If Nutcracker was your first exposure to ballet, then Swan Lake is the ballet that determines if you really want to be a ballerina. Every school stages some abridged version, even if it is just act II. Every company uses the full length Swan Lake to boast the company’s size, artistic merit, and strength. Swan Lake is just one of those ballets that everyone knows. Now, this upcoming season every company seems to be staging their full length Swan Lake, so may the battle of the swans begin.
And for those who are dancing swan lake, or have danced it, there are a few things that happen when getting ready for swan lake.
1. Swan Lake Realness: You know you are about to do Swan Lake when all of the port de bras at barre and centre combinations look very swan-like. You know the kind: the over dramatic, wrist-y, back-using, exhausting port de bras. Adagios at centre seem a little longer, and people are yelling at you to get your legs higher. No one wants to be the swan that stands out because their arabesque is low.
2. You know you are getting ready to do Swan Lake when you start dieting two weeks before and start eating clean. This is because Swan Lake is a white ballet, which means everything shows, and the neurosis of ballet dancers are a little intense. Kale becomes your best friend.
3. You are rehearsing a million different roles, in a million different places/spots because you have to double up in all acts, and in all casts. Which means, your body is hurting more than usual. Rehearsals seem to be a lot longer, and the ballet masters/mistresses seem to be way more picky than usual. Swan Lake isn’t like Nutcracker, so you don’t dance it every year, so you don’t already know all the parts unless you have been with the company for ten seasons. (You might be thinking, why aren’t we doing Balanchine’s version…)
4. Swan Lake is totally happening in your school or company if the artistic staff is a little crazier than usual. Swan Lake is really expensive to stage and perform which means ticket sales need to be sold out. Which means PR photos must be perfect, and reflect the choices in casting. It is quite daunting, which puts more pressure on the dancers. No one wants to get let go over Swan Lake or not perform Swan Lake.
5. You know you are a swan if you are going through pointe shoes a quicker than normal. Swan Lake is very pointe intensive, so it seems that you are killing more shoes during rehearsals.
Here are some funny things about casting:
You know you are Odette if you have everything. (You know you are not going to get a chance to even learn Odette if you don’t have everything… I mean come on… You don’t have 32 double fouettés for black swan, and your leg isn’t to your ear in extensions… You aren’t getting cast, despite your beautiful artistry.)
You know you are a baby swan if you are one of the shortest girls in the company.
You know that in act III you are going to be doing some awful character dance.
If you are a male, and you aren’t cast as the prince, the jester, or Rothbart, you won’t be dancing real ballet. You will be standing around most rehearsals while the female dancers around you are dying. You might learn a new hobby during Swan Lake time.
When casting goes up you pray that you aren’t dancing in all four acts.
You are emotionally drained by the end of a run through because in the first act you are dancing the pas de trois being sweet and lovely. In act 2 you are a tormented swan. In act 3 you are being cheerful in the mazurka, and in act 4 you are back to being a swan.
Your back attitude and arabesque are everything, and one side might become ridiculously stronger than the other.
You know you are dancing Swan Lake if you are thinking: Why?
It may have been every little girl’s dream to be Odette, but unless you are Odette, the ballet has nothing to do with you. Now you are now going to endure 3 hours of pain, test your stamina, and mental capacity which makes you wonder why you wanted to do Swan Lake so badly in the first place.