Mimes they were not

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Doolies and I went to see “Swan Lake” at the Seattle ballet company (or whatever they called themselves). The only ballets I had seen were on PBS while flipping through the television. This was my first live ballet. The music was amazing. I caught many snippets of themes that were used and expanded upon in my favorite movie scores—isn’t that what happens to all good classical music? It makes its way into popular culture in the form of mood music for the movies.

The dancers were good, I guess. It’s hard to know the difference between what is good dancing and bad dancing. The fast technical moves impressed me, but they were far and few between. Doolies suggested we go see River Dance as a way to catch the fast moving steps. While it might be more exciting, I’m not sure it would fall within the same realm of art.

I couldn’t decide if the story of “Swan Lake” was interesting. It definitely has possibilities: On the prince’s birthday, the queen informs him that he must choose a wife. The prince doesn’t like to be told what to do by his mother. He takes his mother’s birthday gift, a crossbow, into the woods for a hunting trip. At a lake in the woods, he meets a beautiful woman dressed in white. He falls in love. He finds out that an evil sorcerer had cursed her. Each night she transforms into a swan. The only way to break the spell is for a man to promise his devotion. If he breaks that promise, she will remain a swan forever. The prince pledges his devotion and promises to return.

The prince arrives home to a party the queen prepared for him. During the party, many woman attempt to seduce him, but he pushes them all away, wary of his promise to the swan. The evil sorcerer appears at the party with his daughter. He has bewitched his daughter to look like the swan woman (only wearing a black sparkling tutu instead of a white sparkling one). She tries to seduce the prince. The swan appears at the window during the seduction, but the sorcerer hides the swan from the prince.

Even though the prince probably knows that the woman is not the swan, he agrees to marry her. After agreeing, he realizes what he did: he broke his promise to the swan. He returns to the lake to find the swan. But he is too late. Because he broke his promise, the spell was not broken. She will remain a swan forever. He realizes what he did and she forgives him. But he does not forgive himself.

Classical ballet is very much like a pantomime punctuated by dance solos and larger dance numbers. It’s similar to older Broadway shows, where the singing didn’t move the story forward. The dancing while graceful rarely helped the story. I’m thinking that modern ballets do a better job of this. Either that or they do away with the story and focus on technical and impressive moves. It takes nothing more than a cartwheel to impress these audiences. The dancers spent much of their time pantomiming what they were trying to convey. There’s only so much one can do with pantomime to tell a story. Luckily, we read the synopsis before the ballet began.

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