Critically Examining the Plot of “Swan Lake”

It’s time for another installment in my “let’s scrutinize the logical flaws of major ballets” series! My last one discussed Sleeping Beauty, and this one will attempt to point out the biggest logical problems with the plot of the classical ballet Swan Lake. No, I don’t hate this ballet–it is a lovely production with beautiful music and incredible choreography. However, from a realistic standpoint, the story line falls flat in many ways. So let’s get started…

Title: Swan Lake

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The gist of the plot: On the day of his birthday handsome prince (seeing a pattern here in many ballets?? The whole “handsome prince” thing?? One of these days I want the good guy of a ballet to be an ugly ogre or something like that) named Siegfried is told by his mother that he must choose a bride at the royal ball the next evening. Siegfried then becomes all sullen and obstinate because he can’t find his own bride by himself (such a mama’s boy) and goes hunting with his friend. They stumble across a flock of swans and prepare to shoot, when one of them transforms into a beautiful woman named Odette. She tells Siegfried that she and her fellow swan-girls have been victims of a spell cast by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart. During the day they are swans, while at night they can turn into humans (apparently they keep their clothes on, though, as demonstrated by Odette’s lack of nudity in Act 2). This spell can only be broken if someone swears to love Odette forever (that’s an awfully long time…). During the evening, much dancing and flirting occurs, and Siegfried ends up falling in love with Odette in the course of only one pas de deux (no surprise there). During the 3rd act, Von Rothbart comes with his evil daughter Odile to Siegfried’s party–unfortunately, his daughter is disguised as Odette, and Siegfried dances with her and declares his love for her, completely oblivious to the fact that she is NOT Odette. Odette, meanwhile, flies in front of the window of the palace and tries to catch Siegfried’s attention, which obviously doesn’t work. After finally realizing his mistake when Von Rothbart reveals the truth about his daughter, Siegfriend dashes to the lake and apologizes to Odette. The two of them make up very quickly, but since the curse cannot be broken now, they both leap into the lake, essentially committing suicide. The ending varies depending on which company is performing, though, with some endings being happier than others.

My questions and observations: First of all, why couldn’t the prince just run away and find his own bride if he was so upset about having a woman chosen for him by his mother? It’s not as though he was some helpless weakling, though perhaps his desire to stay with his rich and powerful family was stronger than his desire for true love. Luxury is a strong incentive, I suppose. Or maybe he was just weak-willed and not extremely intelligent. As for his encounter with Odette, I’ll just say that the whole “love at first pas de deux” idea doesn’t sit well with me. I mean, let’s face it–falling in love with someone within a matter of hours is just not realistic, even for a fictional ballet where girls turn into swans. First Siegfried is all sulky because he doesn’t want to choose a bride from a pre-chosen set of women, then he’s all for the idea of marrying someone he doesn’t even know very well. They should have at least gone on a few dates before getting into the whole “I’ll love you forever” thing. Though to be fair, I am not sure what they would have talked about, seeing as Odette is a swan for the entire day and probably spends her days eating bugs, preening her feathers, and leaving neat little piles of swan dung on the bank of the lake (and in the lake). I’m sure the whole animal-to-human transition would have been rough for her, both mentally and physically. Maybe she even enjoyed some aspects of being a swan, such as the ability to fly. That would probably be hard to give up for a life of sitting on a throne, looking beautiful and important, and having servants bathe and dress you. Though maybe the idea of not needing to swim in a lake filled with your own waste products was enough to convince her of the perks of married human life.

As for the 3rd act, why on earth couldn’t Siegfried tell that Odile was NOT Odette? I mean, she has black feathers instead of white, and has a completely different personality!! To be fair, I suppose Von Rothbart or Odile could have put a spell on Siegfried, so maybe it wasn’t entirely his fault. As for Odette waving wildly in front of the window to catch Siegfried’s attention, why didn’t she and her swan buddies just smash the window with a rock or something? Or start screaming outside the castle? That would probably have been more effective than silently gesturing through a window. And then there are all the other princesses (Hungarian, Neapolitan, and Polish)  who spend so much time and energy dancing for Siegfried, only to be coldly rejected because he is completely infatuated with evil swan-girl Odile. It must have been a rough party for those princesses. You know what would have made this act more interesting? If the three princesses became so angry with Siegfried that they pulled out swords and daggers and started dueling with him on the spot. They could be like secret ninja princesses! Maybe they could have even ended up accidentally killing Odile, causing Von Rothbart to be so grief-stricken that he kills himself and inadvertently ends up breaking the swan spell. Perhaps they even kill Siegfried, rescue Odette and her swan posse, and go off to create a band of powerful women warriors who travel the world fighting evil creatures. Now THAT would be an interesting twist, not to mention a point for female empowerment. OK, let me get back on track now and stop creating alternate plot lines for this ballet…

After Siegfried finally realizes that he just pledged his endless love to a wicked (insert foul and vulgar name here), he panics and rushes to the lake, apologizing profusely to Odette and admitting his mistake. Odette, being the forgiving person that she is, accepts both Siegfried’s apology and his pledge of love. Unfortunately, this will not break the spell since Siegfried has already declared his love to Odile, so what do they decide to do? Jump in the lake and kill themselves. You’d think they could have at least put their heads together and tried to cook up another plot before resorting to suicide, but maybe the crazy owl-sorcerer Von Rothbart was simply too powerful. Still, if he was really so strong and evil, why didn’t he just kill Siegfried on the spot at the palace instead of going through the whole “dress up my daughter as the woman you love” prank? Maybe he had some psychopathic tendencies and liked to toy with his victims first. Anyway, once Siegfried and Odette have drowned, the curse is broken, Von Rothbart dies, and the rest of the swans are free to…well, figure out what to do next. There should be a sequel to Swan Lake entitled “Letting Go of my Inner Bird: the Struggles of Adjusting to a Normal Human Life.” Maybe those swan maidens end up going off to form that band of warrior princesses that I mentioned earlier. One can only hope.

So, thus ends my thoughts on the logical flaws of Swan Lake. I think I might do Giselle next, since I have quite a few strong feelings about certain aspects of that ballet…



One thought on “Critically Examining the Plot of “Swan Lake”

  1. Pingback: 2014 Recap | rambles of a college dancer

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