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#Throwback Thursday: The Dying Swan

This week's #ThrowbackThursday is The Dying Swan.

Anna Pavlova

The Dying Swan, originally just The Swan, is a solo piece by the choreographer Mikhail Fokine for the ballerina Anna Pavlova. Technically a very short ballet - at just 4 minutes - Pavlova interpreted the ballet as following life to its expiration.

Anna Pavlova

Inspired by her love of swans and by Tennyson's poem The Dying Swan, Pavlova - having just become a ballerina at the Mariinsky Theatre - asked Mikhail Fokine to create the solo for her in 1905. Fokine suggested a piece of music he had been playing at home, Camille Saint-Saens Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des animaux.

Anna Pavlova

The dance was completed in a single rehearsal. Fokine later commented that it was little more than an improvisation, with Pavlova dancing behind him. The Dying Swan premiered on December 22, 1905, at the Nobleman's Hall in St. Petersburg. Pavlova first performed it in America on March 18, 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera House, and performed the solo over 4,000 times throughout her career. It was an instant success, and Pavlova's most iconic role. On her deathbed at the Hague in 1931, Pavlova reportedly said, 'Prepare my swan costume.'

Maya Plisetskaya

The solo has more emphasis on artistry than technique. Fokine's granddaughter Isabelle notes that the original dance is very different to its modern interpretations; modern ballerinas tend to interpret it as another of Odette's variations in the same vein as Swan Lake, yet the original was simply death, with the swan merely a metaphor for that.

Svetlana Zakharova, Bolshoi Ballet

Pavlova was recorded performing the solo in a silent film in 1925. Various ballerinas adapted the solo almost immediately after it premiered, changing it significantly. As a result of this, Fokine published an official choreography in 1925, with 36 photographs of his wife Vera Fokine illustrating the movements. The solo has been performed almost none-stop since Pavlova's death.

Ulyana Lopatkina, Mariinsky Ballet

Here's Ulyana Lopatkina of the Mariinsky Theatre:

Maya Plisetskaya - the most famous interpreter of the dance since Pavlova - in 1975:

And of course, Anna Pavlova herself, in all that is left of her performing the solo in 1925:


- Selene

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