May 1st The Royal Swedish Opera, The Royal ballet and The Royal Swedish Orchestra.
As I arrived at the Opera I realized that I had not been to any ballet performance since around the age of six maybe younger. I do not have a strong memory of it but I do have warm feelings towards going to the ballet. The feeling of being somewhere very special. Excitement when entering the theatre not knowing what to expect. I think at that time I was definitely swept away by the music and in awe of the bodies and movement on stage. The little girl got lost in the magic of things.
Now 20 something years later I was not so easily swept off my feet. I wonder if this is because my attention span might have gotten worse over the years but also if a bit of the magic might have dissipated.
This being the first time I have ever seen any version of the infamous Swan Lake on stage I do not claim to be an expert on it. The background I have as a dancer has only been a tiny bit colored with the tradition of ballet so to be honest after my education I am most knowledgeable on some of the bodily pain and difficulty behind the beauty of classical ballet.
I find my red plush seat in the beautiful gold accented theatre. I have the feeling of when I was little and told to be on my best behavior. To sit still through three hours will be quite the task for me. Soon enough the orchestra starts tuning their instruments (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfSH1ezevjM ) before the conductor rides in on a cloud of applause from the audience.
The curtain goes up.
A man is pacing on the stage seemingly worried that his version of Swan Lake will never become a reality. His surroundings give off a dream like vibe because the stage is lit with moonlight shining through tall windows.
A young lady then joins him on stage with the essence of innocence. An image of a ballerina dressed as a white swan is reflected on the wall behind her. Introducing us to the main characters the aspiring choreographer Fred and the young ballerina/white swan Odette which will eventually turn black as Odile.
Suddenly the atmosphere changes and we have an audition type setting. Lights come up, the walls turn into mirrors and dancers start entering in their rehearsal attire, ready to audition for a role in Swan Lake. The women wear leotards with flowing see through skirts and the men wearing tight fitting tops and pants. They start warming up and showing their skills. Small accurate jumps, big jumps, turns and waltzing from corner to corner on the stage. They are all after the leading roles of the production.
If I am correct this is in part the foundation of Pär Isbergs version. Making it not only about the story of Swan Lake but letting us take part in the process behind staging what will be the performance Swan Lake. We get to know the main characters not only as characters of a fairy tale or story but also as performers preparing for a show bearing a resemblance to the movie version of Swan Lake, Black Swan.
The leading roles end up going to the younger less experienced cast members and you can feel the disappointment in the principle dancers which are more used to getting those sought after parts in a production. The ballet dancer usually given the male lead is given the role of Rothbart the evil wizard while the director of the theatre offers the lead role of the Prince to the choreographer himself Fred. The Director and her team are portrayed in a hierarchical manner their movements being a contrast to the classic repertoire of the dancers of the cast. They have a sharpness to them and a stuck up air about them. Showing lack of interest at times through the audition looking at their tablets and schedules as if they have more important things to attend to. They give the roles to whom they please and cannot bother with the upset dancers in the cast.
Rothbart being turned down for the role of the Prince now turns into the evil wizard from the story and starts to channel his wrath into ruining the production for Fred. Meanwhile Fred and Odette rehearse for the performance while Rothbart lurks in the shadows waiting for his chance to entice Odette to the dark side and watch her take on the role of Odile the black swan. Here the storyline is starting to mix in with the behind the scenes plotline. For after the pause there is a premiere party for Swan Lake and all the dancers are dressed in silk with a festive impression. Celebrating they raise the Director of the company to new heights and swoon her left and right. Odile is now being presented into society by Rothbart and Fred does not seem to understand that the white swan has now turned black.
A love triangle between Fred Odette/Odile and Rothbart starts emerging. They twist and turn around each other, pulling and pushing, not knowing where to give in. Until Fred is the one pushed out. He falls into a pit of despair hoping to find his love Odile once again. It is there in his dream that the Swans come alive in the dance of the swans. They fill the stage with their grace and beauty. There arms sometimes acting as the long neck of a swan. I get swept up in this scene the movements are so crisp and the sound of so many pointe shoes moving in rows in unison tickles my ears. It is a moment of pure dance to me because there is no extra layer of acting on top of the movements. After a while Odile appears through the swans having gotten to know the true nature of Rothbart and wanting to get out from under the evil and darkness of the black swan. In the sea of swans Fred and Odette finally find each other vowing to never let each other go and moving on to a second chance at life together. Rothbart is left alone as the stage lights start to come down and we see racks of tutus being pulled out along with dancers moving across the stage ready to go home after a long day at the theatre. The show is over but the storyline goes on as Rothbart is shown wooing another unsuspecting ballerina.
I walk out of the theatre thinking that this has left no mark upon me. It is a classic love story of sorts brought to life with dance and music. Although I would think this is quite a modern version of the piece it still feels to me like it is stuck in the 1800’s with nothing much to say but beauty. I do appreciate it, the classics are there for a reason they were a beautiful starting point to the art of dance and other art forms but I am glad that most artists have moved away from just the aesthetics and storylines and into other explorations of what we can portray as humans living in this day and age.
Árný Rún Árnadóttir