4 February 2015 at 12.12pm | 5 Comments
The grand pas de deux from the third act of Swan Lake – widely known as the ‘Black Swan’ Pas de deux – is an iconic moment from a ballet that has come to define the art form. The duet is remarkable for its powerfully dramatic choreography and music, which, unusually, uses the five-part structure and virtuoso display typical of a grand pas de deux to progress the plot of the ballet.
Prince Siegfried has fallen for Odette, the victim of an evil spirit who has been condemned to live as a swan unless someone who has never loved before swears to love her forever. During a ball at the palace, Von Rothbart – the evil spirit in human form – arrives with his daughter Odile, who by magic resembles Odette. Not realizing that he is being deceived, the Prince falls under her spell.
Their duet begins, as is typical in a grand pas de deux, with an entrée – in which we are introduced to Odile and she to Siegfried. Amazed and puzzled at the appearance of the beautiful maiden he met in the forest, the Prince is transfixed as she performs a repeating sequence of steps, encircling him with attitudes derrière. To the side, Von Rothbart’s gestures seem to control his daughter’s every move, but Siegfried is oblivious. Hurrying after Odile as she beckons him with sensual, fluid movements of the wrists and arms that recall Odette’s wings, he is unfazed even when the sorcerer whispers directions to his daughter. She performs a series of piqué tours en dehors – a notable feature of Odette’s variation in Act II – as Siegfried gazes lovingly at her. Finally she bends provocatively backwards as he grasps her waist.
This carefully calibrated seduction continues in the adage. Offering her hand for Siegfried to kiss, Odile withdraws it coyly at the last moment. With her father’s encouragement she returns to the Prince, fooling him into thinking that he is taking the lead as they dance together. For a brief moment the enchantment is broken – Tchaikovsky’s yearning violin melody turns to agitated arpeggios as we see a vision of Odette struggling to catch Siegfried’s attention. But Odile and her father hide the disturbance amid the hustle and bustle of the ball. As the adage continues, her movements become even more exaggeratedly ‘swanlike’ – shoulder blades drawn together, every joint supple and arms outstretched – as she urgently tries to convince the Prince that she is his Swan Queen.
And her efforts succeed. The choreography and music of Siegfried’s variation demonstrate his sheer elation at the appearance of his beloved at the palace. Violins and trumpets accompany bounding brisés and grands jetés and, as his rapture builds, consecutive tours en l’air ending with multiple pirouettes onto one knee, head and arms flung joyfully back. By the end of Odile’s ensuing variation, her seductive épaulement, stunning renversé (co-ordinated movement between the leg and the body) and beguiling glances have everyone fooled.
The final section of the pas de deux is an ecstatic celebration, with both Siegfried and Odile revelling in their partnership – for very different reasons! Amid Petipa’s dazzling virtuoso choreography for the two dancers are Odile’s famed 32 fouetté turns – which were first performed in 1895 by the Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani, and have since become one of the ballet’s most awaited moments. With each fouetté, the besotted Prince is drawn closer to betraying Odette. As the coda builds to a climax, Odile performs a series of echappé sauté (or in some versions a high arabesque travelling backwards) as Siegfried gazes in awe, eventually kneeling at her feet in adoration – forsaking the doomed Odette.
The production is given with generous philanthropic support from Celia Blakey, John and Susan Burns, Doug and Ceri King, Peter Lloyd and Gail Ronson. Original Production (1987) and revival (2000) supported by The Linbury Trust.