Hail to the Swan Queens – Odettes & Odiles Around the World


Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in Swan Lake. Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures ©

“Move over, Natalie Portman: You may be favored for the Oscar in Black Swan, but there’s a real-life, flesh-and-blood ballerina generating heat as the swan queen!” says Jocelyn Novek, one of the writers quoted by Milan-based arts blogger Graham Spicer in a roundup of praise for the remarkable Odette/Odile of Sara Mearns.

NYCB’s Mearns is part of a young crop of Swan Queens who are revitalising and leaving their artistic mark on this challenging double role, at a time when Black Swan effect means interest in Swan Lake is bigger than ever. And with so many different productions around the globe, those who are new to the “Lake” are really spoilt for choice. In this slideshow we look at some of these productions, with focus on the iconic figures of Odette and Odile.

Over to you: who are your favorite Swan Queens of recent times?

With special thanks to all ballet companies credited in this slideshow.

We started The Ballet Bag in April 2009 with the mission to prove that ballet is not stuffy, old fashioned and inaccessible; that it is quite the opposite: relevant, fresh and topical. With the aim to Give Ballet a New Spin we try to show it under a different light. When writing our capsule biographies, ballet fact cards, review roundups and commentary on social media, we cross it over with other art forms and cultural references (pop culture, cinema, rock music – ie. other things we love!).


  • July 22, 2012


    I do too agree – the photos are divine, each capturing a facet of the dancer’s interpretation.
    If I had only to choose from this group, I would pick Marianela Nuñez. Her Odette/Odile is ideal in its balance between delicate white swan and steely black swan. Tamara Rojo and Zenaida Yanowsky also come in close.
    But my favourite swan queen hails from an earlier era – Natalia Makarova. Her partnership with Antony Dowell for the production, which was recorded, never fails to get the tears going in the final act.
    I must also mention ballerinas who have delighted me in the dual role: Alina Cojocaru, Agnes Letetsu and Svetlana Zakharova.

  • August 8, 2011

    Rachel Miller

    Irina Kolesnikova of St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre (best I’ve seen in real life).

    Ulyana Lopatkina on TV.

  • March 1, 2011


    Zenaida Yanowsky is my favourite. Her Swan Queen was so majestic, passionate and beautifully poignant.

  • February 28, 2011


    Without a doubt Marianela Nunez she is absolutely breathtaking!

  • February 27, 2011


    Svetlana Zakharova is also very good in Swan Lake but Lopatkina has more of a swan expression to me

  • February 26, 2011

    Swan Lake

    [...] Pick your own dream Odette/Odile from our gallery of Swan Queens [...]

  • February 26, 2011


    everytime* sorry

  • February 26, 2011


    Lopatkina makes me cry with her Odette, but i wish Gillian Murphy could enter the stage in her place every time Odile appears!

  • February 20, 2011

    Lisa Copeland

    Lopatkina (of the Mayinsky) is the most perfect Odette I have seen. Wish her Odile had a bit more seductiveness.

  • February 19, 2011


    Emilie Cozette . ballet de l’opéra de Paris. Idéale Odette/Odile.
    Sarah Lamb . Royal ballet . wonderful Odette/Odile.

  • February 19, 2011


    Marianela Nunez is a perfect Swan Quenn!
    A great Queen!

  • February 19, 2011


    Uliana Lopatkina is definitely Swan Queen No.1, I haven’t seen such a ballerina who actually has wings and has the ethereal spirit of Odette. Viktoria Tereshkina is also a magnificent Swan and her arabesques are amazing.

  • February 19, 2011

    Rachel Handshaw

    What a lovely array of photos!

    Favorite Swan Queens that I’ve seen so far: Diana Vishneva, Aurelie Dupont, Zenaida Yanowsky and Julie Kent

    Swan Queens that I would love to see: Ekaterina Kondaurova, Viktoria Tereshkina, Polina Semionova, Sara Mearns, Marianela Nunez, and Laetitia Pujol

  • February 19, 2011


    First of all,congratulations for the photos, they are brilliant ¡
    If I had to choose only one ballerina of the photos I would choose Marianela Nuñez.
    I have seen often her Swan Lake DVD and it is simply perfect. Her Odette’s variation is magisterial. Really, when I saw for the first time the DVD I remained really astonished with Nuñez.
    I have seen dozens of Swan Lake performances, live and on DVD,so there comes a point that is difficult that one remains impressed, but Marianela Nuñez obtained it.
    Also I have to say that another ballerina who has impressed me much has been Gillian Murphy in her Odile’s variation.

  • February 19, 2011


    Polina Semionova, without a doubt !

  • February 19, 2011

    Gramilano (Graham Spicer)

    I’m pleased you’re mentioning the glorious Sara Mearns. She danced Swan Lake in Rome in 2008. I expect everyone’s already seen the YouTube clip from that performance, but here’s the link if you haven’t. (warning: it sounds as though a 1940s reporter is typing his review near the camera!)


    PS You’ve chosen some great photos!

  • February 19, 2011


    Xiao Nan Yu :)

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Ballet Bag, The Ballet Bag. The Ballet Bag said: New slideshow in the bag: Move over Natalie Portman, we have real-life Swan Queens – 25+ gorgeous #ballet #photos http://bit.ly/flgpyf [...]

  • February 18, 2011


    Polina Semionova !!!!! all the way the others are pretty but just that pretty Polina stands out of the group.