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Swan Lake


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#1 James Wilkie

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 01:02 PM

I was recently asked the question - How is the traditional version of Swan Lake relevant to todays audience and society? I would appreciate it if anyone could help me on this one.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 02:03 PM

I would ask in return, why does "Swan Lake" have to be relevant to today's society? It's a work of art, not "how to" manual or an old car. What has today's society ever done for "Swan Lake?" Posted Image

[First rule of debating: whoever frames the question usually wins. If you don't agree with the question, rephrase it early in the game. Otherwise, one just ends up getting defensive. "Everybody has a mother who wants them to do things they don't want." "Love still counts." "Well, swans are an endangered species" -- whatever.]

#3 cargill

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 02:13 PM

Swan Lake was based on a fairy tale, which were by no means pretty little chidren's stories. There are so many underlying themes in it--the power of nature, of sacrifice, illusion, seeking for an ideal. The issues are timeless, and it is so limiting to "modernize" a work of art. The music is lush and romantic and a production to be effective, must work with the music. (Don't get me started on Matthew Bourne.) I don't see the need to limit something that is universal by making it trendy.

#4 Pamela Moberg

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 04:46 PM

Cargill! Amen! Just look at what Ek has tried to do with Giselle and Swan Lake. Was that an improvement on the original?! I will quit here because I feel an overwhelming urge to use words not suited to this honorable board! I you see what I mean...

#5 Ed Waffle

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 05:16 PM

James Wilke was asked a question and decided to test the collective wisdom of the board:
“How is the traditional version of Swan Lake relevant to todays audience and society?”

Among the responses so far was one from Cargill: “There are so many underlying themes in it--the power of nature, of sacrifice, illusion, seeking for an ideal. The issues are timeless, and it is so limiting to "modernize" a work of art. The music is lush and romantic and a production to be effective, must work with the music.”

Cargill’s answer may seem complete in itself, but I wonder if part of the answer is also how to make the themes which seem so obviously evident to us just as clear to those who may be only occasional viewers of “Swan Lake” and ballet generally?

One way not to do it is the current ABT production, with that horrible staged prologue behind a scrim, von Rothbart as the coolest pimp around playing footsie with the Queen in one act, then becoming a slime monster in the next. Which is not to say that all attempts to foreground (if I may) some of the themes must end in failure. This is a continuing controversy in opera, where stage directors now have significant power in staging classics, especially in the big festivals in Central Europe—Beyruth, Salzburg, Munich. They are important because they serve as indications of where opera staging is headed in the future. Festival audiences are often a bit jaded (“Cosi again this year?”) so it is easier to get away with outrages.

The lush, romantic music of great nineteenth century ballets sounds different now from what it did then. Instruments have changed, as has musical training. We still respond to the music in a visceral, emotional way and the production needs to touch us, at least partially, in the same manner. How this can be done in the year 2001 I will leave to my betters.




------------------
"The great pleasure in hearing vocal music arises from the
association of ideas raised at the same time by the expressions
and sound."

Joseph Addison, "The Spectator", 21 March 1711.

#6 ORZAK

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 08:37 PM

In answer to the question - how is Swan Lake relevant to today's society -

Sometimes we try to help, but we get fooled, (we didn't research the problem well enough) and we end up hurting, instead.

An example is the many, many times we have tried to redo Mother Nature - we tried to help the environment - animals - etc. - and would up hurting instead. Simplistic? perhaps - but surely a moral.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 08:51 PM

A very good moral, Basheva. This relates to one of the other threads that's been going -- I haven't had as much board time as I'd like this week and haven't had a chance to respond -- about changing works of art, and the example of the Mona Lisa came up. I had written something similar in an article two years ago when the Danish balletmasters job was up, again, saying "You don't paint tears on the Mona Lisa because you're tired of her smile."

I don't understand the idea that art must be relevant, though. I think WE have to find the relevance -- it's different for everybody. "Swan Lake" may leave you cold for ten years, and then one day, for whatever reason, it strikes a chord and it means something to you. That's what art does. (Nature too Posted Image )

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 08:56 PM

Or to hew a bit closer to home, the introduction of one piece of "new" information that can make perfectly respectable companies do strange things to their ballets. I have in mind the picture that surfaced about thirty years ago of Marie Petipa wearing a Lilac Fairy costume that just didn't mesh with the Conventional Wisdom about the part. Quickly, even the cautious Kirov added a fairy to do the variation, although older heads around the co. advised that it was a picture of the original costume from the acts AFTER the Prologue. Scholarly research proceeded, slowly, and by gosh if the old heads hadn't been right!

#9 James Wilkie

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Posted 21 October 2000 - 03:28 AM

Thank you all so much for helping me on this topic.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 21 October 2000 - 07:31 AM

James, what will you answer? I'm sure you've made your own synthesis of all of this.


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