Swan Lake, Hope and Prayer

A while ago, I could not get Swan Lake out of my head.  Which was weird to me, since I was never a big fan of the ballet. But for some reason, the music, the Swan theme, kept on playing in my head. I decided to do something about it and embarked on a quest. I downloaded the entire score, and listened carefully. Firstly to the entire score, then only on the music for the White Acts.

That music… oh that music is just heavenly. The Swan theme is just so beautiful, sad, filled with tragedy, melancholy and longing. But also, strangely, hope. The more I listened, the more that music seemed to me like a prayer… a prayer from the heart, a desperate plea for something… redemption? love? freedom? happiness? I don’t know… But for me, that music represents Odette’s heart and its incessant prayer and its relentless hope.

Hope and prayer… the more I listened to the score, the more this seemed clear to me. One of teh most beautiful moments in the score, is the last minute or so before the end of the final act (is that called apotheosis or something? please forgive the lack of technical terms). The tune changes, the chords become light, the music makes me think of relief, disbelief, peace, happiness. It sounds to me, like a prayer being answered…

It was around this time that I watched Of Gods and Men, a movie about Trappist monks living in Algeria during the Civil War. It is one of the most moving, beautiful movies I have ever seen and it resonated with something deep inside of me. At a key moment, almost at the end of the movie, we hear the Swan theme. I started crying at that scene and did not stop for a long time.

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men

The faith and love of the monks is overwhelming, but their doubt is familiar, and human.

This seems to surprise people, but I have faith. Well, at least, I try to have it. Faith in the future, in love, in an intelligence that is beyond my understanding, that everything happens for a reason and that someone or something out there, is looking after us.

It was with all this in mind that I started watching different versions of Swan Lake, trying to understand the music, the narrative, and the truth of the ballet. Some versions were garish, some were silly, some were very silly, something were quite clinical, and some were absolutely beautiful. The first time I cried was during Act II of La Scala’s version, with Roberto Bolle and Svetlana Zakharova. don’t really like this version, and was bored stiff by ACT I.  I don’t care much for Bolle, but Zakharova was breathtaking. I forgot that Bolle was even on stage, but her response to the choreography and the music resonated with me. I finally began to understand Odette with her interpretation.

I don’t like Royal Ballet’s version. I think it is too shiny, and a wee bit camp. I mean in Act III, Von Rothbart has evil looking dwarves around him. The White Acts are beautiful, and Marianela Nunez Odette is so delicate and her Act II pas-de-deux with Thiago Soarez is actually really hot. I believed that Odette and Siegfried not only loved each other, but wanted each other. Her forgiveness in ACT IV is so touching… But I find all the glitter and sparkle of the non-white Acts distracting…

My absolute favourite though is American Ballet Theatre’s version. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me losing it a little over the ABT dancers, especially Herman Cornejo and Marcelo Gomes. But the entire ballet made sense to me, as a narrative, for the very first time. Siegfried’s emptiness and longing, Odette’s sadness, hope and forgiveness. Everything just clicked.

For me, Odette had faith. In love, in freedom, in a happy ending. In something that would end her suffering. She also had doubts, but chose to believe in Siegfried anyway and follow her heart.  I’m not saying she was religious, but having faith does not have to mean adherence to any religion.

It can simply mean having hope that there will be brighter days ahead.

This period has been a tricky period for me and my family, and I find myself listening to Swan Lake a lot.

Yesterday I was feeling a bit down, and was drawn to watch a few clips of Swan Lake on youtube. This time, I watched Yuhui Choe (whom I love) and her performance is so, so beautiful.

It made me feel better.

But as I keep on listening to the music in my head, I keep on thinking of faith, of longing and of hope.

There are many orders of Monks that believe that by praying for all humanity, they can help the world become a better place.

Whatever you believe, it can be quite comforting to know that someone, somewhere, is praying for you.


7 thoughts on “Swan Lake, Hope and Prayer

  1. My dear & lovely Nina

    Yet again you’ve shown us all how ballet is more than just music and dance blended together for the sake of a performance, more than an elitist art form, more than just fairies and tutus.

    It is the expression of the human condition in all its forms, acted out in front of our eyes, heard through our ears and felt within our hearts. From the brief occasions I have had the pleasure of sharing the experiences of ballet with you, I can tell just how important and enriching it is to you.

