A while ago, I could not get Swan Lake out of my head. Which was weird to me, since I was never a big fan of the ballet. But for some reason, the music, the Swan theme, kept on playing in my head. I decided to do something about it and embarked on a quest. I downloaded the entire score, and listened carefully. Firstly to the entire score, then only on the music for the White Acts.
That music… oh that music is just heavenly. The Swan theme is just so beautiful, sad, filled with tragedy, melancholy and longing. But also, strangely, hope. The more I listened, the more that music seemed to me like a prayer… a prayer from the heart, a desperate plea for something… redemption? love? freedom? happiness? I don’t know… But for me, that music represents Odette’s heart and its incessant prayer and its relentless hope.
Hope and prayer… the more I listened to the score, the more this seemed clear to me. One of teh most beautiful moments in the score, is the last minute or so before the end of the final act (is that called apotheosis or something? please forgive the lack of technical terms). The tune changes, the chords become light, the music makes me think of relief, disbelief, peace, happiness. It sounds to me, like a prayer being answered…
It was around this time that I watched Of Gods and Men, a movie about Trappist monks living in Algeria during the Civil War. It is one of the most moving, beautiful movies I have ever seen and it resonated with something deep inside of me. At a key moment, almost at the end of the movie, we hear the Swan theme. I started crying at that scene and did not stop for a long time.
The faith and love of the monks is overwhelming, but their doubt is familiar, and human.
This seems to surprise people, but I have faith. Well, at least, I try to have it. Faith in the future, in love, in an intelligence that is beyond my understanding, that everything happens for a reason and that someone or something out there, is looking after us.
It was with all this in mind that I started watching different versions of Swan Lake, trying to understand the music, the narrative, and the truth of the ballet. Some versions were garish, some were silly, some were very silly, something were quite clinical, and some were absolutely beautiful. The first time I cried was during Act II of La Scala’s version, with Roberto Bolle and Svetlana Zakharova. don’t really like this version, and was bored stiff by ACT I. I don’t care much for Bolle, but Zakharova was breathtaking. I forgot that Bolle was even on stage, but her response to the choreography and the music resonated with me. I finally began to understand Odette with her interpretation.
I don’t like Royal Ballet’s version. I think it is too shiny, and a wee bit camp. I mean in Act III, Von Rothbart has evil looking dwarves around him. The White Acts are beautiful, and Marianela Nunez Odette is so delicate and her Act II pas-de-deux with Thiago Soarez is actually really hot. I believed that Odette and Siegfried not only loved each other, but wanted each other. Her forgiveness in ACT IV is so touching… But I find all the glitter and sparkle of the non-white Acts distracting…
My absolute favourite though is American Ballet Theatre’s version. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me losing it a little over the ABT dancers, especially Herman Cornejo and Marcelo Gomes. But the entire ballet made sense to me, as a narrative, for the very first time. Siegfried’s emptiness and longing, Odette’s sadness, hope and forgiveness. Everything just clicked.
For me, Odette had faith. In love, in freedom, in a happy ending. In something that would end her suffering. She also had doubts, but chose to believe in Siegfried anyway and follow her heart. I’m not saying she was religious, but having faith does not have to mean adherence to any religion.
It can simply mean having hope that there will be brighter days ahead.
This period has been a tricky period for me and my family, and I find myself listening to Swan Lake a lot.
Yesterday I was feeling a bit down, and was drawn to watch a few clips of Swan Lake on youtube. This time, I watched Yuhui Choe (whom I love) and her performance is so, so beautiful.
It made me feel better.
But as I keep on listening to the music in my head, I keep on thinking of faith, of longing and of hope.
There are many orders of Monks that believe that by praying for all humanity, they can help the world become a better place.
Whatever you believe, it can be quite comforting to know that someone, somewhere, is praying for you.