I don’t remember where I heard that Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake was coming to Tokyo, but I immediately knew I had to see it. The original has been my favorite ballet since high school, and there’s that harp movement that simultaneously makes me want to master the instrument and never touch it again in utter defeat that I could never be awesome enough to play it.
The Bourne version also catch my attention with its inclusion in the climactic finale of the movie "Billy Elliot.” The title character, a dancing boy in a rough Irish city, takes up ballet and eventually is played by the awe-inspiring Adam Cooper. Since then, I’ve received the DVD of the entire ballet, and watched it several times.
Perhaps it sounds like a joke at first. “An all-male Swan Lake?” my coworkers said when I told them about my weekend. “It’s a comedy, right?” While I gather that there is a parody version, complete with men-on-pointe, this is not it. Okay, the feathery pants are a little silly the first time you see them. But think about it – they’re no less bizarre than a woman in a tutu pretending to be a swan.
The original premise I believe is that in the original ballet, swans are represented (in the feminine) as delicate, graceful, gentle. Bourne wanted to show that they are creatures also of great strength, who can be vicious, wild, and unpredictable. (Check out his version of The Nutcracker, too.)
The famous “Dance of the Little Swans” where instead of being in-a-line there is a group of appropriately very awkward and adorable adolescents:
Solo by the main Swan (Adam Cooper!!!). As much a courtship display as a dance.
I think this might be my favorite man/anthropomorphic-animal love-story ever. The Swan lets itself be caressed one minute, and kicks out the next with a lightning flash of its foot. It’s so beautifully unpredictable, and inhuman, and yet can still sacrifice itself for the Prince, that it almost gives one hope that creatures as disparate as a man and a woman, or two people from different countries – or even just two individuals – could find the same connection.
Only in ballet.
Interesting side note on the title: In English, of course, “swan” could be referring to either black or white swans. If we wanted to specify the black swan we might say that, but the title “Swan Lake” does not discriminate against the black swan – it is included and is of course a vital part of the story and the casting. In the Japanese, however, it is “Hakuchou no Mizuumi” and the kanji hakuchou is literally 白鳥 white + bird. If you wanted to say a black swan, it would be kokuchou 黒鳥. (I was so excited when I figured that out that I clapped my hands and said, “Oh!” out loud, highly amusing everyone in my Japanese class.) By the same token, black and white people are kokujin 黒人 and hakujin 白人 respectively. So in talking about the ballet in Japanese one leaves the black swan out. There is no way to say just plain swan in Japanese (well, except for katakana suwan) which I think I will mark down in my notes as “another way English is superior to Japanese.” Hey, they are hard to come by, so I’ve got to take it where I can.