Le Lac des cygnes

Rothbart wants to exploit a fossil energy field on the shore of a lake. A young woman, Odette, derails his plans and he transforms her into a swan. Elsewhere, at a party, Siegfried opposes his father, who wants to help Rothbart build a factory on the shore of the swan lake.

As a contemporary choreographer, what does Swan Lake represent for you?

For me it is an Everest, a monument to dance. It is always a challenge to choreograph, but doing so in a completely new way, during the COVID pandemic, makes this an even more stressful work to treat.


What have you retained of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s original choreography for the music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky?

I keep the love story, the bewitching fairy tale that recounts a woman’s transformation into a swan, while completely changing the role of the parents. In most versions of Swan Lake, the parents are usually limited: they dance very little, if at all, and play a formal role. In my version, however, they are very important. They have several dancing parts, because they influence the relationships between the protagonists. Siegfried’s father is tyrannical, prone to abuse of power. His mother is protective, somewhat reminiscent of Proust’s world. Incidentally, it is rather amusing to see that in A la Recherche du temps perdu we find Swan and his lover Odette! I have the impression Proust felt close to Swan Lake… Rothbart is always present. He is a magician when he wants to be, a very ambiguous character. Apart from being a magician, he also has social functions. He represents exploitative businessmen or industrialists, who are socially destructive. Siegfried’s father partly covers the same role without being a magician. You could say there is a kind of plan, a conspiracy between the two.


And do you think there is a kind of commodification of bodies? Because even in the original libretto Rothbart, in a way, uses his daughter for deleterious ends…

That is absolutely correct! Indeed, the father and Rothbart agree on a marriage between the son and the daughter in order to increase their wealth.


“The best tribute to Marius Petipa is to enter his creative process, to reinvent things”. Things. Have you remained faithful to Tchaikovsky’s score?

I have retained 90% of Tchaikovsky’s score, of which 90% is from Swan Lake and 10% from other works by the composer. I chose not to use all the music from Swan Lake, which lasts three hours, as I wanted to recount things that are not in the original libretto. I looked for other elements in his compositions and, in doing so, have rediscovered Tchaikovsky. I explored his symphonies and the concertos for orchestra. The base, the musical foundation, remains Swan Lake, and it is supplemented by extracts from the violin concerto, overtures and symphonies…


Will we see elements from the Petipa/Ivanov choreography?

I found it interesting to rely on certain choreographic features, like an outline. It’s as if I arrived at a fortified settlement and built a new city on the foundations of old buildings. I had a lot of fun in some sections, especially the “White Act” (the second scene). These are absolutely exhilarating moments, which I have treasured and tried to revive in all their glory. In truth, the choreography does not follow that of Marius, because I rewrote it entirely. So, rather than a re-elaboration, it is really an original choreography, structurally and fundamentally. And this is perhaps the best possible tribute to Marius Petipa: to enter into his creative process, to reinvent things.


Will Odette/Odile, the white swan and the black swan, be united in one role as in the classical version?

It is a difficult role which requires contrasting qualities, in terms of virtuosity and interpretation. Particularly intensive work is required to find a balance between the two characters without losing something important.


Angelin Preljocaj

Interviewed by Agnès Izrine