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Ballet Highlights from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake

Updated on August 22, 2014

Swan Lake

Swan Lake was the first ballet I attended as a child and I was completely mesmerized. Since that time, I have seen several world-class performances of this ballet.

The music for Swan Lake was composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky who also composed music for the very popular ballets, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty. All three of these ballets are among the most beloved full-length or story ballets and are typically in the repertoire of major classical ballet companies throughout the world.

This lens gives a summary of the four acts of Swan Lake and shows highlights through YouTube Videos of outstanding performances of this ballet.

I hope you will enjoy your time here!

Photo used under Creative Commons. See link below. / CC BY-SA 2.0

Swan Lake - Royal Ballet - Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell

A DVD of a 1982 performance of Swan Lake with Natalia Makarova, Anthony Dowell, and The Royal Ballet. An amazingly beautiful performance!

Swan Lake
Swan Lake

I attending a performance of this production of Swan Lake at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and it was one of the greatest performances I have experienced. Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell were outstanding!!!


Act I of Swan Lake (American Ballet Theatre) - The Overture, Opening Scene, and Waltz

I have seen this American Ballet Theatre version of Swan Lake several times when the ABT was on tour in Los Angeles. This video shows the first part of Swan Lake and includes the hauntingly beautiful overture before the curtain opens. This version depicts Prince Siegfried celebrating his upcoming twenty-first birthday with peasants in the countryside. Some other versions of the first act of Swan Lake take place in a more formal setting with nobility. This version of the first act of Swan Lake is interesting because it includes a lot of mime (gestures which help to tell the story) and the dancing is a combination of folk dance and ballet. You'll notice that the female dancers are not en pointe (on their toes). I think this makes a great contrast between this down-to-earth section of Swan Lake and the more ethereal second and fourth acts featuring the swans. A large part of the first act is a lively waltz that concludes (in this version) with a maypole dance.

Act II of Swan Lake (Bolshoi Ballet) - Pas de quatre (Young Swans)

This pas de quatre (dance for four) is a much-loved and well-known dance in the second act of Swan Lake. The emphasis in this pas de quatre is on the footwork and head positions because the arms are not used except to interlock with the other swans and there is limited upper body movement until the very end of the dance. Also, precision is of extreme importance in this dance. The second act of Swan Lake includes work by the full ensemble, a couple small ensemble dances such as this one, an exquisite pas de deux with Prince Siegfried and Odette (the white swan) as well as solo performances.

Act III of Swan Lake - Hungarian Dance

The third act of Swan Lake is especially exciting. It takes place at the palace with royalty and nobility attending from other countries with dances representing their own countries. It is here that Prince Siegfried is to select his bride.

This part of Swan Lake is an excellent opportunity to observe the character dance skills which dancers typically learn along with classical ballet technique. This Hungarian Dance or Czardas is a wonderful example.

Act III of Swan Lake - Black Swan Pas de Deux

These two videos include the Black Swan Pas de Deux and the conclusion of Act III of Swan Lake. The Coda of the Black Swan Pas de Deux is especially noteworthy and shows the athleticism required of the dancers dancing the role of Odile (The Black Swan) and the role of Prince Siegfried. The 32 fouettes that the dancer dancing the role of Odile performs are particularly difficult. These are the turns accomplished by a whipping motion of the "working" leg. The dancer attempts to do these turns while remaining in the same spot and, of course, staying with the music.

After the Pas de Deux, there is a dramatic scene requiring acting and mime and even includes pyrotechnics at the end.

Act IV of Swan Lake

The tragic fourth act of Swan Lake returns to the lakeside with Odette, the White Swan, Prince Siegfried, and the full corps de ballet of swans. there are various versions of the ending, but all of them pertain to love, forgiveness, and the defeat of evil. This act is an excellent opportunity to enjoy the beautiful patterns formed by the corps de ballet.

Especially for Travelers, How to Say "Swan Lake" in Other Languages

"Swan Lake" is "Schwanensee" in German, "El lago de los cisnes" in Spanish, "Le lac de cygnes" in French, and "Il lago dei cigni" in Italian.

The Dying Swan - Not Part of Swan Lake

A Very Short Ballet Choreographed for Anna Pavlova

The Dying Swan is sometimes thought to be part of Swan Lake, but it is not. It is a very short ballet solo choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905 for Anna Pavlova to the cello solo Le Cygne (The Swan) from Camille Saint Saëns Le Carneval des Animaux (The Carnival of the animals). This was Anna Pavlova's most well-known ballet, and she performed it about 4000 times.

While not part of Swan Lake, The Dying Swan did influence interpretations of the leading role in Swan Lake, the role of Odette.

The Dying Swan - With Maya Plisetskaya of the Bolshoi Ballet

Swan Lake - Bolshoi Ballet - Maya Plisetskaya and Nicolai Fadeyechev

This is an older performance (from the 1950s) but has great historical significance.

Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake / Maya Plisetskaya, Bolshoi Theatre
Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake / Maya Plisetskaya, Bolshoi Theatre

Maya Plisetskaya (seen above in the YouTube video of The Dying Swan) was the prima ballerina assoluta of the Bolshoi Theatre and had a very long career performing until the age of 65. Swan Lake was one of her greatest ballets.


Your Favorite Ballet

Which Tchaikovsky ballet is your favorite?

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Questions and Comments

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    • Monica Ranstrom profile image

      Monica Ranstrom 5 years ago

      Nutcracker is the only one I've seen, with my god-daughter performing in it. Very fun. Nice lens!

    • profile image

      Katherine89135 5 years ago

      @jptanabe: Thank you so much for your kind comments and angel blessing!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 5 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Beautiful and informative lens on a wonderful ballet. Now I want to see Swan Lake again! Angel blessed

    • profile image

      Katherine89135 5 years ago

      @Rangoon House: Thank you so much for your kind words and blessing!

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      It is a while since I visited to enjoy your Swan Lake, but I couldn't stay away any longer and have left blessings this time, which I was unable to do on my first visit.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      Beautiful I love all of them, thanks for giving me back memories.

    • profile image

      djwiley 5 years ago

      Gotta love swan lake!

      I liked the video with descriptions...I think my wife is somewhere is the first video:)

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      I am a serious fan of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake! As a young gal, I studied ballet and toe and music too! Doesn't get any better than this!

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 6 years ago

      Fabulous Lens!

    • benzwm021 lm profile image

      benzwm021 lm 6 years ago

      Swan Lake is the best! thanks for posting these videos... i got to see pittsburgh ballet do swan lake once but i never got to be in it. These ballet bags might help you stay organized for rehearsals!

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image

      Bellezza-Decor 6 years ago from Canada

      This is a lovely, well presented Swan Lake Ballet lens.

    • Ilonagarden profile image

      Ilona E 6 years ago from Ohio

      This is a beautiful lens! I, too, love Swan Lake. You have done a wonderful job of presenting one of the best ballets.

    • profile image

      Katherine89135 6 years ago

      @LisaMarieGabriel: Thank you so much for your kind comment and Angel Blessing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thanks for providing the helpful videos on Swan Lake...

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Super lens onTchaikovsky and ballet. Sprinkling with some angeldust today! :)

    • Link2 LM profile image

      Link2 LM 6 years ago

      @GonnaFly: I agree with GonnaFly and I have plans of sharing these videos with two little ones taking ballet. Well done, Katherine!

    • profile image

      Katherine89135 6 years ago

      @GonnaFly: Thank you so much!

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      This looks like a fabulous educational lens.

    • profile image

      Katherine89135 7 years ago

      @indigoj: Thank you so much for your very kind comment!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Great use of videos - this is a lovely guide to Swan Lake!