The music associated with the pas de deux we know today as the Black Swan was composed to be performed in Act I of Swan Lake in the first version of the ballet in 1877. For this unsuccessful production, the lead ballerina wanted to interpolate a pas de deux of her choosing into Act III. Not wanting another composer’s music performed in the context of his own, Tchaikovsky hastily composed an alternative pas de deux, which was added shortly after the Moscow premiere. The ballet had a short stage life, and whenSwan Lake was revived in a much-edited production by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov for the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1895, the music for the extra pas de deux had vanished. It was not until 1953 that the missing musical fragments were discovered in the archives of the Bolshoi Theater.
George Balanchine found the long-lost music enchanting and devised a duet for Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow, principal dancers of New York City Ballet. The critic P.W. Manchester praised the short ballet calling it “a little beauty, a kind of pastiche of a typical Bolshoi concert-program offering.” Over the years, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux has become a favorite vehicle for generations of dancers and has been staged for ballet companies large and small all over the world. It is a frequent offering at ballet galas and celebrations.
Notes by Jeanie Thomas; edited by Doug Fullington, 2008.