The Swan Lake Ballet Turned Into Theater

I had radical positions about pure-classical-Ballet, but they just suffered a good shake!  As almost pure-form Dance, I dismissed the great classicals as unimportant in current days  (and lost some readers by doing that…). Vasiliev’s successful performance in Swan Lake, the way he interpreted his Siegfried, making people forget about ’emploi’ and Basilio/Philip and turning him into one of the best Siegfrieds ever, proved this blog’s point about the importance of Content in Dance. But he would not have danced Siegfried if Tamara Rojo had not invited him, and let him free him to act. In fact, I’m sure she invited him BECAUSE of that. Probably all Principals are allowed to act, there is even a real kiss (!!!) in last act, and Tamara Rojo herself was accused of a “too passionate” one on  her (Matthew Golding) Siegfried. She calmly answered:”“Well, I thought, after three hours on stage, I deserved it. Look at him. Who wouldn’t?” .(kkkkkk) Isn’t she great?

But she is a revolutionary AND wise: ENB retained all the classical form, with beautiful staging and competent dancing, but allowed acting TOO, and as a result the show is a huge succes!!  ENB showed ME that that the classicals CAN have content, if just someone is bold enough to make necessary changes (I thought no one was…)!

But I’m not satisfied…  ENB is an exception, not the rule. I suppose people are so used to the white ballets, and their lightly coloured companions, as they are, and they ARE so beatifull (I agree!), they cannot understand my prejudice, it sounds  as if I am not REALLY a ballet-lover… I was thinking: how could I show someone what bothers me? So I came up with this idea of comparing them with Theater somehow, and it ended up being a most amusing task. Please, if you love Swan Lake, don’t be mad at me, it’s just a joke!


(In a former post about Dance x Theater I reached the conclusion that between Dance and Theater there are just two major differences: the media – voice x body, words x movements -, and the range of ideas and emotions they can express, that is not fully coincident.)

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Swan Lake Ballet transformed into Theater ————

There are no complex emotions, no complex characters, no complex plot in SL, it is well within the coincident range of ideas and emotion both Theater and Dance can express, so this should not be an issue.

All we must do is change the media of Swan Lake from body to voice.

Ballet does not use voice/words, so, the other way round, we will not use body and movements in our Theater play.

The mime transposed to words:  very old-fashioned words, arranged in simple, few phrases, ponderously spoken, with lots of intonation, but almost telegraphic in their shortness. The words would have to be chosen with great care,  so each phrase carries the same amount of information of the corresponding mime.

The dancing sequences transposed to voice: a lot of sounds emitted in sequence, sounding gorgeous together, but without any meaning.

Acting during pure classical dancing is not required, or even disapproved, so the corresponding sounds should not express anything.  They could even become a song, but the song must be made in such a way as not to stir any feeling in the audience, except pure aesthetic admiration (if this is a feeling. Is it?).

If there is mime during dancing, corresponding words /phrases, of course, would be said in the right places during the sequences of meaningless sounds.

To make a fair transposition, actors would not be allowed to move at all, including facial expression, except they could smile to show how easy it is to make all difficult vocalizations (this kind of smile has nothing to do with the story, so it can stay).

As a whole, our play would be made out of short sequences of words/phrases, that would tell the story or inform what is going on, and long sequences of gorgeous meaningless sounds.

Light and settings could be the same, but we should add some seating arragements – it will be hard on our actors to stand still during the whole play, they better be seated. And then we would also want to change tutus to something more comfortable, now that they are sitting.  We design instead sparkling white garments with great, high, wing- like scarfs  that can flow constantly over the male actor´s face seated next by, to blind and/or hide him during his vocalizations, like tutus do in PDDs.

Done! Now we take seats in the audience and watch the play.


We bring Tchaikowsky’s music back, it is not usual on Theater, but we have to do something…


Although we  can see some very elegant, sophisticated people making positive comments about our break-through staging, most of the audience is yawning or shaking their heads, and they look definitely dismayed. WE are dismayed. It didn’t work.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT 2 – A Swan Lake Theater Play, and back to Ballet——

We surrender. We need more to stage Swan Lake as  good Theater, the more so if we want it to be, not just good, but awesome (it should be easy, SL has great possibilities, it is all made of symbols and myths that permeate our culture).

