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Why is Rothbart turning maidens into swans?


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47 replies to this topic

#1 felursus

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Posted 18 August 2001 - 01:01 AM

As things are very quiet these days, I thought I'd ask this burning question. Does Rothbart have a grudge against the fathers of all the swans - or only against Odette's? I know there was some discussion earlier about whether the other swans were Odette's companions who were with her when she was transfigured or whether they are other girls and Odette was just the most royal so got the title of queen. If they are companions, then we only have to worry about one grudge (companions' feelings don't count anyway), but if they were all changed separately, it opens a can of worms. Thirty-two seems an awful lot of companions for one girl to have! (Unless she went to public school in NYC!)

#2 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 18 August 2001 - 07:58 AM

barbecued wings? (mmmmm)

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 18 August 2001 - 02:02 PM

Now, now, pmeja, I'm all for silly season, but this is a serious question :)

She's a princess and princesses have ladies in waiting -- at least, that's what I've always thought. Structurally, I think the "companion" idea must come from the old court ballets, when the Princess really did dance with her ladies-in-waiting. Giselle has her little gang of friends, as does Swanhilda. If it's Odette's Mother who turned her into a swan to keep her safe from Von R, then it would make sense that she'd thoughtfully turn all the ladies in waiting into swans, too, so that Odette would have someone to swim with.

Now, for the $64,000 question -- why swans?

#4 Estelle

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Posted 18 August 2001 - 05:57 PM

<silly season again> Well, I think that it would have looked quite different if they had been hippopotamuses or turtles... :)

More seriously, I wonder if the idea of swan characters had been used in other ballets before "Swan lake"?

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 August 2001 - 06:24 PM

I wonder if anyone has encountered the story "The Stolen Veil" from Johann Musäus Popular German Legends? That's the root story from which the libretto is supposed to have sprung. What creatures are involved there?

>silly season again >Porcupines?<
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Which would be a distinct improvement over some presentations I've seen.

[ 08-18-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

[ 08-19-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 18 August 2001 - 06:45 PM

Before we get seriously off-track, could I ask that we keep silly season out of this forum generally? I'd like to build up an archive of material on these ballets and don't want to have to go through and read every post and cull out the jokes. If we want to have a silly season type post on swans and other ballet beasts, that might be a good topic for Anything Goes. (Thank you :) )

Estelle, I don't know if swans had been used in ballets before -- hard to imagine they wouldn't have been. I don't have time to check it, but anyone who has Wiley, Beaumont's book on Swan Lake, or Kirstein's Movement and Metaphor -- I'll bet there would be something in there.

[ 08-18-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#7 felursus

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Posted 19 August 2001 - 12:58 AM

It's not Odette's mother who turns her into a swan, it's Rothbart - in revenge for???? or is he a fairy tale version of a child molester or serial rapist??

Would a royal princess have as many as 32 ladies-in-waiting? But if they aren't Odette's friends from before her transfiguration, then who are they/ :confused:

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 19 August 2001 - 07:08 AM

I think the swan angle may have something to do with the geographical location of whereveritis in Germany the ballet is supposed to take place. The swan has been a heraldric charge in Bavaria, specifically of the Royal Family, the Wittelsbachs. Ludwig II took this aspect of his heritage to an extreme, as he did with so much of it. So maybe the ballet is supposed to be set in southern Germany in some principality or tributary state of Bavaria?

#9 Guest_justDANCE_*

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Posted 19 August 2001 - 06:06 PM

I've actually thought about this some. Perhaps Rothbart, being an overly grown beast-like creature (it varies from performance to performance) is captured by, and rather jealous of swans (them being one of the most graceful bird). So he picked out the prettiest, most petite girls he could find (feeding on his jealousy of pretty, petite things) and turned them into swans, so he could spend the day looking at them, wishing he were just as graceful, and beautiful. And maybe he choose one of the most graceful and prettiest BIRDS because he really wishes he could fly, and not just leap about the stage, although almost gracefully, still rather grotesquely. Hmm...maybe Rothbart really is a nice guy, he just has some psycological problems.

Hope this all makes sense!

Emily :)

#10 Ellis

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Posted 19 August 2001 - 07:33 PM

I agree with the Ladies in waiting theory, it makes the most sense to me. I think historically french (?) princesses did have 32 or more ladies in waiting, though I could be wrong

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 19 August 2001 - 07:47 PM

During the era of Louis XIV, court etiquette (the term dates from then) grew to be an extremely complex and convoluted matter, and attendants upon certain persons was rigidly codified under the authority of the King, who often preserved "ancient privileges and prerogatives" in his selection of appropriate retinues for his subordinates and himself. Under certain circumstances, the Duchess of Burgundy could have more attendants than a Princess of the Blood Royal!

But all this hearks back to Louis himself, and the concept of the rightness of the Absolute Divine Right Monarchy. Ludwig II may have been called "Mad King Ludwig", but his stand in favor of absolutism was much admired in late-19th-century Russia. I recently discovered a set of hunt silver made in Russia in 1876, according to the hallmarks on the pieces, and they were highly decorated with swans! I learned, from following up with some research, that the swan was very popular as a design motif in the 1875-1885 era in Russia, largely as a tribute to Ludwig's championship of absolutism!

[ 08-19-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

#12 Ellis

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Posted 19 August 2001 - 08:06 PM

oh wow, that's really cool. It makes a little more sense now

#13 felursus

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 01:42 AM

Thanks, Mel for that information. But anybody who knows swans will know that they aren't just pretty and graceful: they are really MEAN. I've been chased by one (he wanted a roll I had in my hand), and it was truly scary. He could run really fast on land as well! Someone should create a ballet on the subject of a helpless creature being hounded by a vengeful swan! (Have you ever heard one hiss?) :)

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 06:21 AM

Yeah, mute swans (the ones that hiss) are particularly nasty. Trumpeter swans (the ones that bark) are nicer. I've always wondered about von Rothbart's taste in ornithology. Why change somebody into a really big, bad-tempered animal with villainous table manners? And further, one that could possibly do you harm? Some productions have made use of the dark side of the swan personality, and have them nibbling various characters to death; a truly horrible way to go!

[ 08-20-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

#15 Jane Simpson

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 07:26 AM

Originally posted by felursus:
But if they aren't Odette's friends from before her transfiguration, then who are they


Maybe they're swans, magically transformed into maidens at night?

(More seriously) C W Beaumont's book quotes lots of antecedents for the woman/swan transformation story; and he also gives the libretto for the original Swan Lake, which I thought was fascinating. Odette tells Siegfried that the spell she's under was put on her by her grandfather, not out of spite but to protect her from her wicked stepmother. The lake is made up of his tears, and he keeps Odette there, just letting her out at night close to the lake where he can keep an eye on her. But during the day he turns her (and her friends, which may be a clue in this discussion) into swans - not as a punishment but so that they can fly away safely and have a good time!


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