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Review 2, 10-17: A 'Swan' to Swoon for
Ek & Cullberg Unify Odette & Odile
By Corinne Imberski
Copyright 2002 Corinne Imberski
ANN ARBOR -- Combining
the inimitable choreography of Mats Ek and the stunning perfomances
of the Cullberg Ballet (in its Ann Arbor debut), "Swan Lake" became
a spectacular evening of dance at the Power Center of Performing
Arts on October 8. Ek's 1987 version can certainly stand on its
own tremendous strength and originality, but I don't believe that
Ek wants us to forget the Petipa/Ivanov original, and if one has
seen the traditional version, it seems impossible to not make connections
between the two. The two versions have similar story arcs and both
require a fair amount of suspension of disbelief; however, Ek's
version involves a deeper psychological core which seems more closely
related to a Shakespearean drama than to the fairy tale of Petipa/Ivanov.
The sparse sets by Marie-Louise
Ekman prove more provocative than any elaborate ballroom set. (What
exactly is that phallic, black and white set piece that sits downstage
and resembles a huge spiraling dollop of shaving cream?) Mats Ek's
choreography is also anything but simple. It combines the explosive
jumps, turns, and extended lines of classical ballet with wonderfully
quirky and earthy movements, and subtle gestures for the head and
arms. All of the Cullberg Ballet dancers are amazingly adept at
incorporating all of the movement qualities of Ek's choreography.
Because the choreography is so unique and appropriate for his telling
of the "Swan Lake" story and because the movement is so convincingly
danced, the dramatic elements of the story become very authentic
and engaging. The performers let their emotions tumble out, but
they also keep just enough below the surface, allowing them to propel
themselves forward in space and in the story.
Prince presents as a "normal" 21- year-old -- energetic, restless,
confused, and a bit awkward. He has a repeating movement theme of
a long, deep lunge with reaching arms followed by hesitant, tiny
steps with his shoulders pulled up to his ears. He seems to scream,
"I want, I want, I want!", at the same time acknowledging that he
isn't quite sure what it is that he is after. In the first act we
are introduced to the people who have helped shape his life: his
mother, the passionate, domineering, yet loving Queen (a wonderfully
wicked Caroline Geiger); three jesters of contagiously good cheer
and abundant energy; and his mother's lover (in a scene which provides
some of the most innovative partnering sequences). We are also introduced
to the woman who the Queen has picked out to be her son's wife,
referred to as the "birthday present." We are led to believe that
this woman is a version of the Queen herself, but she lacks all
of the Queen's passion and confidence. The Prince does not find
himself attracted to her.
Act II takes place in
the dream world of the Prince. The swans make a slinky entrance
as they spill out onto the stage from under the back curtain. The
powerful and slightly erotic movements of the swans excite the Prince
and he falls for one of them, Odette. Johanna Lindh's Odette captures
both the beauty of the romantic swan image and its true animal nature,
with a long arabesque line that is capped with a blunt, flexed foot.
The Prince awakens from his dream with the thought that he finally
knows what he wants.
With new resolve, the
Prince takes off in search of his love. Act III takes us on a trip
to three countries: Russia, Israel, and Spain. Unlike the divertissements
of the Petipa/Ivanov version, these segments help further the character
development of the Prince. With each country, he learns about how
men and women interact. He also meets Odile, a temperamental, aggressive,
but nonetheless appealing woman. Odile also finds the Prince attractive,
and they make their first awkward attempts at connection. One of
the most touching moments is when they stand far apart and Odile
performs a series of deep squats with the Prince repeating after
her. The squats are at once playful and sexual and the pair warm
up to each other. But Rothbart, the old man and Odile's father,
takes Odile away from the Prince.
In Act IV, the Prince
is reunited with his first love, Odette, and both are overjoyed
at the reunion. But the awkwardness of young love is seen again.
We are not given perfectly supported penches and swooning back bends,
but hesitant touching combined with lustful fumblings. The pair
exits the stage, married, with the last tremulous chords of Tchaikovsky's
music and Rothbart's laughing. The coda gives us a look of life
after marriage: The Prince is alone onstage, but out comes Odile
from under the back curtain. She repeats a movement theme of Odette's,
and the Prince realizes that life is isn't going to be that simple.
With a suggestive look over her shoulder, Odette/Odile summons the
Prince and he walks to meet her. Odette and Odile are part of the
same person, black and white -- all twisted together to create a
realistic and honest representation of a woman.
Corinne Imberski is a Michigan-based dancer, teacher, and choreographer.
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