Presented by Dance Theater Workshop in association with King's Fountain, Barbara Watson Pillsbury, and Henry Pillsbury, through the David R. White Producers Circle at Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W. 19 St., NYC, Dec. 10-13.
The concept is fascinating: a dance-theatre deconstruction of the symbolic meanings of the classical ballet "Swan Lake" to the Russian people, and the historical commandeering of its aesthetic elements as coercive tools of Soviet totalitarianism. But, unfortunately, despite the engrossing set of ideas underpinning the work, Estonia's Von Krahl Theatre's "The Swan Lake," presented at Dance Theater Workshop, did not live up to its provocative promise.
Offered as part of "Central Station," a multivenue, multicity festival spotlighting Eastern and Central European dance, the 90-minute piece, written by Peeter Jalakas (of Estonia) and Sasha Pepelyaev (of Moscow), features only intermittently exciting choreography by Pepelyaev, uneven direction by Jalakas, and a disjointedly rearranged version of the Tchaikovsky score by Moscow's Sergei Zagny. Though full of nifty technical effects—women sliding down a perilously swinging and swooping pole, high-speed rolling barrels with people inside, and smartly edited documentary film footage—"The Swan Lake," a collage of non-narrative images, is often dramatically opaque.
It is easy to recognize characters, motifs, and themes from the traditional version of the ballet, and to appreciate this work's revelation of those "beautiful" romantic symmetries as grounding for the militaristic actions, economic deprivation, and gender exploitation suffered under Soviet rule. However, once that basic premise is established, the production seems to hint at lots of other disturbing relationships that we don't fully understand. The "information" we're given isn't enough for us to generate new meanings from it. Eventually, everything starts to feel repetitious. Although the complex production was given an admirably polished performance by its courageous, athletic cast, the show goes on too long and needs to contextualize its references and political points more clearly in order to speak to non-Russian audiences.