I hadn’t been to see a full on ballet production since I was a child. I had watched countless youTube videos of Swan Lake including the black and white swan pas de deux & the infamous 32 foutte turns, I had seen the movie Black Swan, and I had just finished a lecture to my Intro to Dance Class about Swan Lake and how innovative it was for a ballerina to ponche while moving her arms like a swan, and how the Russians created ballets to reveal beauty through line and form… while also showing off how technically bad ass their dancers were trained.
So yeah, I entered excited for the experience. I was surprised by how many different types of people were congregating to see this ballet on a Sunday afternoon… and by many.. I mean that it was an impressively sized audience for a matinee. I thought… maybe by seeing this show; I will unveil a mysterious recipe to create more success for Arizona’s contemporary dance community.
The orchestra begins and I am incredibly excited to have a live orchestra playing, except they are playing in the pit and I can’t see them. The curtain is closed and the prelude is filling the air with sound, drama, intricacy, excitement, the sound makes me even more excited for the ballet to begin.
Then the curtain opens….and my excitement plummets as I see two lines of men immediately jumping with no line or form (literally their lines were staggered, everyone’s legs were different heights, where was the line and form I came to see?) The entire first act was strange. There were two people on the side at tables just playing with fruits… for the entire first act. At one point there was a Pas de Trois where the man left one of the women in a challenging arabesque on pointe balance, it was impressive, everyone clapped, then the girl just stopped doing the trick and left the stage. I thought it was odd, but my thoughts were confirmed when I heard a child behind me ask their parents, “where did the other girl go?”
Ah yes, here it is, the swans. Honestly, I would be completely fine with only Act II & IV existing. The stage filled with a sea of white tutus, I remember doing a section of this ballet as a child and thought that my position on stage in the choir was incredibly pointless, but watching from the outside, I understood why we lined the stage like props for the male gaze. There is only one man in this act, and that might be why I like it. I found the men in this production incredibly unimpressive compared to the women.
My distaste for the men in this ballet continued as he chased the swan around the stage trying to catch her. I saw all of the little girls in the audience and asked myself, why are we still showing young girls ballets where they are presented as creatures to be caught and gazed at? All of this movements felt generic, overplayed, and cliché, unlike the white swan. She was fabulously strong, fluid, and characteristic of a swan as she waved her arms, clucked and snaked her head, and executed folds and bends of her legs ands and back.
I might prefer to see this ballet done with all women. I know that Matthew Borne has created an all male version, but I wonder what this ballet would be if it had been created through the eyes of a woman. Would it still be a story of heterosexual lust?
Thank goodness… this is so long. How are these children sitting here? Do we have to stay?
We stayed… Act III displayed a series of duets, trios, and groups representing different cultures at court. I immediately considered the cultural appropriation going on, then dismissed it as ballet history, then dismissed it because it is 2017.. and we are still creating dances, films, and music that appropriate cultures. Act III also consisted of some incredibly horrid pantomime while the mother and prince pointed to their fingers and nodded their hands to signify “its time to put a ring on it.”
I should also add that I just came from an all-day Netflix binger of watching a show about English courts, so this entire story of a prince wanting to choose who he loves was completely exhausted to me by this point.
The swans are back… yes! This act is where you really get to see a beauticious use of traditional choreographic techniques including cannon, the changing of lines, and formations. Now when I watch a high school dance team use these tools it is uninventive, but when I see it used here, it feels stimulating and calming at the same time.
I believe I counted 24 female dancers on the stage, meaning that Ballet Arizona had to be using their students to produce a ballet of this scale and magnitude. The students were great and I could scarcely tell the difference between them and the company members. However, I question the ethics of using students for free labor to produce a ballet with a need for a much larger professional company.
Julie Akerly is an artist in residence and co-founder of [nueBOX]. She is an active member of the arts community as a dancer, choreographer, and Arts Engagement Specialist at the City of Tempe. She wholeheartedly believes in the importance of research and the creative process & completed her graduate studies at ASU in dance and interdisciplinary media and performance.