Chelsea McMullan takes us inside the National Ballet of Canada’s 2022 production of Swan Lake, directed and staged by the legendary Karen Kain.


Gala Presentations

Swan Song

Chelsea McMullan

Chelsea McMullan’s intimate process documentary takes us inside the National Ballet of Canada’s 2022 production of Swan Lake, choreographed for the first time by the company’s artistic director Karen Kain, who famously debuted in the ballet in 1971.

Kain chose Swan Lake to be her retirement project after a fifty-year career, but Swan Song is less concerned with further canonizing her than with observing the way aging artists can welcome a new generation, should they choose to. The film darts in and out of its subjects’ lives, homes, and rehearsal spaces to capture the company as an organic entity — performers, choreographers, and technicians pushing through physical and emotional obstacles to remake a revered work in their own image. (Principal dancer Jurgita Dronina provides considerable insight into what that feels like.)

McMullan, who co-directed last year’s Ever Deadly (TIFF ’22) with Tanya Tagaq, has an eye for vulnerable moments, as when Genevieve Penn Nabity, a junior member of the company, is offered an opportunity she’d never expected. Swan Song’s nuance may also be thanks to executive producer Neve Campbell, whose road to stage and screen began when she enrolled at the Canada’s National Ballet School. Even something as simple as Kain pushing for the dancers to abandon the pink tights of the swan costumes — thus acknowledging the diversity of skin colours onstage — turns out to have revolutionary implications. Forgive the mixed metaphor, but it’ll give you goosebumps.

Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival

Content advisory: coarse language; mature themes


Fri Sep 08

Scotiabank 10

Sat Sep 09

Roy Thomson Hall

Mon Sep 11

TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Thu Sep 14

Scotiabank 1

Fri Sep 15

Scotiabank 1