5 Reasons Why Swan Lake is a Ballet Classic

Swan Lake is one of the most popular ballets of all time. It premiered in Moscow in 1877 and was met with a lukewarm reception. Despite its humble beginnings, this ballet continued to be performed, and in the 21st century, it’s frankly iconic! Read on to learn five reasons why this ballet is a must-see.

1. The Iconic Score

Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write the score for Swan Lake in 1875. At the time, it was unusual for a composer as popular as Tchaikovsky to compose for the ballet. However, Tchaikovsky loved dance, and he set out to create a ballet score unlike any created before. Tchaikovsky drew on his skills in orchestration to create a score that was grand, complex, and exciting. You’ll have heard elements of Swan Lake before, as it’s been used in all areas of pop culture, from the first sound version of Dracula to Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade; however, nothing beats hearing this majestic piece played live by PNB’s critically acclaimed orchestra!    

A large group of dancers in white tutus stand on stage with the glowing orchestra pit beneath them.

2. A Display of Technical Prowess

There’s no ballet moment as famous as Swan Lake’s infamous thirty-two fouettés section of the Black Swan pas de deux, where she completes thirty-two rotations without stopping once. The thirty-two fouettés are more impressive when you consider that the principal pointe dancer is performing two leading roles throughout the nearly three-hour ballet, a technical feat of acting and stamina. Swan Lake features another iconic and challenging ballet variation “The Dance of the Little Swans.” This mesmerizing section consists of four dancers moving quickly in perfect unison. The deceptively simple steps, performed by dancers within inches of one another, leave little room for error. Swan Lake is full of physical feats like this that you must see at least once in your life.  

3. The Mesmerizing Movement

As impressive as these sections from Swan Lake are, displays of physical mastery would not be enough to make it as lasting as it is. Swan Lake is also full of simple but expressive gestures that have captured audiences’ imaginations. With arms that ripple as if liquid, nuzzling head movements, and fluttering feet, each dancer transforms into a swan. Prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, who was wildly famous in her time, and her beloved solo The Dying Swan first made these naturalistic gestures popular, and they have captured audiences’ attention ever since. 

4. The Power of the Corps De Ballet

Another element that makes Swan Lake stand out is its use of the Corps de Ballet. Whether dancing in complete unison or creating kaleidoscopic patterns onstage, this large group of dancers seems to effortlessly move as a group of swans gliding on a pond. A diverse group of dancers moving as one organism is even more compelling and meaningful today than it was in 1877. Watching so many people performing together on stage is powerful and unforgettable! 

5.  Compelling Characters

As fantastical Swan Lake’s premise is, there are integral parts of the story that continue to capture audiences’ hearts to this day. An impulsive prince, a sensitive woman living through tragic circumstances, and a supportive group of friends: characters like these are compelling and exciting. The story of Swan Lake has intrigued many different choreographers, and there are almost as many versions of the tragic ending as there are productions. Yet, Swan Lake’s themes of romance, infidelity, and friendship remain and are an important part of what makes it such a masterpiece.        

With an emotive score, iconic choreography, and an intriguing story, Swan Lake is a must-see. Whether you’ve never gone to the ballet before or consider yourself a bunhead, there’s something for everyone in this iconic production!

PNB’s latest production of Swan Lake runs February 2nd – 11th, 2024. Purchase tickets here or by calling the Box Office at 206-441-2424.   

Photo credits: Featured photo – Elizabeth Murphy and Lucien Postlewaite in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake, photo © Angela Sterling. PNB Company dancers and Orchestra, photo © Lindsay Thomas. PNB Company dancers in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake, photo © Angela Sterling. Leta Biasucci and PNB Company dancers, photo © Angela Sterling.