Sunday, January 22, 2006

Swan Lake, Hackney Empire

It is a little known fact that the word ‘ballet’ actually derives from the French phrase ‘ball et chaine’ since men would only ever go to see it at the behest of their wives. I myself, seeking cultural enlightenment at any and every opportunity, was not exactly unwilling to go, but I did wonder whether it really was so much more cultured than staying in and watching Celebrity Big Brother.

This being Hackney, I managed to get myself offered out at the bar before the show had even begun but things looked up when I realised that I was allowed to take my pint with me to my seat.

I know no more about ballet than I do about the nocturnal habits of the Amazonian laughbeetle, and hence I am not really in a position to judge whether the Moscow State Ballet Team (or whatever they were calling themselves) were any cop or not. I am fairly sure that it was not the most avant-garde of performances. All the ballet clichés were employed liberally; plenty of girls on tip-toes and men literally prancing about in what looked like painted-on tights. It was noticeable how the men leapt around arses ahoy, whereas the women were all dressed in tutus - as though they’d been pushed through the centre of a satellite dish - which kept their pretty tuches more or less secret.

But nothing got up my nose so much as the way the dancers were so devilishly pleased with themselves. Every spin and leap and tip-toe was accompanied by a god-awful mile-wide grin on the face of the dancer. I would later realise that this was their idea of acting, but it remained gratuitously irritating.

It is true that the ubiquity of shows like Swan Lake makes these things clichés in the first place. When Swan Lake was first performed it was probably full of revolutionary techniques, but nowadays its a museum curio. As ignorant as I am, however, I did recognise quite a few of the dance moves, mainly from reading the karma sutra.

Having sat through assorted people prancing about differently-but-the-same for the best part of an hour I was shocked at the interval to be told that there was a story which I was supposed to be following. I had gleaned that a strange Crowleyesque man - who thankfully did not look pleased with himself but did remind me a bit of Robbie Williams – might not be a good guy but he was dressed all in black and grimacing at every opportunity. Beyond that the relevance of the king, queen, jester and ladies hopping around as though they were trying to look like swans was completely lost on me. Knowing a bit more about what was going on helped me enjoy the second act all the more, but I still managed to totally miss the tragic denouncement. In ballet it is not always clear whether someone is dying or just having a sit down.

Something as old and venerable as Swan Lake is supposedly timeless, but not when you are sitting through it.

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