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Review Journal, 12-17: Classics
Von Krahl Re-envisions "Swan Lake"; Ailey Re-mounts McKayle's 'Rainbow'
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
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NEW YORK -- One of the
latest teams to take a seemingly irresistible revisionist crack
at Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," usually seen in the version choreographed
in 1895 by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa, is the Von Krahl Theater,
based in Tallinn, Estonia. The group's artistic director, Peeter
Jalakas, created this version with Moscow choreographer Sasha Pepelyaev.
Seen at Dance Theater Workshop this past Thursday as part of Central
Station, the festival of dance from Eastern Europe, Von Krahl's
production, "The Swan Lake," is a piece of densely packed entertainment
using inventive physical and theatrical daring to haul the work's
freighted baggage to the present moment.
While several elements
from the original ballet were carried forward, notably the Tchaikovsky
score and the characters of Odette/Odile, the rest pretty much hit
the scrap pile. Sergei Zagny reworked the score to include the familiar
recognizable segments and arranged it for a small orchestra. The
result is completely familiar yet folksy, sounding as if a fiddle
played the violin part. Other important, related remnants are intangible:
the work's symbolism of imperial and communist power; ballet as
the pinnacle of physical and artistic achievement... a constant
reassurance of general human superiority.
A cast of five actors
and six dancers performed "The Swan Lake." The grey transparent
gauze curtain fell, revealing stacked 55 gallon metal drums (or
the metric equivalent), out of which dropped swan symbols: a feather,
pillows and a quilt, ostensibly downfilled. Scaffolding flanked
stage right and left; atop which the dancers sat on suspended chairs
with buckets over their heads. They descended in soaring spirals
by clinging to a moveable pole whose rubber tip was planted centerstage,
allowing it to rotate in big circles. The wonderful effect was akin
to watching a trapeze artist at the circus.
The meaty chunks of
Pepelyaev's movement provided a foundation for the work -- solid,
sensible, and grounded -- in contrast to the actors' roles. The
dancers, wearing Reet Ulfsak's prim grey dresses, crossed the stage's
diagonal in smooth lunging chassees and direction shifts, floating
their arms shoulder high, bent in half. They lay on their sides
arching their backs; or flipped their feet from side to side when
prostrate. Later, their dances gained a kinetic intensity as well
as emotional import. In contrast, the characters played by actors
seemed rudderless. The three men were costumed as different figures
in power -- a soldier, a businessman, an accountant. The black-clad
Odile character (Tiina Tauraite) gave orders or cried buckets of
tears. The Odette would-be, in white, (Liina Vahtrik) appeared eager
to please, if vapid.
The use of common items
as props showed great inventiveness. The performers used the barrels
as percussion instruments and stepladders, or rolled across the
stage while lying inside them, often crashing like bumper cars.
The men donned them over their doubled-over bodies so only their
feet showed, like cartoon figures. Smaller buckets were put to multiple
uses as well -- a performer wore one like a giant shoe, spinning
freely on its angled fulcrum; another plunged his bent limbs into
four of them, his torso suspended between points. Film clips of
traditional "Swan Lake" performances, industrial machinery, and
groups of people exercising and doing gymnastics were projected
onto bedding: sheets hung on a line and reeled offstage like laundry,
and images of heads moving across stage were projected onto small
pillows carried by the dancers.
The movement, beyond
the pure dance sections, also showed a terrific resourcefulness.
Two men leveraged their weight off of a third to make a human see-saw;
the men plugged their feet through Vahtrik's limbs and walked her
forward like a giant snowshoe. These types of sequences formed a
bridge between the theatrical phrases of actions and gestures and
the gorgeous pure dance sections. The drama heightened as the work
progressed, moving through a fierce duet danced by Tatiana Gordeeva
and Daria Buzovkina (both assistant choreographers), and a wrenching
solo performed by a partially-clad Olga Tsetkova, behind whom the
other dancers stood on barrels wearing sheets as long, trailing
skirts like caryatids; these three wound up wearing black and white
satin dresses. Erik Laur made an acrobatic loop around the stage,
leaping onto the rims of overturned barrels, riding each one as
it fell forward. The men stripped off their clothes, stepped behind
a scrim, and, through the use of video, appeared to fly off as swans.
The video projections had a coarse quality which felt appropriate,
and every film element worked to good effect. By the end, this "Swan
Lake" proved exhausting but completely exhilarating, even with no
prince in sight.
Additional cast members
were Triin Lilleorg, Kart Tonisson, Anna-Liisa Lepasepp, Juhan Ulfsak,
and Taavi Eelmaa.
This season, Alvin Ailey Amercian Dance Theater has wisely re-mounted
Donald McKayle's 1959 gem, "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," seen at
City Center Saturday, and last performed by the Ailey six years
ago. The work, about men on a chain gang who dream of loved ones
and freedom, is a vehicle for strong male dancers, full of bold
geometry and sultry dramatics. In this new production, the traditional
chain gang songs (arranged by Robert DeCormier and Milton Okun,
directed by Tania Leon) were performed by a chorus and solo vocalist
Corey Glover (of the band Living Color), who lent a contemporary
air. And Ailey's dancers gave it a powerful rendering with nuanced
Although on a chain
gang, the men performed the strident moves with a life-or-death
urgency and not resignation. They entered in a line, flinging their
heads to the side and then whipping in half at the waist, and opened
and closed their breastbones to the sky, arms alternately curving
upward and downward. Lusher movements, as in floating arabesque
releves, or air-scooping contractions, softened the harsh atmosphere.
The men usually moved in formation or in turn, except when one or
another (Matthew Rushing as the boy and Glenn A. Sims as the man)
broke off to enact dreams of a beloved mother or sweetheart, both
danced by Renee Robinson. Sims, always a powerful presence on stage,
spun in attitude with his back flat and arms clasped in angry fists
overhead. A break for freedom cleaved the gang into groups of twos
and threes. They exploded in layouts, palms spread wide, and wove
backward and forward in surges, until a pair escaped and ran offstage,
where shots rang out -- a dramatic ending to a solidly-crafted rendition.
Additional dancers were
Guillermo Asca, Jeffrey Gerodias, Vernard J. Gilmore, Clifton Brown,
and Abrud-Rahim Jackson. The beating-sun lighting was designed by
Editor's Note: The Central Station festival concludes this weekend,
December 18 - 20, at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, with
Russia's Daria Buzovkina and Estonia's United Dancers of Zuga. To
read a DI review of Daria Buzovkina, please click here. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs
at City Center through January 4, reprising Donald McKayle's "Rainbow
'Round My Shoulder" Sunday afternoon and Friday, December 26, to
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