Director’s Notebook: Black Swan

Lucien Postlewaite and Kaori Nakamura in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake. Photo

© Angela Sterling.
Swan LakeBlack Swan pas de deux
Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Op. 20, 1875-1876)
Choreography: Kent Stowell (after Marius Petipa)
Staging: Francia Russell
Scenic Design: Ming Cho Lee
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Lighting Design: Randall G. Chiarelli

Original Production Premiere: February 20, 1877, Imperial Ballet, Moscow, choreography by Julius Reisinger; restaged on January 15, 1895, Imperial Ballet, St. Petersburg, choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov
Stowell/Russell Production Premiere: 1975; Frankfurt Ballet
Pacific Northwest Ballet Premiere: April 8, 1981; new production September 25, 2003

Swan Lake is considered by many to be the greatest classical ballet of all time. With its fantastical plot filled with romance, sorcery, and betrayal, Swan Lake offers ballerinas the ultimate challenge of a dual role―Odette, trapped in the body of a white swan while awaiting an oath of true love to set her free, and Odile—the black swan—the temptress daughter of Baron Von Rothbart, who plots the downfall of Odette’s true love, Siegfried.
The image of a swan has come to represent the lyrical image of a dancer, and for that we have to thank three men: composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Tchaikovsky composed his score for Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet in 1877, but it was not until Petipa and Ivanov’s St. Petersburg production of 1895 that Swan Lake took the form we know today. The ballet has since inspired countless choreographers, who, in their own productions, seek to extend the ideas and meanings suggested in the work of its creators.
Following tradition, choreographers in our own century often have re-visited Swan Lake, for the ballet lends itself generously to new stagings and new interpretations. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Swan Lake dates from 1981, when Mr. Stowell and Ms. Russell mounted here the production they had first created for the Frankfurt Ballet in 1975. Preserving the best of the St. Petersburg original as it has come down to us through England’s Royal Ballet, Ms. Russell researched and staged what has long been regarded as the soul of Swan Lake―nearly all of Ivanov’s Act II, where music and dance are sublimely fused. Petipa’s Act I pas de trois and Act III Black Swan pas de deux were also retained. To enhance the story line, and following in the path of many choreographers, Mr. Stowell made important changes in the order of the musical numbers. He also re-choreographed most of Act I, the national dances in Act III, and all of Act IV, rescuing the usually forgotten last act with a radiant pas de deux and giving the conclusion dramatic power and unity.

Notes by Doug Fullington.

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