San Francisco Ballet closes its 2021 Digital Season with Helgi Tomasson’s interpretation of one of the best loved ballets in the classical repertoire – Swan Lake.
Swan Lake’s introduction to the world, however, was somewhat inauspicious. Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write what turned out to be a magnificent score in 1875, by the director of the Moscow Imperial Theatre, Vladimir Begichev, who was eager to promote the artistry of Russia’s master composer. It’s also believed that Begichev crafted the story of Swan Lake, which was most likely to have been adapted from Russian and Germanic folk and fairy tales.
The original version of Swan Lake was choreographed by one Julius Reisinger, and it premiered unsuccessfully at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on February 20, 1877, since Reisinger was unable to cope with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic-style score. It wasn’t until 1895, following a concert held at the Mariinsky Theatre in memory of Tchaikovsky, that Marius Petipa, director of the Mariinsky Ballet company, decided to stage a ballet using the composer’s debut score.
He and his assistant Lev Ivanov re-choreographed the ballet, and composer Riccardo Drigo, then chief conductor at the St Petersburg Imperial Theatre, was charged with revising the score – the version which most choreographers follow today. The premiere of this new interpretation of Swan Lake took place at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on January 15, 1895 – and, as we know, the ballet’s popularity was sealed.
There are probably almost as many variations on the interpretation of Swan Lake as there are artistic directors and choreographers, since it’s sufficiently adaptable to accommodate a degree of re-interpretation without deviating significantly from its classical origins. Tomasson has placed it in a Georgian-style setting, retaining some of the Petipa and Ivanov choreography, and introducing some of his own, but never straying too far from the original. He introduced a Prologue to set the scene for the story that follows, and has changed the setting of Act I from the interior of an Imperial-style palace to a street scene outside the palace walls. The choreography for Act II, and the Black Swan pas de deux in Act III remain true to tradition.
Filmed in February 2016 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, this production stars Yuan Yuan Tam in the dual role of Odette/Odile and Tiit Helimets as Prince Siegfried. Alexander Reneff-Olson is Von Rothbart, and the Pas de Trois is danced by Dores André, Taras Domitro and Sasha De Sola.
Scenery and costume design are by Jonathan Fensom, lighting is by Jennifer Tipton and projection design by Sven Ortel.
Music Director Martin West leads the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous score, with violinist Cordula Merks and cellist Eric Sung.
San Francisco Ballet’s production of Swan Lake is available to view from 6.00 pm (Pacific) on Thursday May 20th to June 9th. Full details of ticketing and packages is available on the San Francisco Ballet website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Ballet program notes
The Mariinsky Theatre program notes
The Royal Opera House program notes