Is Swan Lake On Your Bucket List? Here’s Why it Should Be.

January 17, 2013

Swan Lake

Linda Besant

OBT Dance Historian Linda Besant

Visit the Grand Canyon, or the Taj Mahal. Attend a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Or—Swan Lake. For over a century, countless people across all cultures have included seeing Swan Lake on their list of must-have experiences. You could say that this celebrated ballet holds a secure place on humanities’ cultural “bucket list.”

We know many people who have a deep love for Swan Lake, from their careers as dancers or as dance audience members who’ve seen this ballet time and again. We asked them why they think Swan Lake touches everyone so deeply.

Here’s what they said, illuminated by photos from Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production and from great performances over the last century.


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Anna Pavlova as Odette and Nicolas Legat as Prince Siegfried. 1908. Photo: Zander and Labisch

Swan Lake has incredible music, breathtaking choreography, and dancers who put the breath of life into it all. It touches my soul, connects me with something deep and profound and once again shows the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

- Kristine Denslow, OBT audience

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The Swan corps de ballet, the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden.

“The flow of beauty on the stage, the grand music filling the space, the enduring impression on the audience…it IS classic ballet.”

- Richard Testhut, OBT audience

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The Grand Promenade, Act III of Christopher Stowell’s Swan Lake (after Petipa and Ivanov). OBT. 2006. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

“Swan Lake is absolutely enchanting!  The dancing is fabulous—vibrant and perfectly nuanced. I felt transported every time I saw it! Can’t wait to see it several times again!”

- Ellen Nielsen, OBT audience

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Yuka Iino as Odette and Ruben Martin as Prince Siegfried, Act IV. OBT, 2006. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert


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Swan Lake corps de ballet, Sadler’s Wells Ballet, 1950

Anne_Mueller“Swan Lake represents classical dance at its finest. It was the first ballet I saw as a little girl and it made me fall in love with the art form.”

- Anne Mueller, OBT Interim Artistic Director

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Anne Mueller and Stephen Houser in the Neopolitan divertissement, Act III of Christopher Stowell’s Swan Lake, OBT, 2008. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Kate_OderkirkSwan Lake was also the first ballet I saw as a little girl and it had the same effect on me as Anne. My mother bought a VHS of the Kirov Swan Lake and the most vivid memory I have from childhood is dancing around my living room while that video was on trying to copy what the dancers were doing on tape. It’s an epic ballet for both dancers and audience and will always stand the test of time.”

- Kate Oderkirk, OBT Company Artist

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Alison Roper as Odile and Artur Sultanov as Prince Siegfried in the Grand Pas de Deux, Act III, OBT, 2006. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert


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Jacqueline Martin Schumacher as Odette and Lew Christensen as Prince Siegfried, San Francisco Ballet, 1940. Photo: G. Ludé, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Musuem

Jacqueline_SchumacherSwan Lake is perfect for everyone who is coming to the ballet for the very first time because the story is so compelling. People get completely caught up in the story, but at the same time they see beautiful classical dancing with impeccable technique.”

- Jacqueline Martin Schumacher, the first American-born dancer to perform the role of Odette, the White Swan Queen, in 1940; and revered teacher of ballet in Portland

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Yuka Iino as Odette and Ronnie Underwood as Prince Siegfried, Act IV. OBT, 2008. Photo: Ben Kerns

Christopher_StowellSwan Lake is an archetypal love story that we can all relate to at one level or another.”

- Christopher Stowell, choreographer of OBT’s Swan Lake (after Petipa and Ivanov)

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Alicia Alonso as Odile and Hugo Guffanti as Von Rothbart, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, 1968.

Swan Lake transports you to the mindset of classical art in the 19th Century:  good versus evil; purity versus cunning; reality versus enchantment; the power of love, the fate of innocence.  All this set to steps, mime and the best of 19th Century music – Tchaikovsky at his very finest.”

- Susan Franzen, OBT audience


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Title page of the first piano score for Swan Lake, published in Moscow, late 1800s

Lucas_Threefoot“The music!”

- Lucas Threefoot, OBT Soloist

Art historian and ballet patron Lincoln Kirstein called Tchaikovsky’s score

“one of the richest ever written for dancing.”

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Swan corps de ballet with Music Director Niel DePonte. OBT, 2006. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.


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Yuka Iino as Odile and Ronnie Underwood as Prince Siegfried in the Grand Pas de Deux, Act III. OBT, 2008. Photo: Ben Kerns

“I have attended Swan Lake countless times, but you need to see it at least once to be prepared for the next time you go—the better to appreciate all the portent and foreshadowing, and be clued in to traditional bravura:  Will the Four Cygnets fall out of unison?  How dazzling will the Black Swan’s fouettés be this performance?  Not to mention, can you refrain from pounding your armrest in despair at the point where (spoiler alert) Prince Siegfried swears his love for Odile, thus dooming Odette…”

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Yuka Iino as Odile and Jonathan Porretta as Prince Siegfried, Act III. OBT, 2004. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

“…But that aside:  Best score of any full-length ballet, so even if you determine you don’t enjoy the dancing you’ve had a good night at the symphony.”

- Martha Logan, OBT audience

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The Swan corps de ballet. OBT, 2006. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Dan_Bergsvik“Tutus, tights and terrific tunes! What’s not to love?”

- Dan Bergsvik, OBT audience

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Alison Roper as Odile, Act III. OBT, 2006. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

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