Monday, 24 March 2014

Good Swan, Bad Swan

Tamara Rojo with Matthew Golding in Swan Lake
Photo: David Jensen
Good Swan, Bad Swan: Dancing Swan Lake (TV documentary) - BBC4, 9pm, 9th March
 
English National Ballet Artistic Director and Lead Principal Tamara Rojo gives a fascinating insight into the dual ballerina role of Swan Lake in the BBC documentary, 'Good Swan, Bad Swan'. Showing both her intelligence and passion, she describes the details of the two characters (Odette and Odile), looks at the meaning of specific gestures in the choreography and also explores the history of the ballet as whole.
 
"Dancing Swan Lake is every ballerina’s dream... I remember as a student watching swans in the water, trying to work out how they move so I could incorporate it into my dancing. Years later I realised the ballet was not about swans but about two ideals – the White Swan: innocence, purity and honesty, and the Black Swan: manipulation, dishonesty and eroticism."
 
Tamara Rojo
Photo: Johan Persson
Rojo describes Odette, the white swan, as not only a victim of misfortune (she has been transformed into swan form by the evil von Rothbart) but also a fantasy female projection of the troubled male lead, Prince Siegfried, who feels trapped by the formality of his royal upbringing. The role involves embodying both the characteristics of a swan, a big, powerful animal, and also Odette's sorrow and vulnerability.
 
Odile, the black swan, is instead a "woman of the night" who takes pleasure in teasing and torturing the prince. But Rojo enjoys the character's strength: "she doesn't apologise for being good at what she does or going into enemy territory... It's so much fun."
 
Also interesting is the way that Rojo explains how both roles perform the same steps, but in unique ways, such that the intention is completely different. She references how Shakespeare's Romeo and Macbeth both use the word 'love' but the intention with which they say it alters the meaning.
 
One final part of the documentary that stands out is seeing Rojo applying foundation in front of the mirror. She loves that moment where her own identity is erased, leaving a "blank canvas to put on the face of a new character".

You can view the full programme (in four parts) here.

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