Swan Lake Through History

Feb 04 2015 | Posted in Blog

In 1875, Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was invited by his friend Vladimir Begichev, intendant of the Moscow Imperial Theatre, to compose the music for a new ballet, Swan Lake. Tchaikovsky happily accepted the commission, “partly because I need the money, and partly because I have long cherished the desire to try my hand at this kind of music,” he wrote to Russian composer Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov in September 1875. Legend has it that in 1871 Tchaikovsky composed a children’s ballet-pantomime, The Lake of the Swan, for his young nephews and nieces. The ballet score was essentially completed in 1876, although Tchaikovsky was to add a few pieces later.

Swan Lake was first performed on March 4, 1877, at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. The choreography was by Julius Wenzel Reinsinger, a German who was ballet master at the Bolshoi Theatre from 1871 to 1878.

The ballet was revised by Belgian choreographer Joseph Hansen in 1880 and remained in the repertoire of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet until 1883. All of the 33 performances of the ballet between 1877 and 1883 were sold out, attesting to the work’s popularity.

Eleven years passed before the ballet was again performed. Tchaikovsky died in 1893, not living to see the success of his ballet.

The Maryinsky Ballet’s new version of Swan Lake was first performed on January 15, 1895, at the Maryinsky Theatre with the Italian Pierina Legnani scoring a great success as Odette/Odile. She was acclaimed for her technique in performing Odile’s 32 fouettes (turns in which the ballerina balances on pointe with one foot while the other leg whips semi-circles in the air) which no Russian dancer could execute at the time. Since then, the dual role of Odette/ Odile has become a touchstone for greatness for every classical ballerina.

Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet performed excerpts from Swan Lake from 1951 onwards, but it wasn’t until 1987 until the full length version debuted in Winnipeg. Swan Lake was performed by the RWB again ​in 1989, 1992, 1994, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2010, and now in 2015.

Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake Excerpts, with Kay Bird, Marilyn Young, Sheila Henderson and Janet Ferguson, 1951
Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake Excerpts, with Kay Bird, Marilyn Young, Sheila Henderson and Janet Ferguson, 1951
Swan Lake Excerpts with Jean Stoneham, Arnold Spohr, Beverly Ivings, Eva von Gencsy 1952 - photographed by Phillips-Gutkin and Associates
Swan Lake Excerpts with Jean Stoneham, Arnold Spohr, Beverly Ivings, Eva von Gencsy 1952 - photographed by Phillips-Gutkin and Associates
Swan Lake Act II with Olga Moiseyeva and Askold Makarov, guests from the Kirov Ballet December 27, 1960.
Swan Lake Act II with Olga Moiseyeva and Askold Makarov, guests from the Kirov Ballet December 27, 1960.
Svea Eklof and David Peregrine, 1987 - photographed by David Cooper
Svea Eklof and David Peregrine, 1987 - photographed by David Cooper
John Kaminsky and Giselle Plourde, 1987
John Kaminsky and Giselle Plourde, 1987
Evelyn Hart and Henny Jurriens 1987 - photographed by David Cooper
Evelyn Hart and Henny Jurriens 1987 - photographed by David Cooper
Dance Demonstration at the RWB Open House September 1990
Dance Demonstration at the RWB Open House September 1990
David Cooper photograph from 1992
David Cooper photograph from 1992
Laura Graham, CindyMarie Small, Jennifer Greenwood, Bernadett Seles, and Brigette Desrochers 1994
Laura Graham, CindyMarie Small, Jennifer Greenwood, Bernadett Seles, and Brigette Desrochers 1994
Vanessa Lawson and Jaime Vargas Spring 2006
Vanessa Lawson and Jaime Vargas Spring 2006
RWB Company Dancer Sophia Lee, 2015. Photo Credit: Rejean Brandt
RWB Company Dancer Sophia Lee, 2015. Photo Credit: Rejean Brandt

Swan Lake returns to the stage March 4-8 2015. Experience the passion and romance of this spellbinding story!

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