So we forget, for the time being, all about Ballet, and give us freedom to use whatever resources there are in Theater to create a magical, impactful SL. Not being experts, we come up with just 1,859 (approximate number) ways to turn our play into really good Theater and  an unforgettable experience.  We design new, timeless settings and costumes (myths are timeless) – they become impressive, half gothic, half dream-like;  we write powerful dialogues;  we embed layers of meaning both in settings and written text and choose carefully our actors, capable of imparting deep, vital emotion – of course,  we bring body-language back, so they can use all their acting skills.

AHA, great success!!! Full houses, months on stage! We are very pleased with ourselves.

Now we realize we could make a transposition the other way round, back to Ballet! We have learned what works, it could probably enhance any Ballet performance too. We think about…



No, a total transposition would decharacterize SL in such a way, it would not be Ballet anymore.  We don’t want to make Ballet lovers unhappy, so maybe we use just some of the resources, in a way that will not shock them?

Let’s take the powerful text first. Text is choreography, we must change choreography. We try to create new movements, but are severely limited by Ballet canons; we sequence movements in new ways that are more meaningful, but there are just  that much movements available, and structures we cannot change, like the Grand PDD.  We try hard, but are unable to bring deep content to the 32 fouettés, for example. The outcome of our effort is almost none.

Well,  we can choose more expressive dancers, can we not? A new problem: after we select ballet dancers with the right body-types, among them those with the required technical level, and among them those with great acting skill, we are left with… none! So we change our selection criteria, and choose dancers that are great actors, and that’s it.

Next, we try our hand with body-language. In Theater play it was a decisive resource in imparting all that profound emotion, life and meaning – and this should be easy, as media in Ballet is the body. So we proceed to embed body-language into dancing.

…ooooohh…  we had forgotten! Using body-language in Ballet is met with great resistence: it is considered unrefined, incompatible with Ballet’s purity, to some it is even disturbing. And it would mar the perfection of the choreographed lines – without perfect lines, Ballet is not Ballet! We must give up. And fire our expressive dancers, they are all very popular, that means expensive,  and we cannot use their skills anyway…

As a last resource, we change settings and costumes to the new impressive ones – and are showered with complaints: ‘Ballet deserves a costly, sparkling, luxurious frame! How drab and cheap yours look! Where are all the pearls, stones, laces, plumes, bows, embroideries, flowers, frills, pleats, drapes, gold, silver, brocade, velvet, silk  that belong here? Where are all the plumed tutus, the capes, veils, hats, crowns, tiaras, wigs, fans, scarfs, gloves, brooches, pins, lockets, necklaces, sashes, boots and high-heels that make out of  SL such a great show?’

Ok, Ok, Ok! Out with them, then…

(looking at each other)…  (sighing)… (realizing a lot of disapproving looks all around us)… (looking at each other again)…

You know what? That’s it! Our notes into the waste-basket, and we go see Billy Elliott!


Jokes apart: I was wrong, I DID throw the baby away with the bath water.

There is much beauty in the classicals, and there are many ways to bring Content into them, so I should not dismiss them so easily.

I really believe that, if certain changes were made in the classical ballets, their worth would soar up, and they would enchant a wider audience that deserves to be there,  that wants to be there. Me, for example.

I’m sure a compromise between tradition and meaningful content is possible,  without loosing the essential beauty of the classicals. It is sad to let such emblematic works be a mere display of technique, beautiful lines and expensive golden glow. And remember, to the audience of non-experts,  there is not even  technique to be seen, except as quantities: height of a jump, number of turns, angle of an extension, they are unable to perceive all the fine details a professional can enjoy.

Some re-stagings introduced major changes, like Romeo and Juliet by Nacho Duato in Mikhailovsky. As far as I know, it’s being done in smaller companies, never in the Sacred Temples.  As I have not seen more than fragments of  these efforts, I’m not able to judge what came out of them: how far they got;  if compromise was wisely made; if they were able to win new audience.

As I already wrote elsewhere, Shakespeare’s plays are still there, but no one believes they must be performed now in the same way they were  back in XV century  (except as a curiosity, or an occasional tribute).  Or should we demand that Juliet is performed by a young man wearing a wig? That would be absurd, even more absurd than dancing wearing tutus…

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