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Damn you, Swan Lake

Nutcracker season is wrapping up, on to {{ugh}} Swan Lake.

As many of you know, I am not a fan of story ballets. The music is nice and familiar, I get that. And if you’re into tutu’s, there’s no shortage in a story ballet. But I think the reason why I really don’t like them is because many of them, especially the Petipa choreographed ballets, were show pieces for specific ballerinas or male dancers who already had a gimmick. In other words, some of the story ballets come off as thinly disguised variety show acts. Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Nutcracker are the worst offenders.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this if you see each dance separately. I like a good Nutcracker Waltz of the Flowers, Mirlitons and Arabians as much as the next person. But please, please, PLEASE, do not try to oversell them. Swan Lake is supposed to be a Russian classic and now I can appreciate some of the pas de deux for the hard work that they are but sometimes, it takes a ballet historian to move you past all the melodrama to the dark, erotic world of… swan women.

Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet, and former principal dancer of The Royal Ballet, pulls this off brilliantly. In this documentary, Good Swan, Bad Swan, she breaks down Swan Lake from the inside out and explains what was going on in Europe’s intellectual circles when Swan Lake was created. Rojo does her best to redeem Petipa as a musical choreographer and I think her argument works in a 19th century context. But her breakdown of the black swan pas de deux will give you a new appreciation for evil swan girls. Here’s part three of the documentary, picking it up when the Prince throws his ball and Odile crashes the party at the 6 minute mark:

 

If you’re not into traditional Swan Lake, don’t despair, there are more modern versions. The Royal Danish Ballet re-envisioned Swan Lake earlier this year. This one features a fantastic set, moody blues, golden centerpieces and a very dark ending. The eroticism is revealed in all it’s triumphant glory. It’s like Swan Lake meets Rosemary’s Baby. Now, this is a Swan Lake I’d pay money to see.

Here is part 1:

And here is part 2:

 

 

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