Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned to create a fairy tale ballet A Lake of Swans in 1875. By that time, the 35-year old composer had been rather well-known: he had composed three symphonies and several operas, however he had not tried his hand at the genre of ballet yet. This was not surprising: at that time, the leading place in the ballet world was assigned to primas and ballet masters, while music played a merely supplementary role in the performance, serving as a background accompaniment for dancing. For this reason, composers regarded this genre as “low” and “second-rate”, and prominent authors rarely took on the task of composing such music.
Being a great admirer of the ballet art, Pyotr Ilyich did not support his colleagues’ snobbery and embarked on his commission with great enthusiasm. He most actively participated in the creation of the libretto of Swan Lake (though it is still uncertain who actually wrote the the original text for the ballet). He seriously explored the specifics of the ballet dance. Tchaikovsky’s friends were surprised to see how scrupulously he went into all nuances of this or that “pas”, trying to understand what music would suit the dancers best.
In 1877 Swan Lake saw the light on stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Alas, in this production everything was wrong: Reisinger’s choreography was described by critics as “gymnastics exercises”; due to a silly argument, the leading role was performed not by talented prima ballerina Sobeshyanskaya, but by her substitute - Karpakova; and the orchestra under little-experienced conductor Ryabov failed to cope with the “Swan” script. The ballet was not successful. All that Tchaikovsky could do was to hope that his music for the ballet would be appreciated some day in future.
Not long before the composer’s death, the legendary Marius Petipa and his gifted disciple and follower Lev Ivanov decided to stage a new production of Swan Lake in St Petersburg. The ballet masters considerably reworked the libretto, changed the order of numbers, removed the pathetic wings from the dancers’ costumes, creating the stage image deserving Tchaikovsky’s music. Their 1895 production at the Mariinsky Theatre became the classical basis for all subsequent interpretations. With every new generation of choreographers, Ivanov-Petipa’s Swan Lake is re-thought and enriched with new nuances, being an example of strikingly long life onstage. The Primorsky Stage audience will have a chance to see one of the iconic Konstantin Sergeyev’s versions of their favourite ballet with the legendary sets designed by Simon Virsaladze.