Magazine article The Spectator

A Surfeit of Swans

Magazine article The Spectator

A Surfeit of Swans

Article excerpt

Swan Lake, like any other 19th-century ballet, is not an ideal work to stage in a space that is not a theatre, unless the traditional choreography is recreated accordingly. Many 20th-century ballet directors, however, intrigued by the work's spectacular components, have tried to set it in myriad different unconventional locations, including a real lake with a floating raft carrying the swans, as in the Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas production.

What the directors seem to have consistantly overlooked, though, is that the solutions to be found in the traditional choreography -- namely what survived of the 1895 production - form a metaphorical imagery that becomes readable and accessible only when seen in its original context and environment. As soon as that precious text is forced to suit a performing space other than the one it was conceived for, the complex palette of symbols which constitutes the dramatic backbone of the ballet disappears, and all that is left is a rather weary series of meaningless pretty dances.

This is, in a few words, what has happened with English National Ballet's new Swan Lake, staged in the round at the Albert Hall. It is a pity because the production had some clever ideas. For example, the entrances of the characters from the main staircase that crosses the auditorium recalled the entrees which characterised the court ballets from both the 16th and 17th centuries. Yet, for specific reasons of etiquette, none of the ballet-masters in charge of those large-scale entertainments would ever have allowed the dancers to turn their backs to the audience. On the contrary, they created a set of appropriate positions, directions and movements which eventually became the fundamentals of classical ballet as it is still practised today.

Tradition and etiquette notwithstanding, to look at the action from the wrong angle prevents a full appreciation of the work: choreographic solutions that look beautiful when seen from the front inevitably become horrid when seen from either the back or the side. Drastic alterations should have been made, therefore, instead of retaining great chunks of the traditional dancing.

All that Derek Deane did, alas, was to multiply the number of dancers in order to fill the space and to make them turn to every side whenever they could. The results are anything but satisfactory. The pas de trois in Act I thus becomes a rather confusing pas de douze, where dancers seem to compete with each other. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.