Dance From Your Heart

Dance From Your Heart
The Dying Swan. Many ballerinas have moved audiences with their stirring rendition of the swan in the ballet solo, The Dying Swan. My chosen swan is Maya Plisetskaya, as I loved the way she emerged from the ether in this 1975 rendition.

The Dying Swan is one of the most challenging ballet solos given its extraordinary fluid movements and emotional expression. Dancing this solo is one of the defining moments of a dramatic ballerina’s career; as with Swan Lake, The Dying Swan is the piece by which a ballerina’s virtuosity is judged.

The ballet was created by Michel Fokine (1880–1942), the father of modern ballet. He was asked by the great ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) to create a dance with a swan theme. Set to the evocative music of Camille Saint Saëns, Fokine strove to give The Dying Swan not just arms, but wings. He created a dance of the whole body, and not just of the limbs, by insisting that the dancers become what they portrayed; in this case, the audience saw a swan and not just a person. Folkine’s choreography thus went beyond visual appeal and moved the soul and emotions.

Anna Pavlova
is considered one of the greatest Russian ballerinas. She rose quickly to the ranks of Prima ballerina amidst political turmoil in her native Russia. Out of necessity, she left her native Russia and held audiences spellbound on the other side of the iron curtain. In 1931, after a cold night in a broken down train, Anna became very ill and had to cancel a performance for the first time. Shortly thereafter, and on her final night, Anna made her last request in little more than a whisper, “Bring me my swan costume…play that last measure softly.” And so Anna passed out of our world thinking of ballet to the very end. The next day her company danced as requested, and at the end, the “Swan” music was played and the spotlight roved over an empty stage.

An early critic captured the essence of The Dying Swan by writing, “This solo is not about a woman impersonating a bird, it's about the fragility of life – all life – and the passion with which we hold on to it.” The dance thus symbolizes the everlasting struggle in this life of all that is mortal. At the same time, Swan’s creator, Fokine, felt that dance is an expression of joy, because the more joyful we feel, the more we desire to move about. While sadness, of course, may be a subject for dance, the portrayal of sadness calls for very little movement.

There are many great swans, both on and off stage. The compelling ballerina Uliana Lopatkina’s rendition of The Dying Swan is well worth a Google. I was quite stirred by her emotional interpretation and the close-up view of her exquisite physique.

At a more minute level, The Dying Swan solo can be seen as a symbol for the way that all artistic performances have an ending. By way of extension, each day also has an ending, and thus The Dying Swan appeals to me on a practical and artistic level.