Illusions – like Swan Lake - Synopsis

Illusionen - wie Schwanensee. Daria Sukhorukova, Cyril Pierre, Ensemble. © Charles Tandy Illusionen - wie Schwanensee. Lucia Lacarra, Tigran Mikayelyan. © Wilfried Hösl Illusionen - wie Schwanensee. Ensemble. © Charles Tandy

Illusions – like Swan Lake

John Neumeier

Music by Peter I. Tschaikowsky


A King is declared insane during a masked ball, and imprisoned. An unfinished room in one of his own palaces serves as his prison. Left alone, he senses the fleeting presence of another being, the Man in the Shadows. The vision disappears. Exhausted, he collapses next to the model of one of his extravagant palaces.

First Remembrance:
The Foundation-Stone Celebration
Artisans and the peasant population are celebrating their work on one of the King’s new Palace. The King is accompanied by his confidante, Count Alexander, and takes part in the festivities, joining the peasants in their games and tests of strength. The Queen Mother arrives, accompanied by Prince Leopold and other members of the court, Princess Natalia the King’s fiancée, and Princess Claire to whom Count Alexander is engaged. A quadrille is arranged and the festivities reach their climax with a polonaise, led by the Queen Mother and her escort Prince Leopold. Lost in his own thoughts, the King draws away from the general merriment and remains alone. Princess Natalia finds him but he refuses her company. The Man in the Shadows is again present.

In his prison the King once again stumbles upon one of the objects stored in the unfinished room, draws back its dust cover and discovers it to be a model of the stage set for the ballet “Swan Lake”.

Second Remembrance:
A Private Performance of “Swan Lake”
The ballet is danced for the King alone. It is the story of Princess Odette who was transformed into a swan by the magician Rotbart and may only resume her original human shape for a short period at midnight. Prince Siegfried, out hunting for swans one night, observes the transformation of the swan princess and falls in love with her. The King, completely fascinated by the ballet, identifies himself with the illusions of the stage and assumes the role of Prince Siegfried. Princess Natalia who has secretly come into the theatre observes the King and is surprised by the intensity and passion in his relationship to the swan-
princess. She departs, deeply disturbed by what she has seen. As the tragic ballet ends the evil Rotbart seems, in the eyes of the King to be transformed into the Man in the Shadows.

Loud march music startles the exhausted King in his cell. Tortured by hallucinations, he imagines that the victory procession of his supposed rival Leopold is parading by beneath his window. He accidentally discovers a painting of his coronation. This sudden confrontation causes him again to lose himself in the past.

Third Remembrance: A Masked Ball
The King recalls the grand “Ball of Nations” with which this very night had begun. He had come costumed as Prince Siegfried. Clowns entertain the guests, and function as master of ceremony by organizing the various sets of the cotillion. Guests in varied national costumes dance. The Queen Mother is in Hungarian dress and leads off the festivities with a Salon-Czardas. With the changing of partners during a waltz Princess Natalia meets the King. She lets her cape slip from her shoulders to reveal a costume patterned after that of the swan-princess. The King is delighted with the illusion and is once again transported to the dream-world of Swan Lake. For the first time a spark of sympathy and understanding unites them unexpectedly. It is midnight, the end of carnival, time to unmask. A clown in black approaches the King, unmasking he reveals himself to be the Man in the Shadows. Torn out of his imagined world, the King and the illusion of a relationship with Natalia-Odette are destroyed. The King seems insane and insults the Queen Mother. State officials arrest him.

The King is asleep. Hearing a knock, he awakens, as if from a nightmare. Princess Natalia, still in her carnival swan-costume, is allowed in for a short visit. After a time, he sends her away. Fantastic visions of “Swan Lake” appear mingling with reality. The King senses the presence of the Man in the Shadows and, turning to him, accepts his destiny.