Dancing Along Swans, Industry, and Finance

By Steven Libowitz   |   February 28, 2023
Swim through a reimagined Swan Lake at the Granada on Feb. 25-26

In the early days of the pandemic, Angelin Preljocaj, the French choreographer famed for creating contemporary classics, dove into developing his distinctive version of Swan Lake, perhaps the most iconic ballet in the canon. Transforming the timeless tale of love, seduction, betrayal, and remorse into a modern cautionary story of ecological tragedy and societal failure, Preljocaj propels his 26-member company into phrases that have been praised for nuance, precision, and a palpable sense of emotion. The work premiered virtually in 2021 and is now traveling the world. 

Preljocaj shared his thoughts prior to the pair of performances on Feb. 25-26 at the Granada Theatre, part of a handful of West Coast stops for the stirring piece.

Q. What sparked your desire to create a new version of Swan Lake in 2020, at that particular point of your career and the company? 

A. In 2018, I was commissioned by the Diaghilev Festival to pay tribute to Marius Petipa. I then created a short piece on pointe called Ghost, where we are projected into the choreographer’s imagination at the time he came up with the idea for his Swan Lake. That’s how I started working on the lake. That’s what made me want to go on and tackle this Everest.

What was the impetus for you to reimagine the story as a clear clash of urban life/development with the natural worlds, as well as with the resultant anxiety? Is it meant to be taken as a lament or warning about climate change? 

Our period underlines this great gap between a somewhat terrifying world (especially as creation took place during the COVID pandemic) and a desire for something else. When I see the world in which my daughters live, a world where 600 species have disappeared in the space of 30 years, I wonder what kind of world we are going to leave to our children. Will our children’s children know what a swan is? I’m not sure.

I wanted to transpose the tale into the world of industry and finance. But it was not possible to make a Swan Lake without keeping this mysterious dimension, where water takes on a particular meaning. The original symbols, the eroticism of the swan for example, are things I wanted to play with. But at the same time, I wanted to reconnect them to our societal issues.

Given that Swan Lake is such an iconic ballet, what was your process for balancing … maintaining existing visual phrases from Petipa and Ivanov with your own contemporary movement preferences? 

From the original libretto, I kept the love story, the bewitching tale linked to the transformation of a woman into a swan. On the other hand, I have completely changed the place of the parents – here they are very important, they dance a lot, because they have an impact on the relationships of the protagonists. Siegfried’s father is a tyrannical man, prone to abuse of power, while his mother is more protective. Rothbart is always there, a very ambiguous character who can represent exploitative businessmen or industrialists who are harmful to our societies and a sorcerer in his spare time.

I found it interesting to rely on certain choreographic features as if I were building a new city on top of old buildings. I had a lot of fun with certain parts, especially in the white act. These are quite jubilant demonstrative moments, which I kept as little numbers and tried to reappropriate. But the choreography is also completely rewritten. It is perhaps the best tribute to pay to Marius Petipa to enter into his creative process, to reinvent things.

I was struck by a quote from you that “Dance is showing the soul with your body – it’s sacred.” For me, language always falls short of conveying inner experience – how close do you think you are to bridging that divide with body and movement? 

According to the idea developed by Spinoza that the soul is a thought of the body: “It is the body that produces the soul.” The soul is really a thought, an outpouring of the body. For me, as a choreographer, this is the most brilliant sentence ever. But yes, what interests me is to question the movement, the body.

Visit www.granadasb.org for tickets and more information.


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