Synopsis: from Wikipedia
Swan Lake begins at a royal court. Prince Siegfried, heir to the kingdom, must declare a wife at his birthday ball. Upset that he cannot marry for love, Siegfried escapes into the forest at night. As he sees a flock of swans flying overhead, he sets off in pursuit
Sigfried aims his crossbow and readies himself for their landing by the lakeside. When one comes into view, however, he stops; before him is a beautiful creature dressed in white feathers, more woman than swan. Enamoured, the two dance and Siegfried learns that the swan maiden is the princess Odette. An evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart, captured her and used his magic to turn Odette into a swan by day and woman by night.
A retinue of other captured swan-maidens attend Odette in the environs of Swan Lake, which was formed by the tears of her parents when she was kidnapped by Von Rothbart. Once Siegfried knows her story, he takes great pity on her and falls in love. As he begins to swear his love to her - an act that will render the sorcerer's spell powerless - Von Rothbart appears. Siegfried threatens to kill him but Odette intercedes; if Von Rothbart dies before the spell is broken, it can never be undone.
The Prince returns to the castle to attend the ball. Von Rothbart arrives in disguise with his own daughter Odile, making her seem identical to Odette in all respects except that she wears black while Odette wears white. The prince mistakes her for Odette, dances with her, and proclaims to the court that he intends to make her his wife. Only a moment too late, Siegfried sees the real Odette and realizes his mistake. The method in which Odette appears varies: in some versions she arrives at the castle, while in other versions Von Rothbart shows Siegfried a magical vision of her.
In the fourth act, versions of the ballet diverge. In the original version, Odette and Siegfried, realizing that the spell can never be broken, drown themselves by leaping into the lake. This causes Von Rothbart to lose his power over them, and he dies as a result. But many different endings exist, ranging from romantic to tragic.
In a version danced by the Mariinsky Ballet in 2006, the true love between Siegfried and Odette defeats Von Rothbart, who dies after the prince breaks one of his wings. Odette is restored to human form to unite happily with the prince. This version has often been used by Russian and Chinese ballet companies.
In a version which has an ending very close to the original danced by American Ballet Theatre in 2005, Siegfried's mistaken pledge of fidelity to Odile consigns Odette to eternal swanhood.
Realizing that her last moment of humanity is at hand, Odette commits suicide by throwing herself into the lake. The Prince does so as well. This act of sacrifice and love breaks Von Rothbart's power, and he is destroyed. In the final tableau, the lovers are seen rising together to heaven in apotheosis.
In a version danced by New York City Ballet in 2006 (with choreography by Peter Martins after Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa, and George Balanchine), the Prince's declaration that he wishes to marry Odile constitutes a betrayal that condemns Odette to remain a swan forever. Odette is called away into swan form, and Siegfried is left alone in grief as the curtain falls.
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