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Balanchine's "Swan Lake"


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I have never seen BAlanchine's "Swan Lake", and it is more unlilely that I shall ever will (I am at the opposite side of the American continent)

I just would like someone to clarify what are exactly the changes made by Balancihine for his version of Swan Lake. Is it similar / the same concept of what he did for Raymonda in his "Raymonda Variations" (which I did indeed see)? Is it only the second act?

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This is a very hard question to answer, Silvy. What Balanchine presented in his one-act Swan Lake changed over time; sections were added and deleted.

The version takes pieces of Act II (the pas) and Act IV (the finale, and some of the waltzes of the swans).

Also, a lot of your questions can be answered in the following reference books:

Choreography by George Balanchine: A Catalogue of Works

Repertory in Review by Nancy Reynolds

101 Stories of the Great Ballets or Balanchine's Festival of Ballet

I realize they may be difficult to find or expensive to get where you are, but if you can get copies, they'd save you a lot of inquiries!

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Describing Balanchine's version might help to answer silvy's question in part, and a propos MCB's current revival, I thought to post about that here:

When I was seeing Balanchine's Swan Lake in the 70's -- early in 1975, for example -- I worked out an outline of the music as part of my preparation, and I'll try to post that, but meanwhile Nancy Reynolds' Repertory in Review: Forty Years of the New York City Ballet has some useful accounts of the ballet. For one thing, she attributes the original (1951) costumes and decor to Cecil Beaton (these are seen in the picture of mine Cristian mentioned in the current thread in the Miami City Ballet forum) and original lighting to Jean Rosenthal and the redesign of all three elements (1964) by Rouben Ter-Arutunian for the move to the New York State Theatre that year.

Walter Terry's report in the New York Herald Tribune for 21 November 1951 (quoted by Reynolds) sought to calm his readers: "...let it be said at once that this is still Swan lake. The meeting of the Queen of the Swans and the huntsman Prince is very close to that with which we have become familiar through other stagings. Furthermore, Balanchine has, I think, kept his innovations within the style of Petipa, and within the general framework of the choreography which Petipa's assistant, Ivanov, devised. What, one may ask, is the result of such tinkering with a presumably inviolate classic? The result, choreographically speaking is fine, really fine, for Balanchine actually did not tinker or patch. He renewed a work of art. And so beautifully has he accomplished this task that he is certain to disappoint many, for Swan Lake is now a creation for a dance company and not merely a vehicle for a star.

"This Swan Lake belongs to the corps de ballet. For the twenty-four girls who compose the ensemble of swans, Balanchine has created passages and patterns of miraculous beauty. They floated, they poised [sic], they soared, and they moved, not simply back and forth and up and down (as they tend to do in the traditional version), but also in circles, arcs, and spirals as if the stage had become their lake in which they could find the mirror of their endless beauties of motion. For sub-ensembles, Balanchine not only restored the pas de quatre (unchanged), but also added a pas de trois and created a group danced for nine little swans. The pas de trois, headed by the resilient, sharp, fleet and generally remarkable [Patricia] Wilde, turned out to be a show-stopper, a splendid dance in its own right and excellent as a contrasting element in a generally lyrical piece. ..."

Reynolds writes (1977): "Over the years, there have been many changes -- the pas de trois and pas de quatre have been dropped, a valse bluette for three swans [!] has been added. The Prince's variation is often omitted. The Swan Queen's traditional solo no longer exists; to her music, a number of new variations have been designed in which the Queen is supported by four swans. ... There is a new ending to the famous adagio, which involves the corps de ballet; and parts of the adagio itself have been changed. ... The Queen's flying entrance in the coda has replaced the traditional series of pique' arabesques with sharp turns of the body. ... "

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Balanchine's music for his Swan Lake (1975)

Maybe I should explain that this was mainly intended as an outline of the musical foundation for Balanchine's ballet rather than as an outline of the action per se. (Seeing his company in New York while living in Chicago, I wanted to get the most out of my visits and so I preferred to prepare by becoming familiar with the music for what I would see by listening to recordings, ideally while following score as an aid to concentration.)

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake was his Opus 20; some editions append a supplement with other musical "numbers" -- pieces of the score -- added, I gather, during the ballet's performance history. In the form Balanchine finally left it, the score included a piano piece, "Valse Bluette," Op. 72 No. 11, orchestrated by Ricardo Drigo early in the ballet's history. (Maybe someone will come in and provide dates and we'll improve this Wiki-style and all learn from it. Indeed, I type so slowly I think I may came back with more details myself after I put this up quickly for the benefit of those still anticipating seeing MCB's revival. And, I assume, recalling it.)

