It features music by Tchaikovsky, who is now considered to be one of the most important and influential ballet composers. However, the ballet premiered on stage to an unsatisfactory response from the public. Tchaikovsky’s compositions were deemed too complicated for a ballet and the production was seen as poor. In spite of the disappointing reactions from audiences, the ballet continued being performed.
It is here at the Bolshoy Theatre where we are first introduced to Odette, the delicate and ill-fated princess, dubbed “The Swan Queen” and her doppelganger Odile. The name ‘Swan Queen’ is given to her because she and many of her companions are put under a spell by Von Rothbart, an evil sorcerer. The spell transforms them into swans during the day and only at night, once everything is dark; they are transformed back into their human form. What is interesting is that the main role of ‘The Swan Queen’ is danced by the same ballerina during the ballet, so as to make it believable that Prince Siegfried would think that Odile is Odette. As per Von Rothbart’s instructions, Odile disguises herself as Odette in order to trick and marry the Prince.
A more contemporary revival of the Swan Lake ballet is seen in the Oscar nominated film Black Swan. The role of Odette and Odile is played by Natalie Portman. She portrays a troubled dancer who battles many dualities (i.e not being able to distinguish between fantasy & reality) while, ironically, taking on both roles.
Portman, who also stars in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached, gave one of her best performances to date and subsequently won numerous acting awards as well as the prestigious Best Actress Academy Award during late February this year. The film was a huge box office success and prompted many to look at ballet not only as a dance but as a grand art form. It has ignited a huge interested in ballet and many young men and women have started taking lessons due to the success of the film.
It seems Swan Lake has come full circle. From its humble beginnings as a ballet that wasn’t well liked to inspiring many to want to dance. A production of the popular ballet by the Cape Town City Ballet featuring two guest performers from the English National Ballet at selected shows is set to hit the Cape Town stage. Not to be missed at the Artscape Theatre from August 19-26.