Went to see Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake a while back,
(October 11, dang, over a month ago. What—you busy or something Adult Beginner?)
This is Swan Lake, revamped and performed by The Australian Ballet, which I was super excited about seeing because just at look how cool their blog is.
I got to The Music Center, ran up all those green stairs, found my spot high high up in the balcony, settled in with the program and noticed: no Odile. No black swan. Just Odette, the white swan.
Where is she?
Double-check, still no Odile.
I was like, “Psssht. Well this isn’t going to work at all. I mean, it’s not Swan Lake without the white swan/black swan thing. Is it? Who is going to trick the prince and seal Odette’s fate if there’s no Odile? That’s totally a major plot point! Isn’t it? Now I’m doubting everything! Day is night and night is day! Dogs and cats, living together!!!”
The plot synopsis didn’t help. Something about a baroness and a sanitarium and, you know, NO ODILE. I put the program down and crossed my arms across my chest and was like, “Harumph. I am highly skeptical and making frown faces! Impress me, I dare you!”
And then the show started and that frown turned into a jaw-on-the-floor of wonder.
Since its been a while, I’m just going to describe certain moments that have stuck in my head, rather than get into the plot:
This Baroness Von Rothbart person constantly snubs Odette during Odette’s own wedding. A thousand little snubs. Unending. You can practically hear Odette pep-talking herself with thoughts like, “Oh, haha, whoops, I though she was coming over to congratulate me, that was silly of me to offer my hand, my bad, she was just coming over to congratulate my groom, it’s cool,” progressing to, “but why does he keep looking at her…” to, “Why is his mother being so short with me? Why isn’t he reassuring me? Where even is he? This is our special day, what the actual fuck!”
The snubs, they were really hardcore. The one I remember in particular had Odette and Siegfried up on a raised platform overlooking the party, and the Baroness strolls over from clear across the party with her hand out to Odette, and at the last minute as Odette is reaching out to accept her hand, Baroness switches her hand to Siegfried, who kisses it. Ungg! Just hurts!
Before all the snubbing though, there’s a moment in the new couple’s first dance where Siegfried dips Odette so far back that she’s able to reach overhead and scoop the end of her satin train right off the floor, and I thought, “Adult Beginner, you are about to see that exact move re-created in every wedding you attend for the next ten years.” And then I thought, “wait—no I’m not. This isn’t tv.”
There’s a pas de trois (that’s “dance for three”, holla to my non-ballet peeps) between Odette, Siegfried, and the Baroness, that brings up a lot of interesting thoughts about what do you do when he loves Her, not you.
Do you push yourself on him? Do you place yourself between them? Do you keep away, hoping he’ll notice? Do you confront her? Do you throw them together to shame them? Do you eventually break down and get committed to a sanitarium?
Odette does all of the above, and after an intermission we find her shivering in front of this giant fish-bowl of a window, being stripped of her little white gown and forced into a bath by scary-ass nuns wearing these amazing headdresses, like butterfly-hennins crossed with long, almost tube-like bonnets, completely obscuring their faces unless they are looking directly at you. You get the feeling of, “They can’t see me, they can’t see me, OH GOD THEY’RE LOOKING RIGHT AT ME.” Kind of a hammerhead shark feeling, especially as schools of nuns drifted past the window, outside the main action of the scene.
Totally scary. Made me think of the television-head people in Saga. Totally scary.
The first glimpse of the corps de ballet actually looked to me like seeds dotting a seed-pod. All the swans are all curled up on a big white disk, set at an angle to the audience, and as they wake up they stretch and unfurl, and slide off the disk. You can actually hear the shhhhhhhhh as they slide down to the floor.
They’re all identical in costume, and identical to Odette, which reinforces the idea that this is a world of her own invention.
Later the disk is black, the swans wear black, and I think I actually gasped when that scene opened on the black swans curled on the black disk, all I could think was Graveyard.
The Dance of the Little Swans:
Gentle Reader, I was worried about the dance of the little swans. I was like, “whatever you do, man, don’t mess with them, that dance is perfect, never mess with the little swans.” They were messed with. I liked it.
There is a super gratifying moment toward the end, when Siegfried and Odette are back together for one last sad dance. He is kneeling behind her and unzips the back of her white dress and as it falls away it reveals the black dress she is wearing underneath. There’s no black swan because she is the black swan. Whoa.
The black disk, which really has been representing Lake this whole time, even though I’ve been seeing it as seed, riverbank, graveyard, opens into a black hole that Odette throws herself into, and then: totally beautiful moment: the black surface of the disk is pulled into the hole like dark water going down a drain, and we are left with a perfect white sphere, and not just a sphere, from my angle up in the balcony it was a perfect white egg, full of promise and possibility.
I’ve been told that the traditional version of Swan Lake sometimes ends with Odette and Siegfried waving from behind a scrim, to imply that their pure love has freed them in the afterlife, love conquers all, that sort of thing. I’ve never seen this, because the first time I saw Swan Lake there was something in my eye but totally not tears you guys, and the second time just about anything could’ve been going on in that one corner of the stage I couldn’t see from my box seat.
Either way, the image of the white egg, all new and clean and ready to bring new things to life, was so much more powerful a redemption than any happy wave from the great beyond.
I left super satisfied and wishing that my husband could have seen it too, which, honestly, I love it when he comes to ballet but I know he’s coming For Me, in this case I wish he could have seen it just for the show itself, it was that good.
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