Swan Lake

Directed and Staged by Karen Kain

Swan Lake

Directed and Staged by Karen Kain


Set to Tchaikovsky’s glittering score, Swan Lake is the epitome of classical ballet, beloved the world over for its lyricism, musicality and masterful choreography and for a love story that is both symbolic and intimate. Artistic Director Karen Kain gives renewed emphasis to the romance of Swan Lake – to Prince Siegfried and his beloved Odette – in a new staging, choreographed after Erik Bruhn’s landmark version in celebration of her 50th Anniversary with The National Ballet of Canada in 2019/20.

The Story

Prince Siegfried is approaching his 21st birthday and must soon choose a bride. Brooding, he goes on a hunt and takes aim at a swan, when it transforms into a beautiful woman, Odette. They fall in love. Odette has been cursed by the evil Rothbart to live as a swan by day and a woman by night. Only a pledge of true love will break the spell. But Rothbart tricks Siegfried into declaring his love for the wrong woman, the black swan Odile.

Five Things to Know
  1. 1Swan Lake features an all-female creative team led by Artistic Director Karen Kain, with sets and costumes by renowned designer Gabriela Týlešová and lighting by Toronto’s own Bonnie Beecher. The production has a lush, fairytale quality with strong ties to the natural world.
  2. 2Týlešová took care to design the perfect feathers for the 30 White Swan tutus in the production. Each tutu features more than 130 hand-cut and pleated feathers made from digitally printed fabrics. Týlešová wanted the feathers to provide a visual link with the winged figure of Rothbart.
  3. 3The traditional ball scene of Act III is an extravagant masquerade in this version of Swan Lake, with guests arriving in disguise, leading Prince Siegfried to mistake Odile for his beloved Odette. Týlešová created some of her most fantastic and outrageous costumes for this scene, including a mermaid with a ship head dress.
  4. 4In the lakeside scenes (Acts II and IV), Swan Lake retains much of the choreography from Erik Bruhn’s 1967 staging, which Karen Kain performed throughout her career. Additional choreography is provided by Choreographic Associate Robert Binet and Associate Artistic Director Christopher Stowell. 
  5. 5Karen Kain wanted to retain the love story at the heart of Erik Bruhn’s version. She has said, “I was always very touched by Erik Bruhn’s Swan Lake, even as an audience member. There was an emotionality and a relationhip at the centre of it that ways always the strongest thing and it stayed with you all the way through.”
The History of Swan Lake
The Creator

Karen Kain joined The National Ballet of Canada in 1969 and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1971. Over the course of her dancing career, she collaborated with top choreographers, toured internationally and worked on stage and in film as a guest artist. She has led the National Ballet as Artistic Director with great success since 2005. 

The Composer

The late 19th century Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky created some of the most popular works in the classical repertoire, particularly his three full-length scores for ballet: Swan LakeThe Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. His body of work includes full-length operas, symphonies and concertos.

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Directed and Staged by:
Karen Kain, C.C., LL.D., D.Litt., O.Ont. after Erik Bruhn, Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa

Additional Choreography and Staging by:
Christopher Stowell and Robert Binet

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Set, Property and Costume Designer:
Gabriela Týlešová

Lighting Designer:
Bonnie Beecher

Projection Designer:
Sean Nieuwenhuis

Design Associate, Wardrobe:
Marjory Fielding

Design Assistant, Wardrobe:
Allie Marshall

Design Associate, Set & Properties:
Joshua Quinlan

Produced and commissioned by The National Ballet of Canada. 

Lead philanthropic support for Swan Lake is provided by The Walter Carsen New Creations Fund, with generous underwriting from Richard M. Ivey, C.C., an anonymous friend of the National Ballet, Susan Scace & Arthur Scace, C.M., Q.C., The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, Gail Drummond & Bob Dorrance, Nancy Pencer, Sandra Pitblado & Jim Pitblado, C.M., The Lawrence Schafer Foundation, Gretchen Ross & Donald Ross, O.C., Anne-Marie Canning, Anna McCowan Johnson & Donald K. Johnson, O.C., Tim & Frances Price, The Volunteer Committee of The National Ballet of Canada, Kevin Garland & Roger Garland, C.M. and Aaron & Heather Regent. Additional support provided by The Producers’ Circle.

The Producers’ Circle: Gail & Mark Appel, John & Claudine Bailey, Inger Bartlett & Marshal Stearns, Laura Dinner & Richard Rooney, Gail Drummond & Bob Dorrance, The Thor E. and Nicole Eaton Family Charitable Foundation, Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan, Kevin Garland & Roger Garland, C.M., Ira Gluskin & Maxine Granovsky Gluskin, The William & Nona Heaslip Foundation, Anna McCowan Johnson & Donald K. Johnson, O.C., Judy Korthals & Peter Irwin, Mona & Harvey Levenstein, Jerry & Joan Lozinski, The Honourable Margaret Norrie McCain, C.C., Julie Medland, Sandra Pitblado & Jim Pitblado, C.M., The Harry & Lillian Seymour Family Foundation, Gerald Sheff & Shanitha Kachan and The Jack Weinbaum Family Foundation.

The National Ballet also acknowledges support for Swan Lake provided by Judi Conacher, Sherry and Edward Drew and Julie Medland.

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