The highs and lows of the Russian master’s Terpsichorean trio.

P icture in your mind the archetypal classical ballet dancer. The odds are the figure you’re thinking of is the elegant, tutu-clad heroine of Swan Lake , Princess Odette, perhaps en pointe , or executing a perfect arabesque . Whether you’re a die-hard balletomane or have never seen a single pirouette on stage, this one polished image is the most universally understood portrayal of a ballerina, and with good reason. Swan Lake is the most performed piece in the classical ballet repertoire and during the course of its 138-year history it has been reinvented, reappropriated, made-over, dumbed-down and spruced-up more than any other work in the canon of the art form.

Many stagings have stayed faithful to the original narrative: the story of an enchanted princess, cursed by the evil Von Rothbart to live by day as a Swan, until her true love can help her regain human form. Many more however have made bold departures from the official synopsis. Opium induced hallucinations, gender-defying all-male casts, fascist concentration camps and politically motivated, government ordered happy...

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