Wona Park and Wei Wang in Tomasson's Swan Lake // © Erik Tomasson

The Story of Swan Lake

The Story of Swan Lake

A Tale of Love and Betrayal

Helgi Tomasson’s Swan Lake is part of SF Ballet’s 2024 Repertory Season and will be on stage Feb 23–Mar 3.




Taking a solitary walk by the lake, the young Princess Odette encounters the wicked Von Rothbart. Overcome with fear, she turns and runs in the hope of escaping his evil power. However, she is not quick enough, and Von Rothbart casts a spell on Odette, transforming her into a swan.

Act I: Outside the Palace

It is Prince Siegfried’s twenty-first birthday and the courtiers and peasants have gathered to celebrate his coming of age. In the young prince’s honor, many toasts are made and a pas de trois is danced. During the festivities the queen mother arrives and presents her son with the gift of a crossbow. She also informs him that the time has come for him to marry. The queen announces that she will give a ball the next evening and has summoned young princesses from around Europe deemed worthy of becoming his wife. The prince is to select the one who pleases him most.

Siegfried seems overcome and disturbed by his thoughts. The idea of having to choose a bride from his mother's selections saddens him. As the revelers disperse, a flock of swans flying overhead catches the prince's attention. He reaches for his crossbow and heads out into the night.

Dores André and Angelo Greco in Tomasson’s Swan Lake // © Erik Tomasson

Act II: The Lakeside

At the lakeside, the prince encounters a magnificent flock of swans. In awe, he aims his crossbow when suddenly one of the swans is transformed into a beautiful woman. It is Odette, Queen of the Swans. The prince is captivated by her soulful countenance and starts to approach her, but she becomes frightened and turns from him. When he assures her that he means no harm, Odette reveals to him that she and her companions have been placed under a spell by the wicked Von Rothbart. By day they are condemned to take the form of swans and only at night can they regain their human shapes. This spell can only be broken if a man promises his love and remains faithful to that vow. Siegfried at once declares his eternal devotion, but no sooner has he done so that Von Rothbart appears. When Siegfried seizes his crossbow and takes aim, Odette shields the evil enchanter, for if he should die the spell imprisoning her could never be broken. Von Rothbart escapes and Odette runs away followed by the prince.

The remaining swan maidens appear and dance their celebrated waltz. At its end, Siegfried returns, seeking Odette. When she appears, they express their tragic love in an adagio pas de deux.

Dawn begins to break and the pale light tells the maidens that they must again change back into swans. Left alone with her beloved, Odette bids him a tender farewell and reluctantly reassumes her enchanted form.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s Swan Lake // © Erik Tomasson

Act III: The Ballroom

The guests assemble for the great ball in which Prince Siegfried is to find his bride. The queen mother and the prince appear, as well as five prospective fiancées (respectively Spanish, Hungarian, Neapolitan, and a pair of sisters from Russia) but his thoughts remain with Odette. At the end of the dance, he informs his mother that he cannot marry any of them. At this moment trumpets sound the arrival of two uninvited guests. They are Von Rothbart and his daughter Odile, whom he has transformed into a semblance of Odette. Siegfried is enraptured thinking he has found Odette again.

Siegfried and the beguiling Odile begin the exultant Black Swan pas de deux. As the duet reaches its brilliant climax, the real Odette appears as a vision, but Von Rothbart spellbinds the court and so deludes the prince. At the conclusion of their dance, Siegfried declares his love for Odile and his desire to marry her. Immediately the prince's mother expresses her approval, but Von Rothbart demands that the young man swear a formal oath. The prince innocently complies, and when he has done so, Von Rothbart and Odile mockingly reveal their true identities. Siegfried now sees the vision of the weeping Odette and understands his mistake. frantic, he flees the palace in search of his beloved.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s Swan Lake // © Erik Tomasson

Act IV: The Lakeside

The swans are grieving for their queen. With Siegfried’s broken vow, Odette’s hopes for love and freedom have vanished. Distraught, the prince enters and explains to his beloved that he, too, was betrayed by the evil magician. He begs Odette’s forgiveness and explains that he could never love another. Odette understands and forgives him. Nevertheless, the fatal error condemns her to remain a swan. Instead she determines that she will die.

Von Rothbart endeavors to drive Siegfried away and keep Odette for himself, but the lovers defy him. Odette flings herself into the lake and Siegfried follows. Siegfried’s and Odette’s steadfast love breaks the enchanter’s spell and Von Rothbart, too, collapses and dies. With the curse removed, the lovers’ spirits are freed. Their spirits take flight and are reunited for eternity.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Swan Lake // © Chris Hardy

Helgi Tomasson’s Swan Lake is part of SF Ballet’s 2024 Repertory Season and will be on stage Feb 23–Mar 3.


Header Image: Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s Swan Lake // © Erik Tomasson