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Swan Lake (Russian: Лебединое Озеро, Lebedinoye Ozero) is a ballet, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky , composed 1875-1876. The scenario, initially in four acts, by Vladimir Begichev and Vasiliy Geltser was fashioned from Russian folk tales as well as an ancient German legend, which tells the story of Odette, a princess who alongside many other women, has been turned into a swan. She meets Prince Siegfried, falls in love with him and he loves her back, but it looks like their path will be full of obstacles...

The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger. The ballet received its premiere on February 27, 1877, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow as Le lac des cygnes ("The Lake of the Swans"), French being the language of the Imperial Russian court. Although it is presented in many different versions, most ballet companies base their stagings both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, first staged for the Imperial Ballet on January 15, 1895, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. For this revival, Tchaikovsky's score was revised by the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre's chief conductor and composer Riccardo Drigo.

Many critics have disputed the original source of the Swan Lake story. The Russian ballet patriarch Fyodor Lopukhov has called Swan Lake a "national ballet" due to the swans which are common in Russian romantic lyrics, while many of the movements of the corps de ballet originated from Slavonic ring-dances. According to Lopukhov, "both the plot of Swan Lake (despite the fact that it is based on German source), the image of the Swan, and the very idea of a faithful love are essentially Russian". Though the scenario is (as in the case of The Nutcracker) tenuously based on a story by a German author, in this case Johann Karl August Musäus' Der geraubte Schleier ("The Stolen Veil"), this provides only the general outline of the plot; the Russian folktale "The White Duck" also bears some resemblance to the story of the ballet and might have been another possible source. The contemporaries of Tchaikovsky recalled the composer taking great interest in the life story of Ludwig II, the Bavarian King and Count Palatine of the Rhine, who was constantly associated with the symbol of the Swan, and whom "whether consciously or not"” Tchaikovsky chose as the prototype of the dream-haunted Prince Siegfried.

Works that are based on or revolve around Swan Lake include:

  • The Swan Princess
  • Black Swan
  • The Black Swan (a semi-novelization from Odile's point of view)
  • Princess Tutu (a fairytale based series which take considerable influence from Swan Lake)
  • Barbie of Swan Lake
  • Swan Lake  (世界名作童話 白鳥の湖 Sekai Meisaku Dōwa Hakuchō no Mizūmi, lit. World Masterpiece Fairy Tale: Swan Lake), a 1981 Russian-Japanese anime movie by Toei and Soyuzmultfilm.

In Russian media Swan Lake is somewhat of a trope in its own right. If there is any scene involving ballet or ballet will be shown on TV it will always be Swan Lake. Always. Specifically "the dance of the little swans" scene.

Works that reference or include scenes from Swan Lake are:

  • About Sidorov Vova
  • Despicable Me (the girls rehearse an excerpt)
  • Gentlemen of Fortune, Sad Sack reminiscences how he went to the ballet before he became criminal
  • Kidnapping Caucasian Style
  • Nu Pogodi
  • The second game in the Dark Parables PC game series presents Odette (only identified as the Swan Lake Princess) as a Posthumous Character.
  • From the same game developers, Macabre Mysteries: Curse of the Nightingale includes a Backstory in which two women play the "Swan Sisters" in a ballet which is clearly inspired by, if not a revamping of, Swan Lake. The one who plays the white swan is good; the one who plays the black swan is evil.
  • When Rudolf Nureyev appeared on The Muppet Show, they had him do Swine Lake.
  • In Billy Elliot the theme appears several times throughout the film and, in the final scene, the titular character plays a signet in the ballet.
  • Loom, a 1990 PC adventure game, used Swan Lake for the entire sound track.
  • Kaleido Star has the Kaleido Stage adapt Swan Lake towards the end: it has Sora as Odette, Leon as Siegfried, and May as Odile. Since the cast aims to adapt it for children according to Sora's wishes, they go for a Happily Ever After version: i.e., nobody dies, Anna and her partners Hannah and Barbara insert some comedic antics, and May's Odile not only follows the modern tradition of being an Anti-Villain but is ultimately redeemed.

Also notable for having additional meaning for Russians because during the 1991 crisis, all normal television programs were shut down and all channels showed Swan Lake instead.

