Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake is compulsory viewing whether you love ballet or you hate it! Either way it will have something to say to you.
Dada Masilo is petite and energetic, a charismatic dancer and an innovative choreographer. This former Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance takes the quintessential classical ballet and turns it on its head. Odette, the white swan (Dada Masilo) and Odile, the black swan (Craig Arnolds) compete for Siegfried’s love, but here the white swan is an African traditional girl for whom lobolo (bride price) has been paid by Siegfried’s parents while the black swan is male. Yes, the love triangle involves a homosexual male and a heterosexual female who both want their prince.
All the characters, male and female, wear tutus. The costumes were created by Ann and Kirsten Bailes. Each of the bodices is unique. The tutu skirts are identical. All the dancers, male and female have shaved underarms. The costumes aren’t ridiculous or camp. They are simply swans, male and female swans. No point shoes, no tights, just swan costumes. There are feathers, and in view of Masilo’s bald head I spend some time wondering how they are attached. I give up – I can’t work it out.
The narrator is Bailey Snyman, the 2012 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Dance. He is a trained thespian and his voice carries easily and clearly, with perfect timing for the comic humour of the explanation of ballet. Dressed in a tutu with a padded jacket, he has the audience giggling, first nervously, then openly. Snyman is also Siegfried’s father. Siegfried’s mother is Nicola Haskins, Odette’s mother is Bafikile Sedibe. Siegfried is Songezo Mcilezeli.
While Odette does her solo the other dancers make audible supportive noises from the wings. The piece starts building to its climax. The potentially homoerotic duet between Siegfried and Odile is very understated. The shunning of Siegfried by society is not. We are being invited to examine society’s response to homosexuality – or at least to gay men who marry straight women then cheat on them.
It ends with a scene in which the tutus are swopped for ballerina length black skirts. All the dancers, male and female, are naked from the waist up. Let me say ‘naked breasts’ – it gets a lot of hits on my blog. 🙂 The scene is entitled “Swanicide” and the vulnerability of the dancers is manifest. Siegfried has made his choice and Odette and Odile are left to confront, then comfort one another before their deaths. It is profoundly moving.
The dance style is fusion. There are traditional African dance movements and balletic movements. It is fresh and unique contemporary dance.
The soundscape intersperses the familiar Tchaikovsky Swan with the Saint-Saens Dying Swan number from The Carnival of the Animals and items by Steve Reich, Rene Avenant and Arvo Part.
I am a dedicated fan of Dada Masilo. I think her entire oevre is clever, accessible, beautiful and moving. This rendition of Swan Lake, originally commissioned for the the National Arts Festival in 2010, is typical of her quirky yet plausible thought processes on matters relevant to 21st century South African society.
Lighting is by Suzette le Sueur. The other swans are Ipeleng Merafe, Bafikile Sedibe, Shereen Mafhebula, Carlynn Williams, Thoko Sidiya, Lesego Ngwato, Nonofo Olekeng, Tshepo Zasekhaya and Sibusiso Ngcobo.
I attended the opening night performance at The Dance Factory on 30 August 2012. It runs until 9 September 2012 as part of the Arts Alive programme.