Swan Lake

Choreography by: George Balanchine, after Lev Ivanov

Music by: Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky

Distilling the classic story ballet Swan Lake into a drama-packed one-act work, Balanchine expertly depicts the rapture, heartache, and woe of two doomed lovers and the evil that thwarts their romance. 

George Balanchine preferred The Sleeping Beauty to Swan Lake, the first of Tschaikovsky’s three full-length ballets, so when asked by Morton Baum of the City Center of Music and Drama, both Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein hesitated at staging Swan Lake for New York City Ballet, and finally did so only as insurance that they would be allowed to mount a more daring piece in the future. Balanchine’s one-act version, which premiered at City Center in 1951 with Maria Tallchief and André Eglevsky in the leading roles, is based on Lev Ivanov’s choreography for Act II, and uses music from both Acts II and IV, the lakeside acts. Balanchine often praised the almost forgotten genius of Ivanov, whose musicality served as an inspiration for the young choreographer. NYCB’s first production of Swan Lake was designed by Cecil Beaton, who created calligraphic scenery and costumes, white ink on black grounds, following pen and ink drawings by 16th century German painters.  In 1964, with NYCB’s move to Lincoln Center, Rouben Ter-Arutunian created a new set for the larger stage, which replaced Beaton’s designs with a painted landscape. In 1986 the production was redesigned once more by Alain Vaes who created an icy landscape instead of the traditional Gothic lakeside, and dressed the corps of swans in black, which Balanchine may have been planning in 1981 when he mysteriously ordered 400 yards of black tarlatan.  When asked to justify this odd request, Balanchine merely said, “There are black swans as well.”

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Swan Lake, Op. 20 (1875-6)
November 20, 1951, New York City Ballet, City Center of Music and Drama
Original Cast
Maria Tallchief, André Eglevsky, Frank Hobi, Patricia Wilde, Yvonne Mounsey, Edward Bigelow

36 Min.
Costumes by
Cecil Beaton, executed by Karinska (from 1964-1985, Rouben Ter-Arutunian; from 1986, Alain Vaes)
Set by
Cecil Beaton, executed by Triangle Studios and Nolan Brothers (from 1964-1985, Rouben Ter-Arutunian; from 1986, Alain Vaes)
Lighting by
Jean Rosenthal (from 1964-1977, Rouben Ter-Arutunian; from 1978, Ronald Bates; current production: Mark Stanley)