Dancers from the Australian Ballet perform a new traditional production of 'Swan Lake' in Melbourne on September 17, 2012.
Dancers from the Australian Ballet perform a new traditional production of 'Swan Lake' in Melbourne on September 17, 2012. - 
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"Swan Lake." It’s one of the most well-known ballets of all time. And it may be at the heart of the attack on the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director. There’s speculation the attack was instigated by the boyfriend of a spurned ballerina -- who had hoped for the lead role.

Dancing as Odette/Odile is the sort of role that young ballerinas dream of.

Moving, swan like, delicately, across the stage. “I would think that being the lead in 'Swan Lake' would have to be the highlight of a classical dancer’s career,” says Alice Pascal Escher, a dance professor at Tulane University.

She says it’s the quintessential role for a ballerina. “From the earliest days when you take ballet, when you go to ballet class, whether you have recorded music or an accompanist playing the music,” she says, “you hear the music from 'Swan Lake.' You dance to the music from 'Swan Lake.'” Dancers learn the variations from their very earliest ballet classes, starting with the four little swans, slowly working up to the evil, perfect, black swan.

It’s technical. It’s dramatic. It’s poetic. “It’s just a beautiful ballet start to finish,” says Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet. He says it can also be pretty beautiful for a ballet company’s ticket sales. “When you’ve got something like Swan Lake,” says Webre, “that really helps at the box office, it’s a really important vehicle for financial stability for an arts institution.”

Ballet is an expensive art form. "Swan Lake" helps pay the rent by drawing new audiences into the world of ballet, with its intrigue, magic and its lovely lead ballerina.

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Follow Adriene Hill at @adrienehill