When I talk about “Sizing Ballet Stories to Fit” preschool, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is always the first ballet people ask about. I feel it’s a really tidy example of how treating the actions of the ballet literally can answer the trickier aspects of retelling ballet stories to kids. At the end of most ballet productions of Swan Lake, Odette jumps off a cliff and Siegfried jumps after her. I tell the children what the dancers literally do: they jump. I also add that the sun rises and Odette becomes a magical swan again (which means she can fly) and Siegfried follows her into the sky. Ultimately my storytelling ends ambiguously but the couple are together and free of the villain. Tidy enough. I base my storytelling loosely on the San Francisco ballet production, which you can see this spring!
So, as I do every few weeks, I wanted to let you know about a few places you can view the ballet online. Swan Lake is four acts long but just under 2 hours, so you can watch it in pieces or test the patience of your child with the different scenes of the ballet. The tale is serious but if your kids are my dancers they’re already primed for it.
This American Ballet production from 2005 was shot at he Kennedy Center and features Russian narration and a credits sequence full of flourishes. I mention this one first because the ballet begins with a duet that represents the magical transformation of Odette by the sorcerer vonRothbart, and it really captures the imagination. Costumes alone make you think about the nature of each of these characters. When the lovers jump at the end of the last act they look like they’re leaping into nothing—they don’t “fly” as I suggest—but their flight destroys vonRothbart, and in true American style we see the sun rise with the lovers reunited in the morning light.
This 2012 Kirov Production begins with a cast list and photos so the kids can see that Odette/Odille is one dancer (Yulia Makhalina). They’ve heard about this so it’s good for reinforcement. The process of changing Odette to a swan is not included in this choreography. At the end of the ballet, they don’t jump at all—they defeat vonRothbart and live happily ever after. As the production was filmed for television you get a really good view of the dancers in full motion. (I rather think the productions taped for TV give us the best view, if the overall effect seems typically less dramatic.)
I’m incredibly fond of the work the Royal Ballet has been doing in their Educational branch, much of which can be seen on Youtube for free (I hope to post on that sometime soon) but they also have paid options like the one I’m linking here. I haven’t seen the production but if you know Royal Ballet, you love them.
I hope you watch the ballets with your children and feel the magic!