Ballerinas wait for rehearsal outside a studio. The Ballet Master arrives, followed by an admired, wealthy patron who delivers a generous donation for the new production of Swan Lake. The Patron advances upon one of the ballerinas, but is interrupted by the Principal Male Dancer who is suspicious of the Patron’s intentions. Dancers assume their various roles and a run-through of Act I begins. The Patron watches.
It is Prince Siegfried’s 21st birthday. His friends have gathered to celebrate. Everything is overseen by Wolfgang, his aging tutor. A waltz is danced in honor of the Prince.
There is a short break in rehearsal so that the Ballet Master can offer his corrections to the dancers. Three soloists arrive to dance the pas de trois from Act I and the rehearsal resumes.
A Page announces the impending arrival of the Queen. She enters and greets the gathering, presenting her son with a silver crossbow for his birthday. Before she leaves, she reminds Siegfried of his responsibility to find a suitable bride now that he has come of age. He is briefly daunted, but continues to celebrate. A pas de trois is danced.
Rehearsal breaks again. The Patron chats to a ballerina from the pas de trois. The Principal Dancer notices this and once again casts a disapproving eye. He does not like the power that the patrons hold over the ballerinas and knows full well their intentions are not always honorable.
Wolfgang has become increasingly tipsy, and to the amusement of the onlookers, he dances drunkenly with two women. As the celebration comes to a close, the court dances a polonaise for Prince Siegfried.
The rehearsal is over and the dancers go home. The Principal Dancer returns to the empty studio to rehearse his role of Siegfried alone. Immersed in his character, he conjured the fantasy of Swan Lake. As the boundaries of his reality fade, the studio takes on a mysterious atmosphere and a lake appears through the windows. From the shadows, the Patron watches as the dancer transforms into the Prince Siegfried. The fairy tale begins.
Following the celebrations, Prince Siegfried has ventured off to hunt alone. He watches as a flock of swans alight on the surface of a lake, hiding as a single creature approaches. Before his eyes, she magically transforms into a beautiful maiden. Cornered by the Prince, she reveals her true identity: she is Odette, Queen of the swan maidens, held under the spell of the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart. Transformed into swans, the maidens may appear in their human form only between midnight and dawn. The spell can be broken only by the promise of true and undying love. Suddenly, Von Rothbart appears. Siegfried takes aim and attempts to shoot. Odette, pleading with him to stop, explains that if Von Rothbart should die, the spell will last forever. The swan maidens appear as the couple begins to dance. As dawn approaches, Siegfried tries to swear his true love to Odette, but his attempt is thwarted by Von Rothbart, who calls his flock back to the skies.
The Principal Dancer finds himself slipping back into reality. The lake fades away as the studio reappears.
A gala dinner
The studio has been transformed for a gala evening to celebrate the new production of Swan Lake. Gentlemen have gathered to dine with their ballerinas. The Principal Dancer seems lost among the waltzing, unable to shake the memory of his lakeside fantasy and the beautiful Odette.
The Patron arrives, which disturbs the Principal Dancer as he recognizes him as the evil Von Rothbart from the lake. Entertaining begins, following which the Patron introduces a surprise entertainment of his own: a troupe of seductive cabaret dancers whose performance culminates in a debauched can-can. Drunk and distracted, the guests are unaware of the Patron, who approaches the exhausted Principal Dancer, pushing him toward the mirror, in which a beautiful ballerina appears.
Siegfried is overjoyed as he believes that his Odette has come to the ball. It is not her, however, but Odile, who has come with Von Rothbart to deceive the Prince into betraying his love. Von Rothbart brings them together and they dance a pas de deux. Successful in their deception, Von Rothbart and Odile convince Siegfried to swear his love to Odile. Odette is betrayed and appears as a vision in the mirror. Realizing his mistake, Siegfried is devastated and collapses. He has sealed Odette’s fate to remain a swan forever.
We journey back to the lakeside of the Principal Dancer’s mind, where fantasy and reality now inhabit the same dimension.
Siegfried is in search of Odette. He is desperate to undo the damage he has done. He searches among the flock of swans who reject him, united in the sorrow of their Queen. Finally, Odette reveals herself to Siegfried, but Von Rothbart conjures up a storm to keep the lovers apart. Their love remains strong and they unite, despite the turmoil. He begs her forgiveness. In anger, the swans turn against their evil captor and attack and kill him, freeing them from his captivity. But it is too late: the spell cannot be reversed. Siegfried desperately swears his love for Odette, who has forgiven him, but morning has come and the flock returns to the sky, changed into swans forever. The broken-hearted Prince is left alone.
The lake fades away, as does the fantasy, and the ballet studio comes back into focus.