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Black and White Swans in Swan Lake

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In the swan corps, at the end of the Kirov's Swan Lake with Yulia Makhalina and Igor Zelensky, there are black and white swans. Isn't this unusual? I was wondering about the significance others read into this... presumably the black swans are there for more than just providing a visual contrast?

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Baryshnikov's version for ABT had black swans amongst the white ones -- if memory is correct, they were the cygnets plus two. Some of my friends thought this reinforced the fact that they were under Rothbart's spell (there is also a moment after his death when they clap their hands, apparently to indicate that they no longer had wings and had resumed human form). The b&w scheme does allow a choreographer to make interesting floor patterns, but I find it a bit too jarring after the monochrome of the first lakeside act.

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Didn't the new production of Swan Lake -- Act II at NYCB in the 80's have black swans as well? I seem to remember a story about Balanchine wanting black swans, and the black netting material having been purchaed and stowed away in case there was a new production.

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The whole corps was in black.

I loved that production! It was, with its black swans and silver-blue icy stalactite (those are the ones which point up, right?) backdrop, a good 1980s take on Gothic. Somehow, it was just as fitting, IMO, as a lake in a forest with a castle on a distant hill. And it helped emphasize the more (I hate this word :shake: ) abstract nature of Balanchine's setting.

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Yes, I remember that production too. But I couldn't place it in time, so I Googled up the following (1986):

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...ine%2C%20George

Helene and carbro, your memories are quite accurate it turns out. Those upward-ponting stalagmites were apparently supposed to be icebergs. (My mnemonic for that term goes like this: the ones that are up in the air and pointing down are like trapeezists in "tights". "Mites" crawl around in contact with the ground.)

All I recall is a feeling of feeling disoriented :):):shake: and wishing for the old white swans to be back. However, this was certainly, preferable, in my opinion, to a mixture of black and white. I understand the plot ratiionales for the latter, but I've always felt it looks like they ran out of white tutus and had to raid the costume racks from another ballet.

An interesting rationale for the new look--

''Mr. Balanchine discussed the idea often and with many people,'' says Peter Martins, the company's co-ballet-master-in-chief. ''His choreography has been retained, of course, but with some small mathematical changes to accommodate the increased number of dancers.'' For this production, the number of swan maidens attending the Swan Queen has been increased from 22 to 28.

''Balanchine was very excited at the idea of the black swans,'' Mr. Kirstein recalls. ''He thought it might make us see the ballet again. Our 'Swan Lake' has never been traditional, anyway. Balanchine created it as an homage to Lev Ivanov, the choreographer of the lakeside acts. The idea always has been to challenge our received notions of 'Swan Lake' in order to discover the possibilities within the greatest score ever composed for a ballet. Actually, the score always has been the problem.''

Does anyone know how long it was performed this way? And why it was changed back to white?

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A guess: when the icebergs melted due to a change in climate -- either artistic or meterological. :shake:

Also, I haven't seen Balanchine's black version since PM mounted his evening-length staging. It may be too costly to store and, uh, restore two wardrobes. It's probably a great cost saver at this point to have one consistent look for the swans in whichever version they appear.

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if memory serves this topic has been discussed at some length on this site. i don't know how to link to the previous thread, but i suspect some web-savvy BT members do.

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I always thought they were visiting Australians.

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... or the New Zealand Rugby Team. (The "All Blacks.") :shake:

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In the swan corps, at the end of the Kirov's Swan Lake with Yulia Makhalina and Igor Zelensky, there are black and white swans. Isn't this unusual? I was wondering about the significance others read into this... presumably the black swans are there for more than just providing a visual contrast?

It doesn't answer to your question ans it doesn't directly concern the post but....don't you think Makhalina gives a very bad interpretation of both Odette and Odile?Zelensky is so good,one of my favourite dancers(not in one of his best roles but charming anyway),but I just can't watch her in this dvd.And the corps of ballet?awful!ok that nobody looks at the corps when the two protagonists are on stage,but at least a little sign of presence!some of them look like they are on the subway,falling asleep or thinking about what to buy at the supermarket!I really don't like this dvd...

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Thanks for the links to the previous posts!

I am not sure how to quote from another thread but in 2005 in Act IV problems rg said,

"the following sentence preceeds wiley's discussion of odette's return to the final lakeside scene in the 1895 production of the petipa/ivanov SWAN LAKE, it comes at the end of a paragraph about the choreographic figures in the last act's waltz:

'The rest of the waltz proceeds as sequence of episodes alternating the corps with soloists; the black swans enrich the complexity of Ivanov's figures to excellent effect (one wonders if the rose-colored swan maidens, contemplated by Petipa, would in fact have been any improvement).)'

real cygnets, i believe, are a kind of mousy brown hue, thus perhaps this was the color that the intended 'rose' hue was meant to suggest. i suppose we'll never quite know..."

If Odile's costume was originally not in black (see wikipedia quote) then having black cygnets would not be about good and evil. However. for me, having them both in black connects the black of the cygnets with the evil of Odile's black. Does anyone else also feel this makes a change in meaning?

