Synopsis

Act I – The Prince’s Birthday

It is Prince Siegfried’s twenty-first birthday and he is celebrating with friends. The Queen arrives to give him his gift of a crossbow, and reminds him that he must choose a bride at the ball the next evening, as he is to become King. Siegfried, realizing that his carefree days are at an end, wants to be alone. His friend Benno suggests they go hunting to help him find solace.

 

Act II – The Lake

Prince Siegfried, Benno and their friends arrive in the forest to hunt and Siegfried, once again, decides that he wants to be left alone.  Siegfried enters a moonlit clearing by a lake and sees a magnificent swan in flight. He carefully takes aim with his crossbow, but, to his astonishment, the bird transforms into a beautiful woman, and he withdraws into the trees to observe her. Unable to resist his curiosity, he steps out, only to startle and frighten her. He assures her he will do her no harm and asks her to explain the marvel he has just seen. Odette tells him she is a Princess of high birth who fell under the spell of an evil sorcerer, cursing her to be a swan, and only assuming her human form in the hours of darkness. Indeed, this very lake is filled with her mother’s tears. She tells him she is condemned for eternity, and the spell can only be broken if her one true love swears his love for her. But if he should forswear her, she will remain a swan forever. At that moment the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart appears. The Prince, astonished, reaches for his crossbow, but Odette immediately protects the sorcerer for she knows that if he is killed before the spell is broken, she too will die. The sorcerer disappears, and Odette slips away into the forest. Siegfried realizes his fate is now entwined with hers. Dawn approaches and Odette is compelled by the spell to return to her guise as a swan. Siegfried is left awestruck.

Act III – The Ball

Heralds and trumpets announce the start of the ball. Eligible young princesses from all over the world arrive to be introduced to Prince Siegfried so that he may choose a bride. The prospective brides dance with Siegfried and the Queen reminds him that he must choose one for his wife. As Siegfried struggles with his responsibility to marry, his mind remains with Odette and he cannot choose. Trumpets announce an uninvited guest – Von Rothbart with his daughter Odile. After the presentation of national dances, Von Rothbart holds the court in thrall and Siegfried is seduced by the beautiful Odile, mistaking her for his love, Odette. Siegfried announces his intention to marry Odile and swears his true love to her, believing that it will break Von Rothbart’s curse. Von Rothbart and Odile laugh at Siegfried’s blunder, who realizes that he has been the victim of a terrible plot. The scene darkens, and Odette is seen weeping at the castle door. Grief-stricken, Siegfried rushes to the lakeside.

Act IV – The Lake

At the lake, Odette is surrounded by her fellow swans, mourning her fate. Siegfried bursts into the glade, discovers Odette and begs for her forgiveness. Odette tells Siegfried that because of his betrayal, she must now remain a swan forever. Siegfried, knowing that his destiny is forever changed, declares his true love for her one last time. As dawn approaches, Von Rothbart appears, and reminds him of his pledge to Odile, threatening the lovers. Their only course of action is to throw themselves into the lake. Upon their deaths, Von Rothbart is vanquished and his curse is broken.

Apotheosis

The lovers are united forever in the hereafter.

Timeline

 

1877
The first version of Swan Lake is presented at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Choreographed by Julius Reisinger, the ballet is inspired by the book by V.P. Begitchev and Vasily Geltzer.

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1895
The first four-act Swan Lake, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, premieres at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

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1951
George Balanchine’s one-act version of Swan Lake premieres at New York City Ballet.

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1964
Pennsylvania Ballet performs the Black Swan Pas de Deux, with choreography by ballet master Frano Jelincic, based on the work of Lev Ivanov.

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1972
Pennsylvania Ballet performs Act III of Swan Lake, choreographed by The Royal Ballet’s Christopher Newton. A month later, the Ballet performs it again, this time with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

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1980
Pennsylvania Ballet performs Act II and the Black Swan Pas de Deux. Both are choreographed by Artistic Director Benjamin Harkarvy, based on Ivanov.

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2004
Pennsylvania Ballet premieres Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake.

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2010
The Academy Award-winning film Black Swan is released. Featuring Pennsylvania Ballet dancers, the film focuses on a ballerina preparing to perform in Swan Lake.

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2018
Pennsylvania Ballet premieres Angel Corella’s Swan Lake, based on Petipa’s choreography.

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