    Swan Lake is a masterpiece of story telling, but I wonder how much of that true essence has been lost over the years by the sheer weight of its own success and the expectation from the viewing public? It is undoubtedly the most recognised of all of the classical ballets, the grand set pieces dominate the performance and that of the minds of the audience, together with countless re-inventions/re-creations/re-stagings by different companies/directors etc, has the true message been lost under a never ending froth of tutu netting?

    Odette is trapped, like many of us feel, but with the unquestioning love of another person releasing her, she believes (she has faith as you so correctly interpreted) in that one person who can save her, even if its not in this life, but through her self sacrifice and the knowledge that their love can be eternal with Siegfried by her side.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not laying the blame at any one company’s door for the issues with Swan Lake, its more through its own success (possible over exposure) that todays audience may have lost sight of the depth of the story this ballet is attempting to convey.

    Thinking back to the time when Swan Lake was written, the subject matter that would have influenced it, the bonds of faith within the fabric of the society of the period, far deeper and more powerful than todays world. But if you look in the right places, and let the magic and the life force of ballet flow thought you, as you so clearly have, then those messages of faith, love, belief and the power of the heart will become vividly apparent.

    Although I cannot confess to the physical action of praying, you are often in my thoughts, and particularly during the last few weeks with so much happening in your world, so it warms my heart to know that the power of this ballet has in some way helped you to believe in your faith and in those who you care for.


    • Dear Becca,

      thank you so much for your comments and for thinking of me and my family at this tricky time. Please know that it has helped me so much!
      And that is a evry good point, I wonder how much of the essence of Swan Lake has been lost by its over-exposure…. This is not to suggest it be performed less times, but maybe that there should be less concern with the stes and showy set-pieces and more care with telling the story…
      Love x

  2. what a beautiful post.
    having danced in swan lake pretty much each year for the last ten sometimes its hard to remember what its all about.
    i get caught up in the choreography, the technique.
    and to be honest unless you are one of the main characters in ballet you dont have any real stress put on you on your ‘characterisation’ to your role.
    its just dancing.

    so nice and refreshing to remind me that there is so much more, a world of ballet to enjoy beyond just getting the steps right.

    • Dear Rebekah,
      Thank you so much for your comment. It meant a lot to me. I think it is normal to get caught up in the choreography and technique. Well, I’m just guessing since I’m not a ballerina, but I guess it is normal 🙂 I always think of the Swans in Swan Lake as creations of Odette’s mind. The choreography and music are so linked, that I can see the swans responding to her… So for me, the Swans are not just framing the action, they are also a part of Odette. She created them with her mind, projected them, so she wouldn’t be alone….
      And they get to just dance, and ‘just dancing’ sounds like absolute heaven sometimes 🙂

      I’ve just written on your blog btw xx

  3. It’s not often that people understand my deep attachment to classical music. You know how very much I live for ballet but music does not live for dance. Dance occurs within music. A beautiful piece of music is as much narrative as text. When we listen to the music of Swan Lake, we don’t need ballerinas in feathered tutus to feel the depths of sorrow, sadness, despair and the heights of happiness, joy, and love. All the emotions, all of the story, all of humanity is waiting to be discovered in the music.

    Music comes from someone’s soul, it speaks in a language that your soul understands and responds to… what could possibly be more of a prayer than that?

    • My beatiful friend. Thank you for this. It is so true. I have found and fallen in love with classical music through ballet, but often I find that some of the music cannot be solely tied down to the ballet. So what you said about feathered ballerinas is true. Swan Lake is about mroe than that. So is teh Nutracker, another piece that is so dear to me.

  4. What a lovely post, one which I completely agree with. Swan Lake along with Romeo & Juliet (Prokofiev) are my favorite ballets, not only for the deep feelings and emotions of the story, but for the passionate music. You can’t beat those Russian composers for those qualities, which serve so well the ballet stories of depth, love, death and despair–and as you write, faith and hope. I’ve seen Swan Lake performed live at every opportunity all of my life–my very favorite being the National Ballet of Cuba’s performance in Madrid. The entire audience was weeping at the end. The many new interpretations–like Matthew Bourne’s, or the movie Black Swan, haven’t cheapened it because in truth, it’s untouchable and can take it without getting scarred. Swan Lake will be with us forever, thank goodness.

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