LIKE BEETHOVEN’S FIFTH Symphony or Van Gogh’s ear, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake has become iconic in a very broad understanding of what western culture is. Go to anyone in the street and competently whistle the tune of the Song of the Cygnets and they will know what you’re on about. For as long as there’s been Swan Lake, there have been dancers and choreographers who have sought to take the mickey out of the work, to explore its underbelly. Think of Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake which travelled all over the world; think of the piece in the revue Doo Bee Boobies, with the likes of male dancers such as Mark Hawkins and Tony Bentel as earnest swans … the list goes on. But now, UJ Arts Centre presents something that takes these interpretations to a deeper level.
Korean dancer Keisuke Mihara and his creative team have taken the material and ripped it into shreds. What’s left of swans are recognisable extracts of the music and a wad of tulle in each hand of an enraged dancer in silver shorts. The choreography and the performance is tight and controlled, and the work is premised against the backdrop of teenage uncertainty and suicide.
As the work unfolds, the wads of tulles become a ballet skirt, but in no way does the taut and angry body of Mihara kowtow to drag, to humour or to anything flippant. This is a young person in anguish and the backdrop of Tchaikovsky with all its aural froth and recognisable sequences, knocks private pain into relief.
Never underplaying the rage of a young person, because of the person’s youth, this work takes anguish seriously, and premised on German-Chinese choreographer Hannah Ma’s ‘speaking body’ technique, which will knock your sense of emotional equilibrium. You may not understand the Eastern words that are part of the narrative, but that’s not the point. In translation they are equally obscure and poetic, segueing with magnificence with the video projection that forms part of the second half of the piece and scans across the dancer’s body, flirting with your memory of what lies there and what you see.
Praise is also due to the organisers of such an event. For once, it is not several dance works vying for your attention in a double or triple bill pushed together to make you feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth by way of quantity. The work is brief, the event mind-blowing. The money’s worth obvious in terms of its quality. And you get to go home with your thoughts in turmoil and nothing else to divert all the potent images Swan presented you with.
- Swan is conceptualised and choreographed by Hannah Ma and created by Hannah Ma and Keisuke Mihara. Featuring design by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovksy (music), Ele Bleffert (costume), Sebastian Purfürst (music adaption and video) and Keisuke Mihara and Hannah Ma, it is performed by Keisuke Mihara at the Con Cowan Theatre, Bunting Road Campus, University of Johannesburg, until September 22. Visit www.uj.ac.za/arts.