Dancing Odette/Odile in Swan Lake is a rite of passage for many ballerinas. Because the character of Odile is actually the evil Von Rothbart’s daughter magically disguised as Odette, the two roles are most often portrayed by the same dancer, but occasionally they are danced by two different dancers in the same performance. If you could only dance one role… which swan would you be?

Left: Principal Dancers Yuka Iino as Odette and Ronnie Underwood as Prince Siegfried in OBT’s 2008 production of Swan Lake. Photo by Ben Kerns. Right: Principal Dancers Alison Roper as Odette and Artur Sultanov as Prince Siegfried in OBT’s 2006 production of Swan Lake. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Odette: Regal and True

Odette is an innocent. She’s sweet, noble and guileless. She is Queen of the Swans, who, along with her flock, is a victim of Von Rothbart’s evil curse. She is doomed to be a swan by day, and only allowed her humanity from midnight to dawn. Only the love of a man who swears eternal fidelity can break the spell and free her – and she’s putting all her eggs in Prince Siegfried’s basket.

Left: Principal Dancer Yuka Iino as Odile and Guest Artist Ruben Martin as Prince Siegfried in OBT’s 2006 production of Swan Lake. Right: Principal Dancers Alison Roper as Odile and Artur Sultanov as Prince Siegfried in OBT’s 2006 production of Swan Lake. Photos by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Odile: The Seductress

Odile is a vixen. She’s flashy, bewitching and manipulative. She’s magically disguised as Odette, to trick Prince Siegfried into pledging his love to her instead. She doesn’t love Prince Siegfried, but that doesn’t much matter. She’ll do whatever it takes to ruin Odette’s chances at love and freedom – even if it takes 32 fouettés.

Odettes/Odiles Throughout History

Here’s a look at five ballerina’s throughout Swan Lake’s 100+ year history that have danced both roles and helped to make them iconic:

Galina Ulanova as Odette and Odile in the 1930s and 40s.
Cynthia Gregory as Odette, American Ballet Theatre, 1960s. Photo by Bil Leidersdorf. As Odile with Fernando Bujones. Photo by Jack Mitchell.

About Odette/Odile:

“She is a princess of the night; she is all magic, a creature of the imagination.”

– George Balanchine

Natalia Makarova as Odette and Odile in the 1970s and 80s.

“A lyrical drama in dance requiring not only impeccable academic schooling but a special gift for dramatic acting.”

– Natalia Makarova

Svetlana Zakharova as Odette and Odile. Left: The Kirov Ballet. Photo by Natasha Razina. Right: The Bolshoi Ballet, 2004. Photo by I. Zakharkin.
Marianela Nuñez as Odette, and as Odile with Thiago Soares as Prince Siegfried. The Royal Ballet, 2008. Photos by Dee Conway.

3 thoughts on “Odette or Odile: Which Swan Would You Be?

  1. Thank you so much for the Odette/Odile pictures, especially the historical ones. George Balanchine’s description of her was perfect. Looking forward very much to seeing Swan Lake again next month.

  2. Svetlana’s Odette variation is one of my favorites, so so gentle and delicate. I like the role of Odile best though due to the demanding strength and energy…the 32 fouettés are incredible!

  3. I first saw it as a child when my big sister Joan took me. It was in Chicago but the company was the Kirov Ballet. I couldn’t get the music out of my mind. It was imprinted forever.

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