Danse des petits cygnes is a famous dance from the ballet Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky, from the ballet’s second act, the fourth movement of the No. 13 piece, but has become synonymous with the choreography by Lev Ivanov. Translated from French, it means "Dance of the Little Swans"; it is also known as Dance of the cygnets.
Ivanov's choreography—created for the famous revival of Swan Lake in 1895 — was meant to imitate the way cygnets huddle and move together for protection. Four dancers enter the stage in a line and move across with their arms crossed in front of one another, grasping the next dancer's hand. They move sideways, doing sixteen pas de chat. Ideally the dancers move in exact or near-exact unison. At the very end, they break their chain and try to "fly", only to drop to the ground.
According to ballet writer Jean Battey Lewis in a 1997 NPR commentary the Little Swans are usually portrayed by unknown, up-and-coming dancers. Ironically, in view of the conformity required of the quartet, being cast as a Little Swan is often seen as a chance to be singled out—noticed and given more important roles. An example of the comedic potential of this dance can be seen in the Morecambe and Wise film The Intelligence Men (1965). This can also be known as the pas de quatre this term used by the French to re-create a more visual ballet.
^Dance of the Little Swans by Yevgenia Obraztsova, Svetlana Ivanova, Irina Golub & Olesya Novikova. Konstantin Sergeyev's production of the Petipa/Ivanov choreography, filmed live at the Mariinsky Theatre, 2006.
^4 Little Swans. National Public Radio's All Things Considered, May 13, 1997. "The dancers who perform that famous chorus line in Swan Lake always strive to look as though they're dancing as one unit. Jean Battey Lewis reports on the amusing ways dancers keep it all together, remember all the steps, and look just alike while visions of stardom dance in their heads. The American Ballet Theater is starting its season with several performances of Swan Lake this week." Audio unavailable.