Never underestimate the lasting power of a humble beginning. When Swan Lake opened in 1877 at the Bolshoi in Moscow, it was so poorly received that a distraught Tchaikovsky refrained from composing another ballet for the next 13 years. Today however, Swan Lake is probably the most famous ballet in the classical repertoire.
Tchaikovsky’s quintessential ballet tells the story of the heroine Odette, a princess turned into a swan by a Machiavellian sorcerer and forced to live in seclusion by a lake, temporarily regaining her human form only at night. Odette is imprisoned within herself, condemned to a life devoid of hope, a life of quiet desperation.
The spell can only be broken if a man who has never fallen in love before swears his undying allegiance to the princess. As fate or serendipity would have it, one night the tragic heroine meets Prince Siegfried and for a fleeting moment, their hearts beat in perfect synchronicity. Unfortunately, the nefarious machinations of her arch nemesis pose a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to the couple and the ending is vaguely reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.
Obligatory plot synopsis set aside, last year I saw the Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, the national ballet company of the Principality of Monaco, perform a modern rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. This year, I saw the English National Ballet perform the classical version of the same piece. If forced to choose between modernity and classicism, I would invariably side with the latter. Improving upon a timeless classic is just a thankless task. Myriads have tried; very few have succeeded. In any case, this was by far the best performance of Swan Lake that I have ever seen. Amidst the vapidness of this week, a night to be cherished, an experience to be remembered.