Swan Lake: The Classic Ballet

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Swan Lake at the Academy of Art in Philadelphia. As I explained to my friends after the performance, I had only been to small productions of The Nutcracker before, so I considered this to be my true first time at a ballet. Since the day we went to the performance also happened to be the last day of the Philadelphia Flower Show and the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, our train took about three times as long as usual. Running through the streets of Philadelphia in high heels reminded me of two things: 1) tv shows which feature female FBI agents in hot pursuit of criminals in high heels either hire very talented women or are a completely false picture of life, and 2) it is always smart to make sure your shoes fit perfectly, since shoes which are even slightly too big will leave scars.  Even though we may have had to run through the streets of Philadelphia to get there on time, appearing a bit disheveled, the show was worth it. The performance was breathtaking. Several times I had to remind myself to close my mouth; my jaw gaped in amazement at the precision and strength of the dancers as they twirled and leapt across the stage in perfect time to the live orchestra.

The Pennsylvania Ballet put on a traditional rendition of the classic, Swan Lake, under the guidance of Angel Corella, the show’s Artistic Director. On their website, the PA Ballet highlights the intentional decision to perform the Swan Lake in a traditional fashion. Angel Corella stated, “We’ll present this iconic ballet in its truest, purest form. I hope you’ll be thrilled by the drama, the virtuosic dancing, and of course, mesmerized by Tchaikovsky’s exquisite score.” In my opinion, the goal set forth by Corella was accomplished; the dance routines paired with Tchaikovsky’s original score brought to life the dramatic story of love and magic that comprises Swan Lake.

Audiences watching Swan Lake today would be surprised to find that when this ballet premiered in 1877, the reception was less than overwhelming. Some believe that the reason behind Swan Lake’s initial failure was the difficulty of the dance routines. Others thought the story was uninspired. But regardless of the reason, the ballet was less than warmly received by the public eye and particularly the critics’ unfriendly pens.

The original choreographer, Marius Petipa, and musical composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, both undoubtedly left their mark on their respective fields. According to the PA Ballet, “The value of Petipa’s accomplishments on ballet is immeasurable. He produced more than 60 full-evening ballets, countless shorter works, and he is considered to have laid the foundation for the entire school of Russian ballet.”  Near the end of his career, Petipa was under scrutiny for the classical style of his choreography, with many criticising his work for being too ‘old-fashioned’. Along with the massive talent of Petipa, Swan Lake had the additional skill of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in its genesis. Tchaikovsky is notable for his work on numerous productions including The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.

I was certainly surprised, and I believe many who watch the stunning production now would be as well, to hear that a masterpiece such as Swan Lake could be passed over as boring or old-fashioned by initial audiences. However, history is full of examples of iconic pieces of art being passed over. For example, the beloved film which ushered in color cinema, The Wizard of Oz, was a box office flop. Then there was It’s a Wonderful Life, which is a Christmas movie staple in my own household and many other families, which was a failure upon first release. As for TV shows, initially shows such as Friends and The Office were met with harsh criticism, but transformed into cultural landmarks. And as the recently released film, Loving Vincent, highlights, the artist Vincent Van Gogh was overlooked in his time, only becoming one of the world’s most famous painters posthumously. I believe Swan Lake is another example of a piece of art which goes unrecognized for a time as the iconic work that it is, only to be revered for generations to come. These examples serve as an encouragement to pursue one’s creative endeavors in the face of criticism, knowing that recognition may not come when we expect it, but what we create matters anyway.

Sources: thoughtco.com; paballet.org; digitalspy.com; onlineuniversities.com.

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