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contemporary /kənˈtɛmp(ə)r(ər)i/ - belonging to or occurring in the present
Choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokine for Anna Pavlova, The Dying Swan (sometimes The Swan or Le Cygne) has become one of the most iconic solos in ballet’s vast repertoire. Each dancer interprets the piece in their own singular way, so the variation continues to evolve. Pavlova’s quick bourrées and staccato arms contrast CamilleSaint-Saëns’ gentle music as her swan fights death, Gelsey Kirkland some 70/80 years later is more accepting of her fate, her arms closer to the fluid motions we experience in modern-day Swan Lakes. Add another quarter century to this and Svetlana Zakharova floats effortlessly across water and melts into scary-yet-beautiful back bends to the now-infamous music.
Hundreds of others have had their go, no two dancers exactly the same – don’t take my word for it, experience the magic yourself. How then do we continue to contemporise this classic? What next steps shall Fokine’s Swan take in order to remain relevant, ever-evolving and beautiful so it doesn’t sing its last song?
The world changes
Grace Hopper said it best, so I leave it to her: “The most dangerous phrase in the language is: ‘we’ve always done it this way’.”
This quote served as the direct inspiration for En Pointe In Public 2 | The Dying Swan (from now on EPIP2). Change is inevitable and has brought us the world we know today – the societies we live in, the cultures we share and the ways we think are all a consequence of change. Things that were once deemed wrong, immoral or unthinkable are now the very things that we think are necessary for us to survive – take them away and many think they have been robbed of their freedom. The same is true for things that were once commonplace that we contemporary humans frown upon and consider medieval or outdated.
The message I wanted to send
I wanted EPIP2 to show that change is ok. To be afraid or unsure of something or someone unlike you is quite common, but this difference doesn’t mean that an acceptance or appreciation can’t come to exist. Statues of nude figures were once scandalous, but now we flock to museums in the hopes of catching a glimpse.
Of course, I am not the first male to put on a tutu and dance this solo, but the most popular version in this vein exists in the repertoire of the Trocks. They are an amazing, all-male ballet company and the dancers dress in drag and perform many classical works. However, it is a comedy. Their version of The Dying Swan features a swan comically losing its feathers as it takes its last breaths – great to watch, but comedic at its core nonetheless. I wanted to show that anyone should be able to create art in any way they wish and be taken seriously for it.
The BLM protests and the change this sparked in the world, and particularly in the world of ballet, inspired me to choose this particular piece to dance. Pavlova was a white, Russian, female ballerina, heralded as the mother of the contemporary pointe shoe – dressed in a white tutu, she premiered this work. Now, 115 years later I dance it as a black, male immigrant, dressed in a tutu and skin-coloured pointe shoes (both of which are considered ‘traditionally female’).
The evolving nature of art
What I love about art is its tendency to evolve – really its need to do this. EPIP2 has changed so much since I published it. Of course I don’t mean the video itself, but its meaning. My intention may have been acknowledged, but so many others have read into it differently. Not only have the areas of gender norms/identity/stereotypes and acceptance (or the need for it) been realised, but also those of isolation, alienation, even slavery, among others. All these varying meanings that I admittedly had not myself seen or thought of before, arose from whatever factors play into people’s ways of thinking – be that cultural differences or other.
The overwhelmingly positive feedback from EPIP2 has inspired me to want to create more En Pointes In Publics. Pointe shoes, costumes and filming equipment for the quality of production I hope to produce won’t come cheap so if you would like to support you can read more about future projects, tokens I will give, and donate here: gf.me/u/y6r4ka
I hope you all enjoy watching EPIP2 as much I enjoyed dancing and editing it x