Old. Boring. Sexist. Long. Only for hardcore fans.
Oh, and also most popular ever. And almost always sold out.
What ballet am I describing?
Swan Lake, of course.
The beloved (and sometimes loathed) ballet premiered nearly 140 years ago in Moscow.
And it was panned.
It was called “too difficult” and “unmemorable” by the critics of the day. But over the years, it somehow came to be the most acclaimed and often-produced ballets in history.
Well, first there is the “difficulty” aspect. This particularly appeals to hardcore ballet fans. As you may know, the two lead parts of Odile and Odette are usually played by the same dancer. It’s a grueling test of a dancer’s talent and stamina. At one point, this swan queen must perform 32 fouettes, very fast turns. Try spinning in place fast just 3 times and you’ll get a sense of how difficult that can be. Many ballet aficionados enjoy Swan Lake for the sheer virtuosity and strength required by the lead ballerina.
Second, there is Tchaikovsky’s eternal score. Swan Lake was his first ballet and his best. The epic romantic score is breathtaking and heartbreaking. Swan Lake is one of the few ballets in which the music is as compelling as the physical performances taking place on stage. It stands on its own.
Third, the story, while sexist by today’s standards, is inarguably compelling and ultimately heartwrenching. Swan Lake is a romantic tear-jerker of the highest order.
But Swan Lake has its problems.
It can seem overly long. It can seem boring because most companies insist on clinging to the old-fashioned choreography and staging. Most performances make you feel you are in 19th Century Moscow.
So, how do you keep the best elements of Swan Lake and inject them with new excitement and vitality?
We asked choreographer Alexander Ekman of the Norwegian National Ballet, and here’s what he told us about his production of Swan Lake at the Oslo Opera House…
I wanted to do something big and wild and different. Something with water!
So Ekman filled the Main Stage at the Oslo Opera House with 5,000 liters of water!
And the dancers are joined on stage by actors, a soprano, musicians and 1,000 rubber ducks.
Ekman is an award-winning choreographer, whose work is internationally acclaimed for its inventiveness, musicality, and humor.
And he’s the perfect artist to breathe much-needed new life into a not-quite-so-timeless classic!
Finally, a production of Swan Lake that everyone can enjoy!
Watch the trailer for Ekman’s wet, wild and wonderful Swan Lake here.
Looking for more modern ballets? Check out this list with 8 modern ballet pieces.