Question: Who is Odette?

odette swan lake viktora tereshkina

Odette, danced by Viktoria Tereshkina, makes her first entrance in Swan Lake. Photo by Dave Morgan

Odette is a leading female character in the ballet Swan Lake. The character is opposite to another female character, Odile, typically danced by the same ballerina in a single performance.

Odette is the Swan Queen who was once a beautiful princess. She had a spell cast on her by the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart, which turned her into a swan, only ever returning to her human form at night when the moon is high above. She is bound to a nearby lake in the scenes of the ballet, along with many other women-turned-swans under the same spell.

The only way for the evil spell placed on Odette to be broken is for her to find eternal love. This begins to happen shortly after her first appearance in the second act. The prince first sees her as a swan but then sees her transform into her human form and soon falls in love. Odette and the prince’s meeting is cut short as Von Rothbart appears. The prince is later tricked at his birthday celebration that night, thinking that Von Rothbart’s daughter, Odile, is actually Odette. He swears his love for Odile and asks her hand in marriage (as a heart-broken Odette watches through the castle window) but soon realizes he was tricked. The prince runs to the lake to beg for forgiveness and re-pledge his love for Odette who then forgives him.

Different versions of Swan Lake have different fates for Odette. Some where she and the prince defeat the evil sorcerer, the spell is broken and true love prevails, and others where she is doomed to be a swan forever and decides to tragically kill herself, among others.

odette swan lake irina dvorovenko

Irina Dvorovenko as Odette in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone

The role of Odette is a principal or leading role and requires exceptional ability in adagio work and, equally important, emotional acting, along with the ability to carry a show. A ballerina is often put to the task of performing both Odette and the opposite-in-style and personality Odile. This showcases her ability to be as equally sharp as a devious character performing Odile as she is soft and delicate as the Swan Queen Odette, both requiring exceptional strength and polished technique. If a ballerina can not do both, they often do not perform either or must share the roles with another ballerina.

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