Swan Lake is one of my favorite classical ballets. Does that make me basic? If it does then I have two things to say. The first is that I hate the word basic. Why do we judge each other with such nastiness? Second, I really don’t care.
Swan Lake is a Russian ballet, romantic, tragic, and difficult to execute. It’s famous for the lead ballerina playing two roles. She dances the roles of Odette and Odile, playing meek and scared as well as strong and sly. She does 32 fouette turns en pointe in the third act and flings herself from a cliff in the fourth act. A pas de trois in the first act is fun and exhausting. Two ladies and a man dance together doing all sorts of leaps and turns in the village. The pas de quatre in the second act is mesmerizing, to see the four dancers linked for the entire piece, prancing, jumping, and doing arabesques all at the same time. The entire corps is a sight to behold. They are strong, standing on stage for long periods of time before moving gracefully in between the swan’s solos. If you’ve never seen this ballet before, you might want to find it and watch it.
The musical score by Tchaikovsky is enchanting. The opening is famous, but my favorite is the end of the fourth act. I cry every time I hear it, imagining the sun coming up over the set, the swans doing their bourrees in unison, arms waving up and down like wings. The costumes are majestic. The way the dancers move so beautifully together with the flat tutus bouncing as if they are a flock of birds. It’s easy to forget that they are ballerinas and not actual swans.
The first time I saw Swan Lake in it’s entirety, it was a Masterpiece Theatre Production done by the American Ballet Theatre for PBS. Gillian Murphy played Odette and Odile, and I was obsessed. That performance made her my favorite ballerina, and to this day, I love to see anything she has danced in. She was the perfect foil, smiling coyly in the third act playing Odile, and looking so frightened and sad during the other acts. Her movements were magic. It was like she was floating across that stage with absolutely zero effort.
To this day, I still find that I am seeking to make work that feels the way I felt watching Swan lake. When I shoot portraits and dancers, travel and weddings, I am trying to connect the strong and the soft, the delicate and fierce. I am trying to capture that magic, the grace.