"Het Zwanenmeer"/ "Swan Lake" - Royal Ballet of Flanders.
Opera of Ghent, May,3rd 2002.
Choreography : Jan Fabre & the dancers of RBoF
Scenery : J.Fabre
Costumes : A.Vassiliev, D.Kitschen, J.Fabre
Lighting : J.Fabre & J.Dekeyser
Orchestra : “Vlaams Radio Orkest” under the guidance of Koen Kessels.
Odette/Odile : Aysem Sunal
Siegfried : Priit Kripson
Rothbart : Giuseppe Nocera
Jester : Wim Vanlessen
Nano : Jurgen Verheyen
Zoömorf : Jeroen Verbruggen
I have long hesitated to write something about this performance, but after several weeks I’m still having rebellious feelings about it so, maybe writing it down after all will be a kind of therapy !
There is certainly something going on when we find articles on ballet in our newspapers over here !
They were talking -already for months- about the ’new creation’ by Jan Fabre.
Even before the premičre the production was already sold abroad : Paris was waiting and Edinburgh on the list.
So you learn -once again- how a name can have its impact on commercialisation !
I simply love the location : the magnificent little opera house in Ghent, with its lavish interior decoration and what a delight to see its façade free -at last- from its scaffolding-straightjacket.
To taste some of the atmosphere, visit : http://www.vlaamseopera.be/eng/building.asp?subchapter=3
And, if you know that -for the occasion- we were spoiled with a REAL orchestra…no need to tell that the 3 performances in our small provincial town were sold-out in the blink of an eye.
For those who are not familiar with the name : Fabre is a bit “l’enfant terrible” of the arts and busy on all levels : visual arts, theatre, mega-events, opera and dance. His name means creation and provocation at the same time and unfortunately, this time he dropped his eye on “Swan Lake” or -to put it more exact- he used the eye of the owl to show us an abused “Swan Lake”
In the tradition of Fabre’s mega-events all acts were connected without intervals (the only indication was the projected eye of the owl), this ‘leaves a much bigger dramatic impact on the audience’ the programme learns us.
To me it felt more like an attack on the ‘social function’ of a ballet-evening. (I can’t help it…I need an interval !)
And while we are discussing on these pages the difficulties in understanding “mime” in ballet…I felt like reading a whole book on this ballet wouldn’t be sufficient to understand
Fairytales always have dark elements and it’s this darker side which Fabre used to project his choreography.
Through the huge projected eye of the owl and its specific sound in the background, we were taken way back to the Middle Ages, times of darkness and death.
The symbol of the owl is constantly present. During the ‘intervals’ projected on the backdrop, during the ballet it is the companion of Rothbart who is carrying a real owl on top of his head.
A swan-skeleton on front-stage, a wall at the back with tombstones (?), immobile dancers, covered with animal skins and we are all witnesses to a ritual murder (?) by the dwarf disguised as devil (Nano). This is one of the typical, bizarre elements/characters which will interlace the ballet.
Together with other creatures as the plague-doctor, the Jester (symbol of life & death), the dwarf Nano -once disguised as devil, then as cupid - keeps appearing as a kind of “file-rouge’, killing swans in a trice.
This amalgam of symbols lived its own life throughout the ballet but sadly had very few points of real contact/relationship with the dance.
Fabre, clearly intrigued by the theme of the metamorphosis in Swan Lake, used it throughout the ballet but got lost in the characters he created : well it’s the way I understand it.
More, I had the impression he simply forgot about the dance and definitely did so with the music ! At least he was very careless about the dancing : Act I became something of a theatrical experiment with various skeletons of animals hanging above the stage and the dance, stripped to his essence : classical poses and immobile dancers.
Later on, even the ‘goblet dance’ under a sky of drinking glasses, couldn’t bring some comfort.
In the 2nd and 4th act one can recognise more respect for the story and existing choreography (Ivanov) : a softer Fabre.
Against this, the 3rd act is from a completely other range…set in the castle with a line-up of 12 guards in armour (a theme out of his theatre world), slowly moving and weeping in their distress…filling the lake with their tears ?
In the 4th act Odette and Siegfried disappear literally into the lake, in casu a banal blue plastic sheet . In an anti-apotheosis they re-appear to bring flowers to their own grave.
In the middle of this cobweb of symbols and troubled choreography, one nearly forget to tell something about the dancers. And its not easy : in a ballet where there was little room for real acting and emotions and where the dance was covered by a black veil
Nevertheless Aysem Sunal, fragile as always, surprised me as a determined Odile.
I recall Priit Kripson no more than a fairytale prince, not convincing that evening.
Zoömorf (an unfinished metamorphosis) with his spastic gestures and fearless falling found his perfect reincarnation in Jeroen Verbruggen.
In the “4 little swans”, I was pleased to discover Annabelle Hellinckx, a young graduate from the Antwerp school.
While I found Olga Voloboueva and Ninon Neyt outstanding in the “3 big swans”, I was rather disappointed by Agalie Vandamme this time, she certainly had an off-day.
Talking about the scenery can in just one line : uninspired & quasi non-existent.
Concerning the costumes I have to be more nuanced : I loved the dramatic black, ankle-length tutu’s with coats of arms on the bodies.
The swan-tutu’s couldn’t escape from Fabre’s fascination with animals : being shorter in front, they were actually reminiscent of swan forms.
Using some elements of Swan Lake, Fabre has made a translation of his own and gave another view on the ballet also thanks to the use of theatrical characters.
The result is a ballet, cramped with contrasts and dualities, the double images of life and death, beauty and ugliness, a Swan Lake with a shameless lack of pure dance moments, at least I didn’t saw them ! And more : ignoring the sensibility of the music -the most obvious basis of dance-inspiration- is completely unforgivable.
Wasn’t its failure already predicted in a statement by the artist himself : “I’m an artist of space, not of movement….” ?
And again somewhere in the programme I read : “….the owl prevents us from overestimating ourselves…..” Well it’s true that self-knowledge is the start of wisdom ?
After 2 hours and 15 minutes, I was bored with the live and death-theme of this ballet, stripped of all emotional power or expressiveness.
Glad there was the orchestra -who did a wonderful job- and made me escape from time to time out of this dark world.
Disbelieve made room for anger and rebellious feelings, what a waste of opportunities, human energy.
I can’t help to feel sorry for the dancers, they certainly deserved better !