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Theatre: Swan Lake
Swan Lake (Russian: Лебединое Озеро, Lebedinoye Ozero) is a ballet, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky , composed 1875-1876. The scenario, initially in four acts, by Vladimir Begichev and Vasiliy Geltser was fashioned from Russian folk tales as well as an ancient German legend, which tells the story of Odette, a girl turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger. The ballet received its premiere on February 27, 1877, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow as Le lac des cygnes ("The Lake of the Swans"), French being the language of the Imperial Russian court. Although it is presented in many different versions, most ballet companies base their stagings both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, first staged for the Imperial Ballet on January 15, 1895, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. For this revival, Tchaikovsky's score was revised by the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre's chief conductor and composer Riccardo Drigo.

Many critics have disputed the original source of the Swan Lake story. The Russian ballet patriarch Fyodor Lopukhov has called Swan Lake a "national ballet" due to the swans which are common in Russian romantic lyrics, while many of the movements of the corps de ballet originated from Slavonic ring-dances. According to Lopukhov, "both the plot of Swan Lake (despite the fact that it is based on German source), the image of the Swan, and the very idea of a faithful love are essentially Russian". Though the scenario is (as in the case of The Nutcracker) tenuously based on a story by a German author, in this case Johann Karl August Musäus' Der geraubte Schleier ("The Stolen Veil"), this provides only the general outline of the plot; the Russian folktale "The White Duck" also bears some resemblance to the story of the ballet and might have been another possible source. The contemporaries of Tchaikovsky recalled the composer taking great interest in the life story of Ludwig II, the Bavarian King and Count Palatine of the Rhine, who was constantly associated with the symbol of the Swan, and whom "whether consciously or not"” Tchaikovsky chose as the prototype of the dream-haunted Prince Siegfried.

It's probably the most famous ballet of all time. Anytime a character in a movie or a television series goes to the ballet, it's likely to be Swan Lake by default. Even the general public, which is largely ignorant to the ballet, is familiar with at least the basics of Swan Lake.

Works that are based on or revolve around Swan Lake include:

In Russian media Swan Lake is somewhat of a trope in its own right. If there is any scene involving ballet or ballet will be shown on TV it will always be Swan Lake. Always. Specifically "the dance of the little swans" scene.

Works that reference or include scenes from Swan Lake are:

Also notable for having additional meaning for Russians because during the 1991 crisis, all normal television programs were shut down and all channels showed Swan Lake instead.


Swan Lake has examples of:

