Kharkiv Opera House Flooded with Water for Grand Performance of Swan Lake

At the Kharkiv Opera House, the famous ballet Swan Lake was performed with an actual lake on the stage.

It marked the first time dancers wore pointe shoes on a flooded stage, according to French choreographer Johan Nus.

“To mix classical (ballet) and pointe shoes inside the water, it is the first time. Never I saw that before. You have some ballet inside the water, but it is a more contemporary dance. But this is the first time when the first ballerina puts pointe shoes inside the water. It is really a big, big challenge,” choreographer Johan Nus said.

Nus adapted the classic choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and combined it with moves that were easier to perform in water and quite literally more splashy.

For that reason, finding slip-resistant footwear for the dancers became especially important. The dancers wore rubber-coated socks to improve their grip, while the lead ballerinas performed in their usual pointe shoes.

“These pointe shoes can get wet. They get soaked, the sole gets soaked. But after they dry out, they become almost like new again,” Kharkiv National Theatre ballerina Antonina Radiyevska said.

“This is how our feet look like in the water. They grip well thanks to the rubberized surface of the socks. It is a huge advantage. It saved our legs, arms, our mood, and nerves. And it’s good,” a Kharkiv National Theatre ballet dancer Denys Panchenko said.

A shallow pool was installed on the stage. Four and a half tons of water were heated to 42 degrees Celsius and used to flood the stage in two of the ballet’s four acts. But the water cools quickly, and dancing, even in shallow water, is not only difficult, but also dangerous.

“The boys fell on their backsides, dived headfirst into the water. All these things happened because we needed some time to get used to it. The water-covered surface is not slippery in itself, but at some point, after several dozen feet have walked across it, it becomes slippery all of a sudden. We needed time to find shoes that would grip the surface,” Radiyevska said.

Nus, who had previously staged versions of The Little Prince and Beauty and the Beast in Kharkiv, said he had long dreamed of staging Swan Lake on water. His version is the most expensive production in the theater’s history. But viewers thought the expense was worthwhile.

“A spectator could have certainly thought about what would happen if there was too much water, then parts of the ballerinas’ costumes would have sagged and they would have looked like — and I apologize for saying this – wet hens instead of beautiful swans. But no, it was a beautiful show thanks to the rehearsals, preparations and professional approach of (choreographer Johan) Nus,” visitor Hennadii Titov said.

After a four-day premiere run of Swan Lake: A Water Fantasy in Kharkiv, the company set out for a tour of the new production in Belgium.