I'm sorry this is so hard to read, but the layout in the post doesn't match that in the edit box on the editing page, and I don't understand the reason, much less the cure.

1. Prologue [i.e. to Act II] Op. 20 No. 10. Scene, moderato

2. Scene: Siegfried and Odette Op. 20 No. 11. Scene


von Rothbart

3. Scene: swans, hunters; Op. 20 No. 12. Scene

Odette re-enters, Siegfried;

"duet" (not full p d 2) of O. and S.

4. Waltz of the Swans Op. 20 No. 13 I. Tempo di valse

5. Pas de deux Op. 20 No. 13 V. pas d'action; andante non troppo

6. Pas de nuef Op. 20 No. 27. Danses des petits cygnes (from Act IV)

7. Valse bluette Op. 72 No. 11. Tempo di valse (also called Variation II, in appended


8. Variation: Odette and four girls Op. 20 No. 13 II. Moderato assai, etc.

9. Waltz: Siegfried Op. 20 No. 13 VI. Danse generale, tempo di valse (later No. 4 IV, from


10. Coda Op. 20 No. 13 VII. Coda

11. Scene: Finale Op. 20 No. 29, La derniere scene, after[19], i.e. omitting 26-bar andante and

beginning with allegro agitato. (from Act IV)

As to recordings, I enjoy listening to the one with the London Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas on Sony. The Philharmonia Orchestra one, conducted by John Lanchbery, originally on EMI and later on Musical Heritage Society, I admire less, but it includes the music for Balanchine's Tchaikovsky pas de Deux. Neither recording includes the "Valse Bluette".

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And there's an interesting description of recent changes in Balanchine's ballet since his death in this thread (Post# 50):


But silvy's lament my now be answered in the best way: MCB has invested heavily in this new production, and they travel to the West Coast, indeed they recently returned from Los Angeles. I think that area will have an opportunity to see this authentic revival of Balanchine's ballet much as he left it.

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Nancy Reynolds' Repertory in Review: Forty Years of the New York City Ballet has some useful accounts of the ballet. For one thing, she attributes the original (1951) costumes and decor to Cecil Beaton (these are seen in the picture of mine Cristian mentioned in the current thread in the Miami City Ballet forum) and original lighting to Jean Rosenthal and the redesign of all three elements (1964) by Rouben Ter-Arutunian for the move to the New York State Theatre that year.

In his "Thirty Years/New York City Ballet, Kirstein writes that

Beaton took as as a precedent sixteenth-century draftmanship as rendered by Urs Graf or Hans Baldung Grien. Their wiry calligraphy proposed handsome linear patterns of white ink used negatively on dark paper.

In the Miami City Ballet: Program 1, Balanchivadze's "Swan Lake", "4 T's"..and... thread cubanmiamiboy writes:

The Corps tutus...not pancake ones, nor long romantic either, but sort of a short version of a romantic one, above the knee(with the exception of Odette). Karinska's...?

Kirstein also writes that in Ter-Artunian's redesign

tutus were cut high and short in front, sweeping back in a bustlelike gathering of feathery tarlatan. The whole of this filmy bulk of tulle suggested folded downswept wings, yet the mass moved integrally with the body's shift.
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Copying from the Miami City Ballet thread - my description of the order of numbers in the 2008 Miami City Ballet version of Balanchine's SWAN LAKE, as staged by Maria Calegari. I've also noted, in a couple of spots, how the Miami version differs slightly from the NYCB mid-1990s performance that I saw in New York.

1. Prelude music to Act II - curtain up halfway through. We see lakeside, with big 'doll swans' floating from left to right, behind the reeds.

2. Entrance of the Hunters (short piece) - eight hunters in medieval outfits, carrying crossbows, soon joined by Siegfried. Look at the passing swans in awe. As the music crescendos, the hunters run off, leaving Siegfried alone to see...

3. Entrance of Odette and initial dance together - No bourees...Odette hops onto the stage in a high pas de chat, a-la Ballo Della Regina! The ensuing duet introduces a unique leitmotif of Balanchine's version: high quick-split-leg lifts. Siegfried will lift her thus several times later, most notably in the coda of the pdd. Near the end of this initial dance, Von Rothbart appears in very-heavy cape, mask, boots. This is not a Bolshoi-style dancing role! Von Roth controls Odette, who momentarily holds onto Siegfried's bow, before rushing off stage.

