This social criticism explanation of Swan Lake leaves me speechless. There was I thinking I’d seen three performances of a rather sugary but nice and romantic fairytale, while all the time I was watching a razor-sharp indictment of capitalism. If Ted Brandsen, our artistic director, hadn’t opened my eyes, these deeper layers would have been totally lost on me. At least in Rudi van Dantzig’s interpretation of Swan Lake. Other choreographers approach the work differently, but 23 years ago Van Dantzig made a statement with it. Ted points out some more examples to me, such as Act 1, in which the villagers and courtiers are dancing together so amiably on the square in front of Prince Siegfried’s palace. “Here, Rudi’s portraying democracy and the hope for better times to come”.
Ballet as an instrument for social criticism. Nowadays, we’re inclined to view it as dated. In any case it wouldn’t be a bad idea to present a new version of Swan Lake 23 years after the premiere. Although Hamlet is still being performed, it really isn’t done in the same version that brought such success to Ko van Dijk back then. But then our Romeo and Juliet is already over 30 years old. And we’ve been trotting out the same versions of Nutcracker & Mouseking and The Sleeping Beauty for years, as well. They’re wonderful versions, don’t get me wrong. But still, after a while the standard repertoire also deserves new interpretations. But new productions cost money. And as long as there are still ballets from the standard repertoire that we haven’t got yet or ballets that desperately need replacing, priority is given to new productions of those works. So a new Swan Lake will have to wait until our coffers are filled again.
On the way to a performance of this ballet classic, I switch the car radio on. The evening news is bleak. The Euro is shaky. Emergency funds have to be topped up again. Whole countries are on the brink of collapse. Bankers are really worried. There’s panic on the stock market. Politicians with long faces meet again for the umpteenth time. It’s a crisis – and it’s getting worse. Nobody seems to know what needs to be done now. It’s actually pretty frightening.
Who was it again that said something 23 years ago about capitalism and ruin?
That evening in The Amsterdam Music Theatre, I watch Swan Lake again through different eyes. And in my mind, the cheerful dances of the villagers and peasants on the square in front of the palace in Act 1 are suddenly transformed into an ‘Occupy’ demonstration. And surely I catch a glimpse of a peroxide blonde hairdo under Von Rasposen’s hat? On second thought, the third act variations look remarkably like the scheming and plotting of the bankers. And suddenly it strikes me that the queen, who though full of goodwill is unable to avert the catastrophe, looks just like Angela Merkel. Siegfried, in turn, now reminds of Job Cohen; full of ideas but unaware of the approach of his own fall. And incidentally, don’t swans migrate to Greece or Portugal for the winter?
Swan Lake dated? It’s more pertinent than ever!< blog archive