Camille LeFevre muses on what fuels the lasting allure of the romantic ballet staple, "Swan Lake"-- from the recent popular film, "Black Swan," to this week's full-length performance of the work at Northrop, by the Voronezh State Ballet Theatre of Russia.
February 1, 2011

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

TO WHAT DOES THE ICONIC ROMANTIC BALLET, SWAN LAKE, OWE ITS MYSTIQUE? The "most imperfect but powerful of all Russian ballets," as Jennifer Homans describes the work in her immensely readable new ballet history, Apollo's Angels, Swan Lake has been transfixing generations of balletomanes (and the uninitiated or indifferent guests they happen to drag along) since choreographers Petipa and Ivanov's production (to Tchaikovsky's music) premiered in St. Petersburg in 1895. (An earlier production, The Lake of the Swans, premiered in 1877, with choreography by Julius Reisinger, and was quickly retired.)

The ballet's narrative is, itself, captivating. Infused with dark magic through and through, the tale of Odette and Siegfried's star-crossed love is full of  tropes from the days of Merlin and King Arthur, as well as imagery in our contemporary genres of fantasy film, TV, games, and literature.  Sorcery, spells, transformation, human-swan hybrids, and other dualities and duplicities drive the tale.  Which is why, in part, director Darren Aronofsky was inspired to create his blockbuster film, Black Swan, based on this ballet. As he told the New York Times: "When I started thinking about Swan Lake, a dancer, I think Julie Kent, said to me that the story is really about a girl who gets caught by an evil magician who turns her into a swan during the day and a half-swan, half-human at night. It popped into my head, 'Oh, a were-swan.' And I realized I was making a werewolf movie."

In fact, no art form is more predicated on physical transformation than ballet; no film genre is more concerned with human mutation than science fiction and fantasy. Both have originated dancing human-machine and human-animal protagonists that -- through the theme of transfiguration -- alternately serve as metaphors for liberation and totalitarianism, creativity and repression, sanity and madness, within fairy-tale-like narratives. From the winged sylph of La Sylphide, to the automaton Coppelia, to the cyborg ballerina in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the hyper-real, hybrid ballerina embodies the wonders and terrors that threaten the ideological status quo. In Aronofsky's film, the "status quo" disrupted is the sanity of the film's lead character, Nina (Natalie Portman), which we'll return to shortly.

First: the story of Swan Lake.

Cursed by the sorcerer von Rothbart (often portrayed as a black owl), Odette has been turned into a white swan -- the Swan Queen, in fact (as denoted by her crown). Prince Siegfried, on the eve of his marriage, meets Odette and pledges his love: and only this, Odette has told him, will break von Rothbart's spell.

Back at the castle, Siegfried has been ordered to select a bride. Ah, but his heart belongs to the swan-girl Odette. Von Rothbart then arrives with his daughter, Odile, who convinces Siegfried she's Odette (who, meanwhile, is watching this betrayal unfold). Realizing his mistake, Seigfried rejoins Odette at the lake. Von Rothbart and Odile appear there in the form of black birds; fighting ensues, and the lovers jump into the lake, the white swans become human and drive the black bird villains into the lake as well, after which Odette and Siegfried ascend to the heavens.

This crazy narrative, however saccharine or tear-jerky one finds it to be, isn't really why people flock to see Swan Lake; nor is it why presenters, like Northrop, book obscure Russian ballet companies like the Voronezh State Ballet Theatre of Russia to perform it (February 3) -- often to a sold-out audience. No, the allure is in the movement, as Homans rightly notes in her book: "[T]he enduring success of the ballet owes much to the tension between Petipa and Ivanov's contrasting choreographic styles." Ivanov's "white" lakeside scenes, she continues, feature simple repetitive steps and shifting sculptural patterns, performed in deep harmony with the music; they are quiet, clear, reflections of Odette's inner life. Odette's solos include steps "designed as a kind of inverse showing off: small, quick movements requiring steely discipline and restraint." In contrast, Petipa's choreography for Odile, the Black Swan, is "architectonic and fiercely difficult." Famously, Odile's solo includes 32 fouettés.


No art form is more predicated on physical transformation than ballet; no film genre is more concerned with human mutation than science fiction and fantasy. The theme of transfiguration in both alternately serves as a metaphor for liberation and totalitarianism, creativity and repression, sanity and madness, within fairy-tale-like narratives.


"The flamboyant, black Odile appears evil because she corrupts classical technique with her stylishly exaggerated bravura and false eloquence," Homans writes. "Her movements are too skilled and alluring, lacking discernment and bordering on crass." In Black Swan, the artistic direction Thomas (Vincent Cassel) gives sweet, pale, pink-clad Nina (who's perfect as the innocent White Swan) is more visceral: he asks her to seduce him and the audience as the dark Odile. She responds, in her deteriorating mental and physical state, with a bravura performance fueled by a belief in her own transformation. From the gooseflesh creeping across her skin, as she more deeply embodies the demonic role, to the emergence of feathers, armature and magnificent black wings -- the transfiguration becomes quite real, at least in her own imagination. 

