This weekend I saw the most interesting interpretation of Swan Lake I could have imagined. It was put on by a traveling group of performers, why have been touring with this show since 2016, and have won several awards, both for their production and choreography. The music is described as “Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences”. So, I expected maybe a little bit of deviation from the normal storyline of Swan Lake. However, when I walked into the theater, there was a man on stage, wearing a cloth diaper, attached to a cinder block by a rope around his neck, bleating like a goat. Immediately I knew this was not going to be anything like what I had expected, and I was certainly correct. Although there was a lot of symbolism and parts of the performance I did not understand, I definitely enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
The story is narrated by an older man, who acted as both characters in the show, as well as sound effects for different elements of scenes. This man was incredibly talented, playing two people with completely unique voices in one conversation, voicing a radio that was changing channels, and being the sounds of a police vehicle, to name a few of the noises he imitated. His talent almost made you forget you had seen him practically naked and making animal noises at the beginning of the performance. Throughout the show, he tells the story of a younger man and his struggles of depression while living on a moor in Ireland.
The story was sometimes beautiful, and sometimes quite unnerving, which certainly made for a lasting impression. One of these scenes was a birthday party which was held for the depressed young man, and the people who showed up clearly were meant to be disturbed or off-putting in some way. They danced around in a halting jumble of bodies and noises while the young man’s caretaker, his grandmother, cackled into a microphone. She was also holding a cake, which several of the party attendees attacked and grabbed chunks of with their hands, shoving it into their mouths with reckless abandonment. By the end of the scene, they had all preyed upon or overwhelmed each other, and the dance ended with them all motionless, lying on the stage. The emotion of the scene was interestingly unreachable; as an audience member, I was unsure of whether I was supposed to feel pity for this party of strange beings, or whether they were enjoying themselves, and had given into carnal desires by the end. I couldn’t tell if it was actually the party that seemed to be unenjoyable, or it was the young man’s depressed interpretation of the scene. It was entirely disconcerting to be unsure of how to react to what was happening in front of me, and these conflicting emotions stayed with me until the end of the show, where I was still wondering what to make of this haunting scene.
In contrast to some of the more interesting sequences, there were some beautiful dances that mesmerized me. When the young man goes to commit suicide, he is stopped by a young woman in white with angel wings, and they are joined by others in the same outfit. They danced together, in a mix of lyrical and fluid styles. The way the women in white whirled around the young man, almost touching him but not quite, was a display of the immense work they had put into the dance as it was impossible to look away from their ducking and weaving around each other, so close but not quite touching. The ending of the show was definitely the most impressive part, as the different dancers helped to spread small white feathers all over the stage. There must have been pounds of feathers drifting all over, as they threw them up into the air, swirled them around themselves, and even brushed them into the audience. It was amazing how much it looked like it was snowing, and it was even cooler how the dancers’ individual movements were all it took to push the feathers into the sky.
Although the dancing was the focus of the show, the music was by far my favorite part. A small group at the back of the stage played mostly string instruments, sang, and certainly set the mood of each dance. The music was haunting, and soothing, and graceful, all with an undertone of Irish melody. It certainly was a key ingredient in making this show spectacular.
At the end, I wasn’t sure what exactly I had just experienced, but I knew I enjoyed it. I spent the rest of the evening thinking about the show, and what different dances or parts might have meant. I think that is the mark of a good performance- one that makes you think about it long after exiting the theater.