There’s a reason we flock back to Swan Lake, and it’s not only to see the flock of swans, which, for starters, is always worth the trip. The real draw is to experience once again a grand passion that goes wrong, yet seems so right when played out to Tchaikovsky’s violins. Maybe you know how it ends (spoiler alert—magic curses are really strong), but for me, earthly love is fleeting, so that’s not the main point. The real message is about an afterlife you can imagine in this life, right? And why not? Swan Lake is very zen that way. Why not see this life—or the one where princes and swans mate—as an earthly stop on the way to a more enlightened place?
Maybe you think you’ve seen it all before. Certainly, Swan Lake has become iconic. But if you believe the same ballet unfurls each time, you’re just not paying attention. Dancers change, you change, and each time, it speaks anew. Just as no one questions why we see Hamlet over and over, no one should ask why ballet’s masterworks come alive in each performance. Despite it being the realm of exotic birds and royalty, we can relate to Swan Lake. Who hasn’t felt unsettled or depressed, as the Prince does in the first act? You may have felt pressure to find the right mate, to take up a job you’re not sure you want. Then one night, you try to clear your head with fresh air and hunting and there it is, the thing you thought you would never find—true love so rare, it appears to be a different species. But…it’s always something—a misunderstanding, an evil spell, whatever. It’s not always such a beautiful something, but that’s what ballet is for.