Monday, December 13, 2010

Swan Lake

As some of you may know, this weekend I saw Swan Lake performed by the Korean National Ballet. Though I've seen many theater and dance performances in the past, I think this is the first time I've seen a ballet live, and it was an interesting experience. I've never been able to hear the thumps as the ballerinas hit the stage or the squeaks of their shoes. When you see ballet performances on TV or in movies, they always edit that part out.

With the exception of the guy who played Prince Sigfried and one of the demi-soloists, the dancing was superb. The guy who played the Prince made it look like work and was kind of lazy. The demi-soloist was half a beat late on just about everything except when she was a swan. I am assuming they practiced the hell out of that part because its very famous and even someone like me who has never seen a ballet before would notice if they messed it up. Besides, the piece has been parodied in cartoons and movies for generations.

We had great seats - the cheapest ones and still the best, how is that possible? - and I went with my friend Maria who used to study ballet. Though she has very little confidence in her ability as a ballerina these days, she still has a lot of insight into the art and even the politics of it. We had some good long discussions about the performance and her experiences in various dance schools.

I don't know if this is normal in a ballet - and Maria says she'd never seen it before - but apparently its customary in Korea to take a bow after about every scene. They even all took bows at intermission which, by then, had started to get supremely annoying. It was like in every place where the audience might suddenly burst into applause, they would stop and bow. There are two reasons I can think of for this - either the company has a very high opinion of themselves, or they don't think that their mostly Korean audience will catch on to when they are supposed to be clapping and so make it easy for them. I think the earlier is more likely seeing as ballet is not that foreign to the people of Seoul.

The woman who played Odette/Odille was fantastic, though. She did this thing where she shook her tutu in such a way that it looked like a swan resettling its feathers. I know its part of the choreography, but she did it extremely well. The choreography for her pieces were very good, because you always got the impression of a bird when she danced. Its got to be hard to act like an awkward bird while making it look graceful, but she managed. The guy who played the Jester was also fantastic and somehow managed to bring a very Korean humor to his character. In my opinion, he should have been cast as the Prince, he was much more energetic and graceful. He also didn't look bored.

The music, of course, was beautiful, having been written by Tchaikovsky. I always thought that the Harry Potter theme was a rip off of another tune and now I have my suspicions confirmed. Just listen to the main theme of Swan Lake, and you'll think "Which one is Dumbledore?"

When I think back over the weekend I am inclined to believe that I had a sophisticated weekend, but then I remember that I pulled every muscle in my arm Saturday night playing wii tennis with strangers and I think maybe I didn't.

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