Her transformation brings up another aspect of the Swan Lake mystique: The dual roles of Odette/Odile are performed by the same ballerina. The rigorous challenge of embodying both characters is what, in part, causes Nina to crack up (and it provides the foundation for the theme of doubling that permeates Aronofsky's film). The challenge of the dual role also continues to bring sold-out audiences to live, full-length productions of the ballet: How will the ballerina performing the White and Black swans create a clear differentiation between the two? 

Information on the Voronezh State Ballet Theatre of Russia is rather hard to come by, and critics are mixed about the company's work in the few reviews available online (although the adjective "enchanting" appears more than once). But all that hardly matters. Audiences reliably pack 4000-seat houses like Northrop when big, Russian, ballet experiences come to town, thanks to the expectation of extravagant sets, luscious costumes, live music (although for Northrop's upcoming production of Swan Lake, the music is taped), and most of all, the technical prowess and flawless execution for which the Russians are so well known. So, will you find profound, heart-stopping emotion in their rendition of Swan Lake? Not so much. A splendid fantasy replete with frighteningly thin young women in feathered tutus? Of course. An Odile that grows savage black wings before our eyes, or an Odette that bleeds out into her white Rodarte tutu? Definitely not.

But, as Homans writes of this "full-blown Romantic tragedy" (which isn't even Petipa's greatest work, she says -- Sleeping Beauty is), Ivanov's lakeside dances "conjure[d] the possibility of a perfect future in which love exists out of time and dancers are joined in a pure, plastic, and musical art." Together, she adds, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty "stand as pillars marking ballet's place as an Imperial Russian art."

We'll leave the were-swans to the big screen.


Related performance details:

The Voronezh State Ballet Theatre of Russia will perform Swan Lake at Northrop Auditorium Thursday, February 3 at 7:30 pm. Ticket details and additional information are available here.



About the author: Camille LeFevre writes and teaches arts journalism in the Twin Cities, which she blogs about at



Owners The Crew probably noticed a weighty update to the game, which became available with the release of the add-on Wild Run . As promised, the patch made the game better, adding a few new features to it and significantly tightening the graphics. But for all the rest of the content, including new vehicles and competitions, will have to pay friv games.

We can say that in this case, the situation with Destiny repeats : The Taken King - twelve months ago there was a game, not devoid of shortcomings and in need of improvement. A year has passed and an addition appears that makes the original better. And there, and here, to evaluate the result, you need to give a certain amount. Discussions of how bad or good this practice is will be postponed for later. In the meantime, we will study what Wild Run is and why it was necessary for The Crew . 

As you know, the addition introduced several new modes of transport. For example, monster-traks - related tasks assume the maximum number of points in the allotted time. Trails look like ideal locations for someTony Hawk's Pro Skater , that's just to perform the tricks you need sitting in the car. Badges giving 100 points are located on the ground, so it's too easy to get to them. And for 500 and 1 000 points will have to try, as they are either in hard-to-reach places, or completely in the air. 

Another innovation - drag racing, which can quickly get bored, but still made to the conscience. It consists of several stages, the first of which is slippage in place to heat the tires. Then - the timely pressing of the gas pedal, and then - the gearshift. The speed depends on how fast and on time the user presses the buttons when they are in the green zone. In this mode, it was difficult to come up with something new, so the creators coped with their task.

The same can be said about drifting - there is nothing original in it, but every track you want to pereprohodit again and again to improve your past result. In this turn it was possible to enter differently, that barrier could not be crashed, here it was worthwhile to press the brake and protect yourself from the accident ... In general, the drift fits perfectly into the list of modes The Crew.

The main innovation of Wild Run was the so-called "Summit" - the mode where most of the events of the expansion take place. To understand how to participate in it, at first difficult - hanging in the main menu, the ad does not explain much. It is necessary to achieve success in all the above modes and PvP is a kind of qualification for admission. Only then the player receives a "ticket" for this monthly tournament and competes there for the first places.

Another option for obtaining a pass is to perform tricks in the open world, requiring a few kilometers without a breakdown, or, following the right side of the road, drive past 15 to 30 cars. It bores quickly enough for several reasons. Firstly, the game is often confused in the sides of the track and stubbornly proves to the user that he is on the opposite, even if this is not so. Well, and secondly, traffic on the roads in The Crew is not so dense that you can successfully perform such tasks. 

In addition to the above types of machines in The CrewMotorcycles were added. Regardless of whether you choose Ducati or Kawasaki, the sensations of riding will be completely different. As in the case of cars, each motorcycle is suitable for certain locations - some are ideal for driving on asphalt, the other is off-road. Unfortunately, no unique tasks for them were invented, but nothing prevents the already existing missions from passing through this type of transport. Completing them will often be much easier than on a car, and in PvP, and you can completely mock rivals, riding in front of them on the rear wheel, - most importantly, do not break.

What do those who did not buy Wild Run receive ? A noticeably improved picture - the objects emerging from the air are much smaller than before, the environment looks more realistic, and thanks to optimization on the consoles, the frame rate per second seldom falls below 30 (at least, according to the sensations). If in the original for accidents and a large cluster of machines the game "slowed down", but now this will not happen. 


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