And on wikipedia Swan Lake 1895

"The character of Odile was not a "Black Swan" at all in either the original production of 1877 nor in the revival of 1895, and she was not performed as such for many years - she was simply Von Rothbart's evil daughter until sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s. As Odile, Pierina Legnani appeared in a glittering multi-colored costume with no feathers to be found - obviously to appear more as an enchantress than as a "Black Swan". Later Performances at the Mariinsky Theatre of Swan Lake used similar costume designs for Odile throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century. It is unknown when the tradition of having Odile performed as a "Black Swan" began, but most historians point to a 1941 staging of the third scene (AKA the "Ballroom Scene") performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York."

"At the beginning of the fourth scene, after a brief interlude, the second of the additions to the ballet was danced - another Waltz of the Swans to Drigo's orchestration of a piece from Tchaikovsky's Opus 72 for Piano - No. 11 Valse Bluette. This Waltz is still retained by many companies, particularly the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet and the Royal Ballet. Ivanov choreographed this Waltz, based on Petipa's sketches, for both white and black Swans. "

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Personally, i want to see the SL with monocromatic II and IV Acts ,as representatives of the "Ballet Blanc" concept...

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And of course there's the obvious allegorical element to the introduction of black swans in the last act, even if they are badly outnumbered. Too much yin, not enough yang. There's bad and good in the world, but these youngsters aren't any different from their elder sisters in terms of deportment, so don't judge your swan by the color of her feathers. As to the Act III Odile costume, I still think it's a midnight blue foundation, but remember in Tolkien, how Saruman (The White) is described as having a robe that is white only because it contains all colors and keeps moving. Something of this kind of optical illusion may have been on Ponomarev's mind. When Gandalf is carried away into the West, healed and retranslated to Middle-Earth, he is the true White Wizard with no tricks involved.

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I'd always assumed that the black swans in the final act were a sign of Seigfried's betrayal.

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There are apparently many possible explanations for the black-v-white costuming.

The question that occurs to me is: how effective can a symbolic visual effect be if it confuses most people -- actually distracting them from what is going on -- and requires reading program notes before the performance?

It seems to me that color symbolism such as that involving the mixed black-white swan in the corps merely puzzles or distracts audiences more than it moves or enlightens them. It seems imposed by the director from above rather than arising from the nature of the story itself. Doesn't this defeat the purpose?

Color symbolism in literature -- and thanks, Mel, for those references to the Tolkien books -- is another matter. A good writer can integrate explanation into his text in a way that someone creating from the stage cannot.

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The cygnets in Act II are white, so there isn't much reason for them to turn black in Act IV.

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I'd always assumed that the black swans in the final act were a sign of Seigfried's betrayal.

This symbolism resonates strongly with me.

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The cygnets in Act II are white, so there isn't much reason for them to turn black in Act IV.

Totally agree...And then, is there any proof of the use of the black swans in the imperial days...any reference in the Sergueyev C.?

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.....

An interesting rationale for the new look--

''Mr. Balanchine discussed the idea often and with many people,'' says Peter Martins, the company's co-ballet-master-in-chief. ''His choreography has been retained, of course, but with some small mathematical changes to accommodate the increased number of dancers.'' For this production, the number of swan maidens attending the Swan Queen has been increased from 22 to 28.

''Balanchine was very excited at the idea of the black swans,'' Mr. Kirstein recalls. ''He thought it might make us see the ballet again. Our 'Swan Lake' has never been traditional, anyway. Balanchine created it as an homage to Lev Ivanov, the choreographer of the lakeside acts. The idea always has been to challenge our received notions of 'Swan Lake' in order to discover the possibilities within the greatest score ever composed for a ballet. Actually, the score always has been the problem.''

Does anyone know how long it was performed this way? And why it was changed back to white?

It wasn't changed back to white, but Martins' full-length Swan Lake has (probably temporarily) replaced Mr. B's 1 act sort-of-synopsis. Probably some season in the not-too-distant future, they will bring back the one act, and the black swans will reappear.

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Though I've never taken the time to study the history of Swan Lake costuming, I can't imagine that the presence of black swans is completely unusual. A photograph of a student production of Swan Lake that my mother danced in in the 1950s shows both white and black swans in the corps. There must have been some precedent for this since I can't imagine Utica, New York, as a place for radical costuming innovation.

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the final act black-clad swan maidens have been in place since petipa & ivanov's production in 1895 - petipa's notes, quoted by wiley include a one-time plan to add 'rose colored' costuming to some of the ensemble in the final act.

since most productions in the west referred, at least early on, to the extant petipa/ivanov scheme, this detailing would have been included as a matter of course when budget allowed.

there is a striking photo of a very young vera trefilova in a black swan maiden costume, complete w/ black tights, black toeshoes and unbound hair, in a cat. of historic opera/ballet images from an exhibit celebrating the maryinsky - 1783 - 2003.

so the initial appearance of these dark-toned swan maidens seems to have been for adolescent, student dancers.

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