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Backstage

The Swans of the "Lake"

Memories of a production — By Clotilde Vayer

Signature ballet of the Company’s repertoire, Rudolf Noureev’s version of Swan Lake is back on stage at the Opéra Bastille. The well-known story of Prince Siegfried in love with Odette, a young woman whom Rothbart has transformed into a swan, never ceases to please both the young and the old. Even more well-known are the Corps de Ballet who embody the thirty-two swans accompanying Odette and subjugate the spectator. With fascinating precision, the dancers draw perfect geometric lines and adopt long majestic poses in which, perfectly grouped as one, they become almost immaterial. The utter precision of the choreography is an immense challenge. Clotilde Vayer, Associate Ballet Mistress, reveals the work done in rehearsal.    

"The Lake" has a very important place in my career. I danced in Bourmeister's version as soon as I joined the Paris Opera's Corps de Ballet. When Nureyev proposed his version, the majority of the Corps de Ballet were ready to go on strike against his decision! He then had the sense to say he was scheduling both versions in the same season. His "Lake" soon became the Paris Opera's iconic version. This is the version in which I first danced the role of Odette/Odile. I later revived the ballet as Assistant Ballet-Mistress and it was following this production that Hugues Gall appointed me Ballet Mistress.

The defining feature of the Corps de Ballet in Swan Lake is its homogeneity. A homogeneity which above all must not be mechanical. There is poetry to be found in resemblance and harmony. In the way we use our arms, for example, or catch the light. It is very difficult to be truly as one, identical to the person in front of you. For this reason it's a very difficult ballet for the dancers. Not only do they have painful poses but they also have to pay constant attention to the others in order to be as one, to breathe as one. They play an essential role, their presence is crucial to the beauty and magic of the ballet. I try to accompany every gesture with an intention just as I do when working with the soloists. When they surround Odette, their round is accompanied by a feeling of tenderness and their poses must always suggest humility. In my opinion, each swan represents a double of Odette.    

Répétition du Lac des cygnes
Répétition du Lac des cygnes © Svetlana Loboff / OnP

At first, I work on the steps, the geometric lines and symmetries which form the choreography's skeleton. It is essential to know the steps to be able to add the "flesh" afterwards. They have to be learnt very quickly because we have little rehearsal time: places and positions are agreed upon beforehand. When we arrive in the studio, each dancer already knows his or her place and his or her sequences.    

During rehearsals, I go over all the versions danced during Rudolf's lifetime. His first version, performed in Vienna, is illuminating and shares similarities with the one created for the Paris Opera. I draw on archives, especially films, and try to find inspiration in direct sources to reconstruct the choreography and be as close as possible to Nureyev's style.    

The work of transmission is twofold: to remain faithful to the original version whilst adapting it to the dancers' physiques and personalities. Every Ballet Master proposes his or her own Swan Lake. Reviving a ballet is as much a question of fidelity to the original version as of personal choice.    

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