  • Acting for Two: Odette and Odile are traditionally played by the same ballerina as they have to resemble each other. Some productions cast two women in the roles, which leaves room for Odile to have a part in the finale
  • Adapted Out: Depending on the production, Siegfried's friend Benno and the Jester can be cut out without disrupting the narrative.
  • All Just a Dream: Some productions imply that the story is a dream of Siegfried's.
  • Alleged Lookalikes: Odile is an exact copy of Odette, but she dresses in black while Odette wears white.
  • Animal Stereotypes: The swans are graceful and elegant, and Rothbart, who's like an owl, is watchful and predatory.
  • Anti-Villain: Some productions portray Odile as a sympathetic or even tragic figure.
  • Betty and Veronica: Odette and Odile are this for Siegfried.
  • Big Bad: Von Rothbart.
  • Big Bad Friend: In some productions Rothbart doubles as Wolfgang, Siegfried's tutor.
  • Bittersweet Ending: When Siegfried accidentally confesses his love to Odile, he seals Odette's fate: her spell is now unbreakable. Odette, doomed to swan form perpetually, leaps into the lake and drowns herself. Unwilling to live without her, Siegfried follows suit and the two die together. Sometimes, the two are shown rising to heaven in an apotheosis. In some versions of the ballet, this is changed to a happy ending, where Odette lives and she and the other swans are freed from their captivity, and sometimes this includes a more sympathetic role for an Odile who is redeemed as well.
  • Clip Its Wings: In happy endings, von Rothbart's power is usually broken at the end by tearing off one or both of his wings.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Odette wears white. Odile wears black. This was not the case in early versions of the ballet, where Odile wore gaudy colors.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Some interpretations of Odile, especially when the two are played by different women.
  • Damsel in Distress: Odette and all the other swan maidens.
  • Disneyfication: Depending on the staging, the Bittersweet Ending may be changed to Happily Ever After. The same change was made in the animated feature The Swan Princess, a direct example applied to the ballet's plot. Interestingly, this appears to have been the original ending of the ballet, with more bittersweet versions being later additions to the story.
  • Downer Ending: There are a few alternative endings including Siegfried's accidental betrayal causes Odette to turn into a swan permanently and Siegfried is left alone to mourn her and Siegfried attempts to fight Von Rothbart with the result that they both fall into the lake and drown, leaving Odette both widowed and cursed forever. Another has Rothbart kill Siegfried and claim Odette forever, taking her away as Siegfried futilely reaches towards them in his dying moments.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: In versions where the prologue is used, Siegfried dreams of Odette and her transformation before meeting her. In one variation, this turns out to also be foreshadowing a Dying Dream that he has in the finale.
  • Everything's Better with Spinning: In one of the ballet's most famous moments, Odile executes thirty-two fouettés while seducing the Prince.
  • Evil Counterpart/Evil Twin: Odile, although given that she has no established character beyond being The Vamp, whether or not she's evil depends on the interpretation of the production.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Von Rothbart.
  • Fainting: It's common for the Queen Mother to faint when Siegfried goes off to find Odette after von Rothbart and Odile trick him.
  • Gender Flip: The Matthew Bourne version features male swans.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Odile in some versions.
  • I Want Grandkids: Siegfried's mother wants her son to marry and have children before she passes on.
  • Involuntary Shape Shifting: Odette and the other swan maidens.
  • Karmic Death: Depending on the production, the lovers or Rorthbart can die this way.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Siegfried.
  • Leitmotif: The swans' theme.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: Odette is light while Odile is dark.
  • Light is Good/Dark Is Evil: Played straight with Odette and Odile, who wear white and black tutus respectively.
  • Love at First Sight: Between Odette and Siegfried.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Odile.
  • Master of Illusion: Von Rothbart.
  • Mistaken Declaration of Love: Von Rothbart tricks Siegfried into declaring his love to his daughter Odile, whom he has disguised as Odette, and so dooms the lovers.
  • Moral Dissonance: How can Siegfried be blamed for breaking his word when Rothbart deceived him?
  • Multiple Endings: Quite a few endings have been performed, most of them bittersweet.
    • The original ballet has the happiest ending. Siegfried struggles with Von Rothbart and tears off one of his wings, thereby destroying his powers. Siegfried has broken the spell of the swan maidens and marries Odette.
    • In another, Siegfried's mistaken pledge of fidelity to Odile consigns Odette to remain a swan forever. After realizing that her last moment of humanity is at hand, Odette commits suicide by throwing herself into the lake. The Prince does so as well. This act of sacrifice and love breaks Von Rothbart's power, and he is destroyed.
    • In yet another, the Prince's declaration that he wishes to marry Odile constitutes a betrayal that condemns Odette to remain a swan forever. Odette is called away into swan form, and Siegfried is left alone in grief as the curtain falls.
    • One has a Hope Spot. Odette forgives Siegfried for his betrayal and the promise of reconciliation shines momentarily...before Rothbart summons forth a violent storm, causing the lake to overflow and drown Siegfried. When the storm subsides, Odette is left alone to mourn the dead Siegfried.
    • Another is a straight up The Bad Guy Wins. Rothbart fights with Siegfried, who is overcome and dies, leaving Rothbart to take Odette triumphantly up to the heavens.
    • Still another has the Prince drag Rothbart into the lake, where both drown. Odette is left as a swan, cursed and widowed forever.
    • Another ending has a Pyrrhic Victory. Odette kills herself, and as Siegfried goes to do the same, Rothbart blocks his way. They fight, with Siegfried victorious, and the other swan maidens break free and trample Rothbart. That done, Siegfried goes to follow Odette into death. His friend Benno fetches his body from the lake.
    • The 1981 anime version has an ending that is played very ambiguously as to whether it's happy or bittersweet, as Odette and Siegfried could have survived, or it could be their spirits that are seen reuniting in the end. It's styled so that either interpretation is valid.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Prince Siegfried is said to be based on King Ludwig II, the nineteenth century Bavarian monarch often referred to as "the Swan King."
  • Only Sane Man: The Jester, who sees right through Odile's deception.
  • People Puppets: Rothbart makes the other swan maidens separate Odette and Siegfried.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: In earlier versions of the ballet, Odile wore a rainbow colored jewel-laden dress to suggest she was an enchantress.
  • Please Wake Up: This version of the ending has Benno find Siegfried's body and try to revive him, before giving up and carrying him away.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: The Jester, who is usually left out of modern productions.
  • The Power of Love: This can save the lovers, doom them, or both.
  • Rebel Prince: Siegfried is sometimes characterized this way.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In some productions, Siegfried dies with Odette to atone for his betrayal.
  • Revised Ending: Interestingly, the Happy Ending mentioned under Disneyfication seems to have been the original, but Executive Meddling (or something of that nature) caused it to be changed to the Bittersweet Ending accepted today.
  • Shapeshifting Lover: Odette.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Odette and Siegfried.
  • Swans A Swimming: Odette and the other maidens.
  • Together in Death: Odette and Siegfried at the end.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The Queen Mother, with her insistence that Siegfried marry.
  • The Vamp: Odile, though some versions make her more sympathetic and thus she becomes a mix of Broken Bird and Femme Fatale instead.
  • The Von Trope Family: Von Rothbart.
  • Woman in White: Odette, of course.

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alternative title(s): Swan Lake
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