In Swan Lake, opening Friday at Chapman Hall of the Performing Arts Center, the Tulsa Ballet will stage one of the oldest and best loved ballets in the world.
The ballet, based on a libretto by Vladimir Begichev is based on an ancient German legend telling the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart.
It's the classic tale of love and turmoil, fate and fortitude, though its early inceptions were somewhat shaky. Prior to Swan Lake, the ballet's composer, Tchaikovsky, had created a ballet called The Lake of the Swans in 1871.
He and Begichev belonged to a Moscow artistic circle known as the Shihovskaya Salon, and it is likely through that acquaintance that in 1875 Begichev commissioned the score for Swan Lake for about 800 roubles. Julius Reisinger was commissioned to choreograph the work.
"Swan Lake is a hard ballet to bring to reality," says Artistic Director Marcello Angelini, "but its charisma lays between its story - that is more a legend, a fairy tale, rather than something modeled after a reality show - and the reality of the feelings that the two lovers share."
When the curtain rises, Prince Siegfried, heir to the throne, is in distress because he must choose a wife at his birthday ball, when he really wishes to marry for love. He retreats into the forest, whether he meets and falls in love with Odette, who is swan by day and woman by night. Other swan maidens accompany Odette at the lake, filling the stage with bird-like dancers.
Once Siegfried learns of Odette's ordeal, he swears his love for her, which will render Von Rothbart's spell powerless. Then, the sorcerer appears, and though Siegfried vows to kill him, Odette intervenes -- if Von Rothbart dies, the spell can never be broken.
At the prince's birthday ball, Von Rothbart attends in disguise with his daughter, Odile, dressing her as a swan, identical to Odette in every way except that she is white, and Odile is dressed in black. The prince, of course, mistakes Odile for Odette and proclaims to the court that she will be his wife. Too late, Siegfried sees the real Odette and realizes his mistake.
The Lake of the Swans was first presented by the Bolshoi Theatre on Feb. 27, 1877 in Moscow. The ballet was the first of its kind, set to the score of a symphonic composer. Prior to Swan Lake, scores for ballets were written by "specialists" in the field.
The first performance was not well-received; critics disliked nearly everything about the ballet, including the dancers, the orchestra and the décor. The considered the score too complicated for ballet.
In April of 1877, Anna Sobeshchanskaya, prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre, was to dance the part of Odette. Dissatisfied with the production of the ballet, she traveled to St. Petersburg to have Marius Petipa, Maitre de Ballet of the Imperial Ballet, choreograph a new Pas de Deux especially for her.
When Tchaikovsky learned of this, he was very angry but agreed to score new music to match the new dance. That choreography is most often what modern ballets recreate when staging their own versions of Swan Lake.
In TB's Swan Lake, however, acts one, three and four were choreographed by Angelini.
"While Swan Lake is a great classic, only the second act has survived, with a certain degree of certainty, from the original choreography," Angelini said.
"I have been very lucky to dance five different versions, and many shows (I stopped counting at 85) of this classic in two continents and four countries," said Angelini. "I learned it from the best of the best and, while dancing it, I managed to get my own ideas about what I liked about each version and what I didn't."
From his conclusions, Angelini said he came up with a few bullet points to serve as the foundation for TB's own Swan Lake. They are, "Keep it under two and a half hours (the original score is four hours long), cut everything that is not pertinent to the story, challenge every dancer in the company with choreography that is intricate, make sure the principal dancers understand and are able to tell a very simple story, not one of a prince in love with a feathered bird, but one of two people who are in love and, despite their differences, fight to make their love become a reality.
"And, make the old magician Rothbart the alter-ego of the prince -- his dark side, the part of him that drives the relationship. Once the two parts of the prince reconcile, the swan becomes a maiden and love is possible."
In the middle of a season of world premieres and modern dances, Swan Lake provides TB the opportunity to show off its classical side -- the sheer difficulty of the ballet is a testament to TB's ability to provide world-class ballet theatre.
Earlier in the season, of his decision to stage Swan Lake, Angelini said, "For this year of celebrations, I chose the [ballet] that also marked my first choreography in 1998, Swan Lake. This version of the classic is also a first for Tulsa Ballet, as it was the first full-length Swan Lake ever performed by our organization. This is yet another landmark for the company."
The score will be performed by the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Ramona Pensagrau.
The ballet opens this Friday, Feb. 9 at 8pm and continues Sat., Feb. 10, also at 8pm. Sat., Feb. 11's performance is at 3pm. All performances will be in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Hall, 2nd and Cincinnati. Ticket prices are $20-$70, with discounts for children and seniors, and may be purchased at the box office, at www.tulsapac.com or by calling 596-7111.
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