THE SWAN OF SALEN
On a small tidal island on the shore of Loch Sunart lie the ruins of the iron age fortress of Dùn Ghallain. It was here that our story took place.
Eala Shàilein/the Swan of Salen is a small-scale folk ballet created in collaboration with Ballet Folk and Thistle Ridge Films. It's an adaptation of Tchaikovsky's iconic Swan Lake, retold through the lens of the Gaelic tale of Eala Shàilein, blending traditional music from the Loch Sunart area with the classical score. The performance features a film of the brand-new choreography by Deborah Norris, projected behind the three harpists performing a live-synced score. Tradition bearer Mary Ann Kennedy consulted us on Gaelic culture, music, language and history throughout the project - we are incredibly grateful for her sharing her wealth of knowledge.
We intend to bring the Swan of Salen to rural communities. The small footprint of the live show means the ballet can be performed in venues as small as a living room, requiring only a power socket. The show balances Gaelic arts and the classical, creating a seamless piece that is intended for everyone to enjoy. If you are interested in having a performance of the Swan of Salen in your community, get in touch!
The show premiered in February of 2023, accompanied by a CD release.
Photography on this page by Jez Ward
We are incredibly grateful to Creative Scotland, Glasgow CAN and the UK Harp Association for supporting this project.
"The way traditional Scottish dance steps sit so comfortably alongside the ballet ... reminds us that the two actually have quite a lot in common."
"The production bridges the gap between traditional and modern wherever you look. An old story told in a new way. Traditional swan costumes given a super, yet simple, modernist look by designer Poppy Camden. Old instruments playing new music."
"[The] music is a delight ... conveying beautifully the feelings of love, tension and heartache in the story in a marvellously sympathetic, often delicate coming together of the Tchaikovsky with traditional Scottish tunes and themes. It is beautiful to listen to."
"It’s a production that sits very comfortably within ballet, Gaelic and folk traditions, bringing them together as equals."
"By weaving together threads of Tchaikovsky's ballet 'Swan Lake' into this lovingly arranged fabric of Gaelic tradition, The Willow Trio create a delicate and spellbinding instrumental suite"
"...a truly exquisite album."
"...both new and old, familiar and innovative, executed flawlessly, highly entertaining and at times quite captivating."
"The flexibility of a harp trio is surprising, sounding like a classical chamber group or a ceilidh band or a cinema orchestra as needed. There is delicate purity in their treatment of Tchaikovsky themes, gritty realism reminiscent of Prokofiev in The Hunt, and everything in between."
"Somehow the marriage of 19th century Russian ballet and older Scottish culture seems natural, a perfect way to express the tale of The Swan of Salen."
The music of the Swan of Salen is a mix between traditional and classical, between old and new. The work features pieces from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, adapted and arranged for 3 clàrsachs, traditional songs and melodies from the Loch Sunart area, and original new music. All pieces have been arranged and performed by the trio, Sam MacAdam, Sophie Rocks and Romy Wymer.
The ballet has been filmed by Thistle Ridge Films at the Civic House in Glasgow and on location at Loch Sunart. During live performances of the Swan of Salen, the film will be projected behind the musicians.