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Dance in America: ''Swan Lake'' with American Ballet Theatre banner
Angel Corella as Prince Siegfried and Gillian Murphy as Princess Odile (photo by Marty Sohl -- Thirteen/WNET)
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American Ballet Theatre
Angel Corella (in Spanish)
American Ballet Theatre: Dancers: Principals: Angel Corella
American Ballet Theatre: Education: Georgina Parkinson
American Ballet Theatre: Education: Frederic Franklin
American Ballet Theatre: Dancers: Principals: Herman Cornejo
American Ballet Theatre: Dancers: Principals: Marcelo Gomes
American Ballet Theatre: Dancers: Corps de Ballet: Isaac Stappas
Classical Music Archives: Tchaikovsky Performing Arts: Marius Petipa



In the ballet's story Prince Siegfried doesn't want to marry. His mother tells him he must. He goes out and finds the farthest thing from a conventional woman there could be -- a mysterious bird, permeated by sadness, in need of rescue. Then he's overcome by confusion and can't remember what she looks like. And it's all doomed anyway. The point is, Tchaikovsky's imagination in 1875 and 1876 might have entertained this question of what love between a man and a woman was supposed to be and how it could relate to his emotions and his art. And indeed, the "Swan Lake" score can be said to describe the internal landscape of a young man wrestling with such a question in increasing torment.

One can hear, in the music, a progression of emotions: the Prince's responsiveness to the ceremony of his station; his sensation of foreboding in that very ceremony; his exquisitely delicate feelings when he discovers the Swan Queen (the first, great adagio is so quiet -- it's scored for solo violin and harp); the growing momentousness of the question, Whom should I marry? -- as if there are whole kingdoms to be lost or won from the answer, maybe even life itself.

Something of the opposite can also be heard in the music. The beautiful, cool Act III waltz for the princesses brought to the castle to "audition" for Siegfried all but describes the Prince's indifference: "I'm sorry, you're not what I had in mind. You're beautiful. But I can't use you."

But what of the "Swan Lake" production we know now and the basis of this adaptation by ABT? For that we must fast-forward 19 years to 1894 and jump from Moscow to glittering, imperial St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky, now Russia's beloved composer, has died tragically, in 1893, of cholera. His other great scores, "The Sleeping Beauty" and "The Nutcracker," had been brilliantly realized as ballets on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre, in 1890 and 1892, respectively. A gala memorial concert for Tchaikovsky is planned, for which a piece of "Swan Lake" will be re-choreographed: Act II, the Prince's discovery of the Swans, which the composer himself had called the act that worked best in itself.

The choreography for this new Act II has been entrusted not to the great Marius Petipa, the French-born ballet master who made Russian ballet the grand and lyrical art that it is, but to his assistant, Lev Ivanov. And Ivanov does such a wonderful job that when the full "Swan Lake" is put on the Mariinsky stage a year later, Petipa lets him keep his Act II and gives him Act IV -- the other moonlit lake scene -- as well, while he, Petipa, takes the court scenes, Act I, the Prince's birthday, and Act III, the Prince's bride-auditioning ball.

Top banner photos: Ballerina Gillian Murphy as Princess Odette, and with co-star Angel Corella as Prince Siegfried (all photos by Marty Sohl -- Thirteen/WNET).

Gillian Murphy as the duplicitous Odile

Gillian Murphy dances the dual role of Odette and Odile in "Swan Lake" (photo by Marty Sohl -- Thirteen/WNET).

Gillian Murphy as Princess Odette

Gillian Murphy has been a dancer with ABT for nearly 10 years (photo by Marty Sohl -- Thirteen/WNET).

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