Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

When Is a Swan Not a Swan?

Debbie and Laurie say:

Matthew Bourne’s popular and critically acclaimed all-male version of the classic Swan Lake ballet has been playing around the world for ten years. It’s finally coming to San Francisco, and thus Bourne is being interviewed all over town.

Debbie says, “I heard him yesterday on KALW’s “Open Air” arts show. I was so horrified at what he was saying that I went web-searching to see if he’d said anything else similar that I could find, and he says it all the time, including here.

He said it even more directly on the radio, but the quotation from the article will do just fine.”

… the strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to me the musculature of a male dancer much more readily than a ballerina in a white tutu. The ballerina can successfully suggest the serene beauty of the bird gliding across the water. However, one of the images we studied in rehearsal was a slow-motion film of a swan attacking a small fishing boat (protecting its young, you think) and it was terrifying. We wanted to bring out the swans’ more violent nature …

Alan Farley, the interviewer, apparently didn’t see anything wrong with the comparable statement on the radio.”

So here’s a man who’s getting worldwide artistic credit for gender-bending, groundbreaking work, and what he’s really saying, in Laurie’s phrase, is “men should play everything and women can play house.” Women, clearly, cannot be terrifying, even when protecting their young. “Serene beauty” belongs to women, while the beauty of strength and power, along with violence, terror, and danger all belong to men.

If you dig a little deeper into the online interview, you find that men have to be swans because swans are ungainly. Women, apparently, are never ungainly. What’s more, because the swans have always been women, the only way to do something new with them is to change their gender. You have to wonder just how Bourne would do Medea (the Greek queen who killed her children in revenge), or any ballet about a female hero. (Hint: He wouldn’t.) He might as well be choreographing Japanese Kabuki, in which men play all the parts because it is believed that only men can truly understand women.

Here’s a performance that had a chance to open up that old stereotypical chestnut, Swan Lake and really play with gender roles and stereotypes; instead, he apparently decided to keep it just as reductionist as ever, except that there’s no room for women at all in his new reduction.

We’re staying home.

<br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/Matthew+Bourne" rel="tag">Matthew Bourne</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/Swan+Lake" rel="tag">Swan Lake</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/ballet" rel="tag">ballet</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/dance" rel="tag">dance</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/gender" rel="tag">gender</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/body+image" rel="tag">body image</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/feminism" rel="tag">feminism</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/Body+Impolitic" rel="tag">Body Impolitic</a><br />

4 Responses to “When Is a Swan Not a Swan?”

  1. Lynne Murray Says:

    Sorry, I’m feeling extremely irreverent this morning, but this set me to wondering if anyone has ever staged Swan Lake wearing those big duck feet like clowns wear. (I guess the dancers would go up “on web” instead of “en pointe”) It would be a challenge. The web-footedness of the swans has always been kept underwater as the floaty nature of their swimming progress has been emphasized. In order show flying power maybe they could use the “flying wires” like in Peter Pan, thereby allowing macho machines to demonstrate the aerial qualities of swanhood and the feociousness of large birds when their nesting sites are threatened.

    I wouldn’t rule out attacking fishing boats. Bringing fishermen into the story (perhaps doing midnight fishing on Swan Lake?) might add some class perspective on the plight of the workers in that rather elitist story about an ethereal kingdom. A Bertolt Brecht Does Swan Lake kind of thing.

    Another thought this all-make production brings up is whether the Swan Group hanging out at the lake is an all-male swan group enticing a closeted gay prince? Is that why he shows no interest in the young women they’re trying to mate him with before the Swan Queen shows up at the dance to lure him away? Hmm, lots of subtextual matters to deal with here.

  2. Laurie Says:

    Lynne,

    I particuarly loved the web feet. It’s a great visual.

  3. Edward Says:

    if it makes you feel better, it makes me feel better. The rest of his american tour has been cancelled due to weak ticket sales. I posted on the cancellation on my blog, http://linkstosome.blogspot.com/2006/05/american-tour-of-bournes-swan-lake.html

  4. Laurie Says:

    Edward,

    Thank you for the information.

    On one hand it does make me feel better.

    On the other hand, It makes me uncomfortable to see high quality work cancelled because of politics – even politics I hate.

    So, I am of at least 2 minds on this.

    I’d love to know the reason for the weak ticket sales.

    For folks who are interested – Edward”s site is a really interesting Ballet information and opinion site.

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