Swan Lake: A Pop Culture Darling

Over the last century, Swan Lake has become a quintessential ballet pop culture reference. Its iconic score, choreography, and costumes are synonymous with ballet performance and easily recognizable to anyone with even a casual ballet knowledge. While the 2010 film Black Swan may be the first to spring to mind, there are many examples from the last 100 years. Keep scrolling to watch just a few!

In the 1930s, Universal Pictures used the Swan Lake score in the opening credits of Dracula, The Mummy, and several other suspenseful films to heighten the emotion before the film began.

In the 1968 film Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand presents a spoof of Swan Lake in her performance as comedienne Fanny Brice. This number was based on a real-life Fanny Brice character, a swan ballerina from the 1930 film Be Yourself.

There is a long list of animated versions of the Swan Lake story including the 1981 anime Swan Lake, Barbie of Swan Lake (2003), and Swan Princess (1994).

The 2000 film Billy Elliot, about a boy finding his love for ballet and struggling for acceptance, and subsequent 2005 stage adaptation. Both feature Swan Lake performances by a grown up version of Billy, but in the film he performs in Matthew Bourne’s notable all-male version of the ballet.

There are several examples of video game music influenced by the score of Swan Lake, perhaps most notably in the lead up to a battle in 1988’s Final Fantasy II. 

References to Swan Lake in modern pop music are frequent – two examples from the last decade include the costuming and ballet choreography in Taylor Swift’s 2014 “Shake It Off,” and the music box intro to Beyoncé’s “Sorry” from her 2016 visual album Lemonade.

More recently, there have been viral videos from around the internet that feature Swan Lake, ranging from the touching footage of former ballerina Marta C. González dancing as part of her memory loss music therapy to the silly “Prawn Lake” parody that recently went viral on TikTok.*

*It’s important to note for posterity that The Muppets did a “Prawn Lake” parody first.

What’s your favorite example of Swan Lake in pop culture? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media channels! And don’t forget to nab your tickets to PNB’s Swan Lake, which runs April 15 – 24, 2022 at McCaw Hall.

Header: PNB Company dancers in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake, photo © Lindsay Thomas.

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