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.
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:
Sugar Plum Fairy in a white and amber tutu? Cavalier’s variation danced to the final waltz? Check out this version of the Nutcracker Pas de Deux from the mid-1960s danced by New York City Ballet principals Melissa Hayden and Edward Villella.