Ballerinas with Wings: Swan Roles

Anna Pavlova Edit 1
Created with Wikimedia Commons Pubic Domain Image of Anna Pavlova in “The Dying Swan.”

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…

White Swan

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…

Black Swan

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.

Dying Swan

“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.

Happy 4th of July!

Agnes de Mille Meme
Created with Wikimedia Commons Public domain image “Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California” (1865) by Albert Bierstadt. Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama.


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:



Clips from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Coppélia

I love the Instagram footage of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s stunning production of George Balanchine’s Coppélia! ❤ Here are all the clips. Enjoy!


Continue reading “Clips from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Coppélia”

Unusual, Interesting Nutcracker Pas de Deux…

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.

Osipova’s Odette

Natalia Osipova’s Odette variation from Swan Lake is probably my favorite among the versions I’ve seen so far. What a difference the extra holds in her balances make! I also admire the wholehearted abandon with which she fills this character, it’s a fascinating contrast to the reserve and elusiveness in many interpretations of Odette.