Swan Lake is a beloved ballet. Dancers have long been inspired by the the graceful “S” shaped birds that glide through the air and water alike. And the music for the ballet (by Peter Tchaikovsky) is STRONG: it’s romantic, it’s dramatic, it’s sad and it’s glorious. And that’s part of what makes the ballet so special: it’s full of extremes. Let’s start on a few STEAM ideas to get you more interested in Swan Lake!
Science: Day/Night, Light/Dark
In the ballet, the Princess Odette is cursed by Count von Rothbart to be a swan by day. She becomes Odette again when the sun sets. By day she’s a swan, by night, she’s Odette.
You know already that there’s light during the day and dark at night. Day and night, just like Light and Dark are OPPOSITES. So are Black and White. You might already figure out where I’m going here:-)
Swan Lake is special to ballerinas–it contains TWO roles which only ONE DANCER does: Odette and Odile are the same dancer in two different costumes. Doesn’t that sound like Odette having to be an animal during the day and herself at night? Humans and animals aren’t exactly opposites but when you think about it, pretty much everything in the story of Swan Lake leans on a PAIR: day/night, white/black, animal/human, good/evil.
Maybe the most beloved dance in the whole of Swan Lake is the Dance of the Little Swans, or the Pas de Quatre (dance for four). In this two minute dance, the dancers hold hands and stand close together. And they do EXACTLY the same things at EXACTLY the same time. When dancers are this close together, an error could hurt their neighbor and ruin the dance for the whole group, so they practice a lot to keep the conformity–which is why this dance is just mesmerizing to watch. Also, notice that every movement the dancers do in one direction they repeat in the other direction, too. They almost look like a machine and this is partly because their shapes are SYMMETRICAL.
Symmetry may sound like a big, new idea, but you’ve seen it a lot. Symmetry occurs when two sides of an object are the same, or “equal.” There are TONS of things you can do with symmetry in art, and as dance is an art, it makes sense we’d like to see symmetry there as well.
Art: Melodrama, Swan Making
Swan Lake is a story with a lot of OPPOSITES in it, right? Opposites are pairs that show the EXTREMES of something. Stories that have a lot of extremes are called MELODRAMAS. These are usually serious stories with big problems and bigger feelings. Remember when Odette and Siegfried realize they love each other? They don’t smile and hug like might happen in real life–instead, the bad guy comes and breaks them up and Odette goes running into the sun. These are EXTREME situations and they’re like that to help you feel STRONGLY. That’s also part of the intrigue of Swan Lake! The extremes give you a lot to feel and a lot to think about.
I mentioned ballet has a long love affair with swans–and we show it in lots of ways. There are many, many swan-inspired projects you do when you’re young and you dance. I, myself, liked to sculpt and made lots of wire swans, but I’ve found a few charming swan crafts to do which I think are very good for the mind of the dancer. As you craft swans, out of whatever material you like, you get a chance to study the animal, the shape, the curves, it’s very instructive because in time you’ll be dancing in front of a mirror and trying to make your body do things you’ve seen. You will try to “fly” with your big jumps, stretch your neck longer, or make your port de bras look like a “swan dive.” Here are a few swan crafts to help you study the lines.
Math: French words for Numbers
You don’t have to learn many, but you need to learn a few. Two, three and four are the most important for now!
I love pictures of Swan Lake because people have been so inspired by it they’ve been very creative in the costumes and the imagery. The best example of creativity among the different productions of the ballet is how we see the bad guy: Count von Rothbart. Sometimes he looks like a bird of prey, other times, he’s witchy, sometimes he looks kind of messy, with torn robes, sometimes he’s like a butterfly or a goat!
Symmetry Slideshow: Corps de Ballet
The villain (aka bad guy) is typically in dark colors, and the swans are always in white. When many dancers wear white tutus together, they make the stage look full and clean and they can be very impressive in their numbers. This is something people always expect of Swan Lake–an impressive stage filled with white tutus. It’s another point of inspiration that I hope you enjoy!