restricted access 1. The Problems of Swan Lake
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i. The Problems O/SWAN LAKE "You can be Benno, the Prince's Friend, and catch me just before I hit the floor.' Drawing by Edward Corey. From The Lavender Leotard (New York: Gotham Book Mart, 1973). 2 o YOU ARE going to see Swan Lake, the great and long-admired classic. I hope you enjoy it. But what, precisely, are you going to see? Swan Lake, first produced in Moscow in 1877 with choreography by Julius Wenzel Reisinger and music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky , was dropped from the repertory of the Bolshoi Theatre after five years of apparently mediocre productions. By that time, however, a variety of attempts had been made to rescue it from impending oblivion. The notices had not been all that bad; perhaps it could be saved. Even within the first season, Marius Petipa had composed a new pas de deux for the third act, and Ludwig Minkus had written new music for it. An assortment of interpolations and substitutions from other ballets followed, while Joseph Hansen made revisions of his own for the productions he staged in Moscow in 1880 and 1882. When Petipa set out to rechoreograph the entire ballet in St. Petersburg in 1894, he was already seventy-six years old and busy; consequently he assigned part of thejob to his assistant Lev Ivanov, who had staged a new version of the second act earlier that year for a memorial program dedicated to Tchaikovsky. Ivanov choreographed the final act, thus taking responsibility for the lyrical episodes in the story of Odette, the princess who has been enchanted by the evil Rothbart and is doomed to the life of a swan unless Prince Siegfried fulfills his pledge of fidelity. Petipa retained for himself the choreography for the first act, which introduces the prince, and for most of the technically brilliant third act, in which Siegfried is seduced by the pretender Odile into betraying his beloved and bringing about the tragic ending. This is the famous Swan Lake of 1895, the one to which most contemporary programs refer, though often with the stipulation that the choreography is "after" Petipa and Ivanov. How much "after" is an intriguing question, for anyone who has seen even 3 s 4 / Next Week, Swan Lake two productions is aware that, although the program notes may be identical, the ballets are not. Recognizable probably, possibly even quite similar, but never exactly the same. The deviations may be minor—just an extra bar of chaine turns here or there, a slower tempo perhaps. Or they may be substantial: a solo or ensemble added or omitted or augmented with some unfamiliar steps; new characters introduced or familiar ones dropped. Because Swan Lake can be experienced only in performance, what the audience encounters each time is a realization of—of what? The intentions of the choreographer? How do we know them? No conveniently detailed diaries provide this information. From the notated score of the dance?Most often, for works created prior to this century, there is no such score, but it happens that for Swan Lake there is one. Or rather, there are several. Which only complicates the problem. Nicholas Sergeyev brought scores of the choreography of Swan Lake from Russia and used them for the production that was staged by the Vic-Wells Ballet in London in 1934. To Sergeyev, the scores were simply aids to memory, since he already knew the work. His manuscripts, now in the Harvard Theatre Collection , contain directions for twenty-three dances from the Petipa -Ivanov Swan Lake, providing a virtually complete record of their steps and floor plans, but no indications of arm or body movements and no corresponding music. Obviously, thesetwentythree dances constitute only portions of the complete ballet. Even more important: the notations do not date from a single year, but seem to have been written over a period during which a number of changes were made in the production. We have evidence for some of the alterations.In the years between the Moscow premiere and the St. Petersburg production, for example, we know that the first two acts were made into one act with two scenes, and that several dances were lifted out of one act and dropped into another. Within the following ten years several new variations were introduced by Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who first took over Problems o/Swan Lake / 5 the role of the heroine from Pierina Legnani in 1901. We also know that the prince's friend, Benno, used by...