swan lake

The Russian National Ballet performing "Swan Lake."

The Russian National Ballet: "Swan Lake" is coming to Stephens Auditorium this Thursday. This touring company is known for its dedication to the art of ballet and for creating a memorable experience for people of all ages.

“Swan Lake” is an iconic ballet full of love, tragedy and magic. In the story, a princess named Odette is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer, Baron Von Rothbart. To break the spell, the prince, Siegfried, must fall in love with Odette. But of course, nothing is as it seems. 

This might seem like an easy story to tell, but many people don’t realize that the dancers in ballet don’t have speaking lines. Janice Baker, assistant professor of kinesiology, shared how music coordinates with the dance. 

“The score is quite narrative," Baker said. "It’s quite gorgeous in itself when you just sit and listen to music. But the score has a reoccurring motif that is the swan. So the score helps tells the story, and the choreographer and the composer did work together to make that happen.”

Dancers have other tools to express the narrative as well, such as facial expressions. “Swan Lake” also uses unique feathered costumes to represent the swans and special arm movements to resemble fluttering wings. 

While the plot may be truly appealing, the dancers themselves are enchanting. Ballerinas are a form of athlete who put determination, effort and skill into their craft.

“You can go and look at the story, but oftentimes, the dance supersedes the story," Baker said. "Sometimes in classical work, the prowess of the dancer is part of the magic of the evening — to watch them balance and work together and create these more allusions than a narrative tale […]. It’s an atmosphere more than a story. And the more you go to appreciate the atmosphere, the more that the music, the costumes, the dance and the pantomime spin this magical tale.”

“Swan Lake” is also a versatile performance combining many different styles and techniques of ballet, such as character dance, pointe, pas de deux and corps de ballet.

“Character dance” is a subset of dance where traditional folk dances are adapted to classical ballet and are often used to express a character’s personality.

“Pointe” is when a ballerina uses specialized pointe shoes which have reinforced toe boxes, thus allowing them to dance directly on their toes.

“Pas de deux” is a French term for a pair dance, while “corps de ballet” is an ensemble dance, commonly performed in unison. This allows choreography to be interesting for both dance aficionados and the first-timers alike. 

“Everyone has something to look forward to," Baker said. "There’s the beautiful, classical pointe work that comes in pas de deux, and the swan has some beautiful pas de deux with the prince. They’re very renowned and very respected. And then there’s the corps de ballet. That’s the big group of dancers who dance together, and the Russians are renowned for their ability to dance in perfect unison.” 

With the influx of modern technology, it seems easier than ever to simply pull up a YouTube video to get your fix or even watch a movie like “Black Swan,” but the viewer poses the risk of missing the element that makes dance truly sensational. 

“Film is enduring, and it makes you immortal, but live has got that energy that’s transformational," Baker said. "It’s the same in theater. You can watch the film, and the film is wonderful, but live theater is exciting. Live should be experienced by everyone sometime in their life… And to watch those dancers, they’ve spent the last fifteen years of their lives creating themselves into these magical beings that we call ballet dancers. They are well worth your time.” 

The Russian National Ballet: “Swan Lake” will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday in Stephens Auditorium. Tickets start at $35 and are on sale at Ticketmaster or at the box office. 

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