Swan Lake has examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: In at least one version Siegfried tries to fight off von Rothbart, but accidentally shoots Odette dead. He then takes her lifeless body in his arms and drowns himself in the lake.
  • Acting for Two: Odette and Odile are traditionally played by the same ballerina as they have to resemble each other. Some productions cast two women in the roles, which leaves room for Odile to have a part in the finale.
  • Adaptational Badass: In some versions, Siegfried is not just a hunstman but an accomplished fighter. As such, he fights Rothbart and rips away the sorcerer's wings, depowering AND killing him. That breaks the spell and releases Odette and her friends.
    • Another plays this more tragically, with him trying to do the same... but accidentally killing Odette instead..
  • Animal Stereotypes
  • Betty and Veronica: Odette and Odile are this for Siegfried.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The 1895 revival by Marius Petipa, Riccardo Drigo and Lev Ivanov , aka the best known version of the ballet and a sort-of Trope Codifier, ends like this. When Siegfried confesses his love to Odile, believing her to be Odette, thanks to Rothbart's machinations, he seals Odette's fate: her spell is now unbreakable. Odette, about to be doomed to swan form perpetually, leaps into the lake and drowns herself before she's stuck. Unwilling to live without her, Siegfried follows suit and the two die together, often with Rothbart dying as well since their doomed love turns out to be stronger than his magic. Sometimes, the two lovers are shown rising to heaven in an apotheosis. In some versions of the ballet, this is changed to a happy ending, where Odette lives and she and the other swans are freed from their captivity, and sometimes this includes Odile being redeemed as well. See Disneyfication, below.
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: Odette wears white; Odile wears black. This wasn't always the case: at the beginning, Odile would simply wear a multicolored dress without any feathers or black colors. Only around The Fourties would the archetypical "Odile in a black feathered outfit" image spread, thanks to the Russian-born ballerina Tamara Toumanova.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Some interpretations of Odile, especially when the two are played by different ballerinas.
  • Disneyfication: Depending on the staging, the Bittersweet Ending may be changed to Happily Ever After. The same change was made in the animated feature The Swan Princess, a direct example applied to the ballet's plot.
    • Interestingly, the Happy Ending seems to have been the original, but Executive Meddling (or something of that nature) caused it to be changed to the Bittersweet Ending accepted today.
    • In the Russian-Japanese movie Swan Lake, Rothbart was Odette's Stalker with a Crush whereas Odile was Siegfried's. At the end Odette was willing to give herself to Rothbart so he wouldn't kill Siegfried, but Siegfried killed himself to save her. His Heroic Sacrifice caused a The Power of Love-driven white light that killed both Rothbart and Odile, then undoes the spell over Odette.
  • Distressed Damsel: Odette and all the other swan maidens.
  • Downer Ending: The original end by Tchaikovsky has Odette cursed forever as Siegfried is tricked into loving Odile. As the Swans get ready to leave the lake she stays behind, wishing to see Siegfried one last time. A storm begins, then Siegfried arrives and explains himself, asking Odette to forgive him — which she refuses. They have a fight and Siegfried loses it, removing Odette's magical crown in an attempt to keep her by his side: she claims that this will kill her and collapses in his arms. The lake rises in the storm and the lovers drown together.
  • Driven to Suicide: In most versions, after Siegfried promises love to the disguised Odile rather than Odette, Odette chooses drowning herself rather than be stuck as a swan forever. After a last talk with his true love, Siegfried follows her and they die together.
  • Evil Counterpart/Evil Twin: Odile.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Von Rothbart.
  • Gender Flip: The Matthew Bourne version features male swans.
  • Heel Face Turn: Odile in some versions.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: Odette and the other swan maidens.
  • Karmic Death
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Siegfried.
  • Leitmotif
  • Light Is Good/Dark Is Evil: Played straight with Odette and Odile, who wear white and black tutus respectively.
  • Love At First Sight
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Odile, at her most sympathetic. If not, she's a Daddy's Little Villain.
  • Master of Illusion: Rothbart.
  • Marry for Love: Siegfried's biggest desire is to do this, much to his My Beloved Smother's mother's chagrin. As such, he is the perfect person to break Odette and her friends's curse: it can only be done if 1) someone who has never fallen in love promises her to love her forever, and 2) before the culprit who enchanted her dies.
  • Mistaken Declaration of Love: Von Rothbart tricks Siegfried into declaring his love to his daughter Odile, whom he has disguised as Odette, and so dooms the lovers.
  • Multiple Endings: Modern versions tend to change the ending of the ballet, going from fully Happy Endings to Downer Endings that are even worse than the original.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Prince Siegfried is said to be based on King Ludwig II, the nineteenth century Bavarian monarch often referred to as "the Swan King."
  • Power of Love: This is what's supposed to break Odette and her friends' curse.
    • In one version, what actually breaks the curse is the swans attacking Rothbart after he succeeds on tricking Siegfried. Their love for Odette releases her so she can be reunited with the repentant Siegfried, and Rothbart then falls to his death..
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The 1895 revival by Petipa, Ivanov and Drigo made heavy changes to the first script:
    • The original had four acts, and this one has just three (mergining Act I and II into a single one).
    • In the original script Odette was antagonized by her Wicked Stepmother, with Rothbart merely showing up to bring Odile in the third act. From this version onwards, Rothbart is the sole Big Bad.
    • Odette was a half-fairy, half-human girl who, alongside her friends, can switch willingly from swan to human. In this, Odette and the swan maidens are human women changed into swans via a curse.
    • In the original Odette has a magical crown that protects her from her Wicked Stepmother and she collapses when Siegfried takes it away.. This is eliminated in the new version
    • The original Downer Ending changes into a Bittersweet Ending, both described above.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In some productions, Siegfried dies with Odette to atone for his betrayal.
  • Shapeshifting Lover
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Siegfried and Odette are tailor-made for this trope. And that's what happens, though near all versions have them Together in Death, and the most optimistic ones even have them averting this.
  • Swans-a-Swimming: Naturally.
  • Taking You with Me: In some versions either Rothbart and Siegfried die as they fight in the middle of a raging storm and drown, or Rothbart completely overpowers Siegfried and the Prince chooses this as his last stand, at the cost of Odette surviving but being stuck as a swan.
  • The Vamp: Odile, though some versions make her more sympathetic and thus a Broken Bird Femme Fatale instead.
  • Woman in White: Odette, of course.