Swan Lake: A Retelling of the Classic Ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

This picturebook retelling of Swan Lake is a good introduction to the iconic ballet story and reading it would be a great way to prepare for an outing to the ballet itself, as the three pages with text on them function rather like programme notes.

We open this lavish book with ‘Act I’ and a page of text which describes what will happen on stage, or rather, as this is a book not a ballet production, what will happen on the next few wordless pages. After this act is over we are back to words, ‘Act II’, and another page of text followed by more wordless pages illustrating the next part of the story. This is then followed by the page of words introducing the final ‘Act III’.

Swan Lake is at its heart a tragedy, with the young lovers at its centre dying at the end. The emblematic, fairytale quality of the story somehow gives the grisly story a beauty that is reflected both in the ballet and in the sweeping, dramatic black, white and red illustrations that make up the greater proportion of the book. That the pages are ‘silent’ resonates with dance which is of course itself a wordless art.

Spudvilas mentions in her note that the Murray-Darling River was the inspiration for her images, and while she has not used the red and ochre tones one expects of an Australian landscape she has created a mythical, dark and gothic riverscape for her Swan Lake.