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Alexandra, June 24, 2001 in Swan Lake
Who is Odette?
Well, in productions that still have the mime, she tells us, and I'm willing to take her at her - uh - "word"!
I know what Odette is not! She is not a 'fallen woman whose story has already unfolded as the ballet begins' as I once heard her described. To me she is a woman who has a purity of love and spirit and a soul big enough to forgive Seigfried's betrayal. In the end even though their lives end in this realm, it is because of Odette's forgiveness that they rise to a higher existence. A bit like Giselle & Albrecht.
I would like to make all producers and would-be producers of "Swan Lake" write, 10,000 times for homework, "Odette is not a bird. Odette is not a bird. Odette is not..."
I have been thinking about this one, and it seems that there is no one phrase that classifies who Odette is. Maybe I could say that she is a creature of myth and legend, and thus can be the embodiment of many different human fantasies, but to classify her as a "bird/woman", an "enchanted princess" or otherwise does not seem to do her justice. Along with some mime, I guess I'll take some philosophy with my full-length Swan Lake.
[ 06-25-2001: Message edited by: leibling ]
leibling, in line with your response was something I read about Fonteyn, who said that Odette was Woman, not a woman. She said she knew everything about Giselle -- what her room looked like, what she wore, whast she ate -- but had never been moved to ask such questions about Odette. I think "Swan Lake," (like "Folk Tale") has some deep philosophical significance that some dancers sense instinctivley -- unfortunately, not those who end up staging productions of the ballet, unfortunately.
I hadn't included the one acts in my list, but in addition to the Balanchine (and I like the new black swans one, at least the designs) when I started going to the ballet nearly every regional company did Swan Lake Act II and I saw a lot of them. Still like the ballet
And I'd second Mary's comments about Tomasson's "Swan Lake" being set in the 18th century. It's like setting Wuthering Heights in downtown L.A. If he'd had some theory that Swan Lake was really a product of the Age of Reason, then maybe there would have been a point to it, but it was just (more or less) Swan Lake, plunked down in a manicured garden.
Another thought... more about the swans in general than just Odette... they could also represent the separation of social classes: the swans could be peasant girls, that, at night, are freed from their chores and hardships, becoming beautiful girls. They could never marry into higher society (ie. Prince Siegfred).
In the mime scene that's always cut, I believe part of it explains that the Swans are her friends (her court, her ladies in waiting?) who her mother put under the spell with her so she'd have someone to play with. IF Odette finds a Prince "pure of heart" who loves her so much he will die for her, not only will she be free of the curse and returned to human form, but so will her swans.
There was at least one version (a Soviet one; filmed in condensed form on "Stars of the Russian Ballet" with Ulanova as Odette and Plisetskaya as Odile. Well, you had to be there) where, after Prince Siegfried vanquishes Rothbart in hand to hand combat, the curse IS lifted, and Odette and her ladies end the ballet in human form.
But leibling's idea could be one of the harmless revisions -- it parallels the serf ballerinas, real life "swans" who had to till the fields by day and dance for the nobles at night.
I had always imagined that EITHER the other swans were other girls VR had enchanted because he had a grudge against their parents too OR girls he enchanted to keep Odette company OR her companions on the day she was enchanted. I had also imagined that VR had some kind of a grudge against Odette's parents (he wasn't invited to her christening?) and so.... Swans are considered to be Royal birds. In England all the swans on the Thames belong to the Crown. The image of the swan as beautiful, graceful, and somewhat remote ignores the fact that they can be very nasty birds indeed - surprisingly, they run quite fast on land - I've been chased by one!
The reason that swans belong to the Crown in England is not very romantic. The "upper classes" used to eat them, and the tradition of ownership is kept alive, though they are not eaten any more, so far as I know.
[ 06-30-2001: Message edited by: Helena ]
Kind of like the royal prohibition on taking ponies in the New Forest. Have to control the harvest somehow!
Back in the Dark Ages, the Royal Ballet had a production in which the Siegfried had to bow to his mother before running off into the night to go try explaining his idiocy to Odette. The late David Daniels, who much later became the dance critic for Vogue made up the following dialogue for that moment: Siegfried, in a little boy's voice: "Mommy, can I please go out and play now?" "Yes, dear, but be sure to be back in time for dinner. We're having your favorite dish: roast swan."
Another reason why I think it's wise to have the Princess Mother out of action when Siegfried exits. At one time, the Royal suggested that she had had some sort of seizure and died! It gave Deanne Bergsma a nice opportunity to pitch down the steps to the throne and arrange the corpse decoratively.
Back to the other swans: Alexandra (or anyone), do the other swans revert to human form at night, as does Odette? Or are there different rules governing their enchantment? It seems as if they must remain swans, else why would Siegfried have to be told not to shoot them, but it hardly seems logical. This question was just posed by an analytical twelve year old seeing her first Swan Lake
I think the other swans have the same Curse Curfew Rules as Odette. Nearly every "Swan Lake" I have seen, however, implies that they're all swans because, as you point out, otherwise why would Siegfried have to be told not to shoot them? A little dry ice (originally, steam? Doug or Mel?) might help here.
I think Siegfried is supposed to have his bow cocked to shoot and the Swans were hidden in the mists? Or he it is part of the confusion and magic of the moment. He expects to see swans, and readies for them. It's when Odette comes out and says, "No, these are my friends" that he puts down the bow. (I believe then the huntsmen came on, bows also cocked, and Siegfried has to stop them from shooting.) I have faith that this all once made perfect sense through the way it was performed, when everyone knew what he or she was doing. That tradition having been lost, perhaps what's going on now is partly that the dancers are trying to make sense of the action on their own without guidance (or having been told the story properly) and/or the stager has a different idea.
There's a school of thought that says that the second act has become swannier through the years, first after "The Dying Swan", then after various performers added flappier and flappier arms. Poll the audience, I'll bet most of them think they're all swans, not women. Bright 12-year-old
If light can be both wave and particle, why can't these gals be both women and swans? I always imagine them being in a magically indeterminate state. I mean, why would shooting them be even a hypothetical consideration if they're clearly women? And if they're clearly swans, why not shoot them?
Overheard at the first intermission of Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House:
"She looks like a swan, she dances like a swan, just perfect"
The dancer was Uliana Lopatkina.
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