NYC dream: Adaptation of Swan Lake to Black Swan to a Medieval Style Painting

Unlike many American children, I did not grow up listening to Tchaikovsky’s famous composition of “Swan Lake”. Neither did I grow up watching my sisters practicing ballet wearing their tutu. While growing up, I have watched classical Indian dance performances, such as, Bharat Natyam, Kathak and Odissi. Among them, the dance form Kathak caught my attention because of the involvement of incredibly fast spins. I was always amazed and curious by the fact that the dancer did not faint after taking so many fast spins and still stood a farm pose in the end smiling at the audience. I did not know that ballet had similar spins called “fouette”. To my astonishment, in 2011, for the first time I experienced this similarity while watching Darren Aronofsky’s phychological thriller film “Black Swan”.

Black Swan talks about the journey of a ballerina, Nina Sayers, to perform “perfectly” as the Swan Queen in a ballet company at New York City. Nina has been a perfect choice for the Swan Queen for her excellent precision, innocence and fragile presence.

However, to play the Swan Queen, Nina also needs to dance the evil double, Black Swan. Black Swan is a seductress. Another ballerina Lilly is a perfect embodiment of Black Swan. Lilly’s moves are “imprecise, but effortless”. Nina feels immense amount of pressure to compete with Lilly in real life as well as in the performance. During this process, she develops paranoid schizophrenia. She starts to experience a doppleganger, who is confident, seductive, and a perfect fit for Black Swan.

On the night of the show, Nina embodies both white and black swan with “perfection”, but in the process hurts herself.
After experiencing the Black Swan dance scene in the film, I went back and looked up for the original Swan Lake. There has been many versions of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The version that caught my attention was Bolshoi’s 1989 production. Alla Mickalchanko played the role of the Swan Queen. The revised choreography was composed by Yuri Grigorovich. There were three unique twists in this composition. First, the Evil Wizard, Rothbert, was a twin of the hero prince, creating a psychological thriller. The audience was left with the assumption that both good and evil resided inside the Prince. Additionally, the Prince and Rothbert danced the similar steps indicating evil Rothbert’s influence over the good Prince.

Second, Alla Mickalchenko’s bold, fast, dramatic and “a bit rustic” style reminded me of Lilly’s imprecise and effortless performance in Black Swan. Finally, in the happy ending version, when Rothbert tries to kill the Prince, the Swan Queen throws herself in front of the prince and their love not only protects them from Rothbert but it kills him breaking his curse. Alla Mickalchenko’s bold presence created the perfect shield in this scene to protect the Prince against Rothbert.

The fight between good and evil is an ancient theme in all forms of literature and art. The reason for such frequent repetition of the same theme may be because art and literature get motivation from real life. From my personal life experience, the journey of a scientist in the field of biomedical science, I have observed that many of us get seduced by the glamorous publications in high impact factor journals and do not notice their lack of practical application in the clinic. Fortunately, life always gives us a second chance. Hence, the seduction of the prince by Black Swan, the conspiracy of the evil Rothbart, and finally regret and realization of Prince – all are metaphors from our lives.

Once I realized this epipheny I wanted to channel my emotion in creating a painting depicting the psychological fight between the good and the evil in the thematic background of Swan Lake. In my painting, I have portrayed the scene where the Prince asks the Black Swan’s hand for marriage. To represent royalty and wealth, the Prince is painted with golden yellow. The White Swan appears as a vision in the background to warn the Prince. The Black Swan turns him down and with the Evil Wizard leaves the ballroom victoriously. The Evil Wizard is painted in pitch black and almost as a shadow of the Black Swan to show his control over her. The most prominent literal element is the veil of Bolshoi production with a white and a black swan facing each other. The most prominent figurative elements are the wings of White and Black Swan. White Swan’s wing points downward to match with her innocence and fragility. On the contrary, Black Swan’s wing points upward to match with her confidence and victory. In general, the style of the illustration is similar to Medieval paintings where the figures are forcibly two dimensional. The painting, overall depicts the struggle each one of us face while making each choice in our life with a constant battle between good and evil within our mind.


1. Review of Bolshoi’s 1989 Swan Lake
accessed on March 2, 2015
2. Video of Bolshoi Swan Lake 1989 production
accessed on March 2, 2015
3. Black Swan film information in wikipedia 
accessed on March 2, 2015
4. Black Swan film information in IMDB 
accessed on March 2, 2015

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