last part of American choreographer Agnes de Mille’s American-themed Rodeo (1942).
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this work performed live by Alabama Ballet. (Here’s my review.) Unfortunately, I don’t think her work translates that well onto film for some reason. More so than the works of other choreographers, it loses a vitality and dramatic charge. So, if you get a chance to see Rodeo live, go!
That said, I am still glad, of course, that there is footage of her ballets available! ABT gives a spirited performance here in this pared-down excerpt on a small stage without scenery or orchestra:
Oh, I love this description of New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck… ❤
“Peck brings an unbridled passion to Who Cares?, especially in the monstrously difficult, vivacious solo to Fascinatin’ Rhythm. Apropos, Peck’s rhythm is fierce and on form. She is the overcaffeinated Balanchine dancer: ebullient but never untidy. In the finale, she stretches balances to the last millisecond, filling the music without ever being off time–something one more readily expects in Swan Lake than a Gershwin ballet. Peck is all the better for it, flaunting the piece as the work of Olympian athleticism and whirlwind musicality that it should be.”