4. Entrance of the Swans, all in ca-1895 Imperial-cut white tutus (rather than NYCB's girls all in black tulle, in a 1920s sort of cut) - a very different, 'light and uplifting' take on the traditional steps usually performed by the swans in this entrance. Balanchine's is lighter but, generally, slower-moving. Instead of constant runs-into-arabesque, there's a bit of a 'stop-pose' built into each arabesque. Lots of interesting patterning...ending in a dramatic long diagonal line; as Siegfried enters, the swans change the positions of their arms in Giselle-like 'peel off' manner, one after the other. At the end of this section, two solo swans (also in the Imperial-cut white tutus) enter, followed by Odette in short modern tutu; all clustered to the upper-right corner (not two lines in the center, as in Soviet versions).

5. Waltz of the Swans - very beautiful, though quite different from either the traditional Ivanov and the K. Sergeyev Soviet versions. When the two solo swans perform the familiar mirroring moves, the entire corps is on its knees, gently swaying back and forth. Very effective in that the two soloists can shine brighter - Balanchine knew how to bring maximum punch to a segment.

6. Pas de Deux, Odette and Siegfried - with swans standing on sides in double-rows, with the hunters sometimes entering, standing in the middle of each double row, swans resting their heads on the men's shoulders. With the exception of the coda, this dance gives the two principals 95% of the Ivanov choreography. The big difference is that brisk coda, ending with a series of high split-lifts (the leitmotif mentioned above) and a snappy final pose that somewhat breaks the romantic mood.

7. Pas de Neuf to Tchaikovsky's Act IV slow "Dance of the Little Swans" (which Ashton used for the start of his Act IV) - a soloist flanked by 4 corps girls on each side. Beautiful use of arms by corps - ever changing patterns. Difficult soloist steps, including a prolonged 'hopping pirouette' in back-attitude pose.

8. Pas de Douze to Tchaikovsky-Drigo's lilting 'Valse Bluette' - soloist plus 11 corps girls. Balanchine's masterpiece within this ballet, IMO. Three clusters of four girls, moving 'in cannon'. The viewers eye is constantly challenged and delighted to see the kaleidoscope of patterns. Balanchine cleverly shifts the clusters into four groups of three girls, then switching back to three groups of four.

9. Odette's solo - very similar to the Ivanov and Soviet originals. major change is the final diagonal, which here is cut short, with Balanchine's Odette launcing into a series of pique turns around the circumference of the stage.

10. Siegfried's solo to Tchaikovsky's Act I Pas de Trois male solo music - this is 80% Petipa's choreography, as seen at the Kirov, etc. (one of the very FEW bits of Petipa that remains in the Kirov version!). Balanchine seems to have added more difficulty, with entrechats-six in-between the traditional back-and-forth leaps in the first enchainement. [At NYCB in the mid-1990s, Siegfried danced a totally-different variation to the powerful 'Dance of the Big Swans' from Act II...the music that Balanchine had originally used for a 'Jumping Pas de Trois' for Patricia Wilde and two corps girls. Wouldn't it be great if NYCB could resurrect that famous Pas de Trois this winter? Hint-hint.]

11. Presto Coda - return of the swans, all entering in twos, to 'forward chugging' movements. Then the two soloists...then Odette appears, performing an energetic diagonal with high leaps, rather than the traditional pique-arabesque renverse series of poses.

12. Finale to Act IV 'storm' music that ends the full-evening ballet - the greatest patterning for the full group of 20 corps swans here. Lots of little running in a constantly-changing spectacle. In the end, Von Rothbart appears and commands the swans to depart. They do. Odette leaves with 'Plisetskaya style' bourees and swan arms, moving into profile as she nears the wings; leaves stoically. Siegfried and the Hunters left alone, heads bowed, with Siegfried kneeling as the 'doll swans' float by and the curtain falls.

Natalia Nabatova

November 2008 analysis for my fellow BalletTalk enthusiasts :clapping:

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One detail to add that has always amused me. I saw Mr. B's Swan Lake innumerable times over the years I was going to NYCB, from the late fifties through the mid-seventies, and in the early years the pas de quatre for the little swans always brought down the house. It not only brought down the house, it tended to completely disrupt the ballet, which, from conversations with NYCB staff at the time, I gather drove Balanchine completely nuts. So he took it out and replaced it with something less disruptive. I see that the MCB revival has honored this choice. Fans I knew at the time, myself included, agreed, when we stopped laughing.

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I don't think it was as much Balanchine that it drove up the wall as it was Kirstein. Balanchine was a showman, and as his Swan Lake famously did not have the pas de quatre, imagine the pleasant shock to the audience when, for Maria Tallchief's return to NYCB, four coryphées emerged from the up left corner and linked arms in the distinctive form. The male variation, too, was changed for that revival, to the allegro pesante variation from the Act III pas de six. Not sure if that's the marking in the score, but I think you know the one I mean.

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