BALLET: Stanley Peskin
‘Fairy lands are fearsome too.” This line by Salman Rushdie seems to me to summarise the especial attraction that Swan Lake continues to exert after more than a hundred years in the ballet repertoire.
In this great work, classical purity of line is transfigured into a means of passionate inventiveness and expression. Pact Ballet’s beautifully designed and lit production of the Petipa/Ivanov masterpiece is successful in evoking the dreamscapes of this deeply haunting drama of extremity and isolation.
Swan Lake is a work full of truth, beauty and delight in which a non-human agency of evil finds its human forms only to be defeated by the strength of love. As one of the chief agents of love, Tania Graafland projects an appropriate innocence in dancing and mime that is exquisitely controlled.
Graafland recognises that duality is the key- note of this role, in which the characteristic 19th-century division of woman into madonna and whore is unmistakable. As the black swan, she conveys a glittering malevolence which makes Siegfried’s blindness to her falsity all the more painful to watch, and she conveys the tranced inwardness and preternatural qualitities of the white swan in a poignant performance.
Siegfried, both as partner and dancer, should be an inescapable presence in this ballet. This Johnny Bovang certainly is. In his performance, there is an elegance of line that is inextricable from the expression of feeling. Bovang shows a Siegfried caught in a trap, forced to perform his own awareness of exile from social convention embodied in the rite of arranged marriages.
Bovang’s encounter with the black swan takes the form of an erotic dream which can be countered only by the reality of selfless love. Here, the more subdued feeling of the second act yields to the impassioned surrender to sexual desire which occludes his vision of the white swan.
Swan Lake’s run at the State Theatre ends on April 4. It moves to the Civic
in Johannesburg on April 16 for four nights
@ Native Tongue: On top of the heap, finally!
I have always wanted to be what I have become. As a young, barefoot boy in the dusty streets of Soweto, whenever I was asked by a condescending adult what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would look straight into their eyes and in all honesty answer: “Umlungu”.
They, in their ignorance, would shake their heads and laugh, commenting, “How funny …” That made me think that I might have a talent as a clown of sorts as I was making people laugh when I was dead serious about my intention to become white when I grew up.
I have become lots of other things in the interim, including a fashionably angry young black man, but I have never lost sight of my ultimate goal. This I achieved last week in what might be one of our particularly verkrampte areas, the Klein Karoo.
I was one of the uitlanders — “foreigners” to those Engelse whose grip on the taal might not be as strong as yours truly’s — who had descended upon Oudtshoorn to see how their Grahamstown was shaping up.
There I was, standing in the bushes watching a performance on a truck converted into a stage, talking to a well-spoken brother who informed me: “I eat only the best in imported British beef, mate.”
I was all enthralled until he lowered his voice and confessed to a pastime of stealing bibles from hotel rooms. He salivated about the prospect of getting one from the hotel we were booked into. I never asked him what he did with those bibles, for I was afraid of the answer.
I slowly moved away from my British-beef- eating friend, until I was at a safe distance. Here I stood next to a coloured sister and we watched the play, a funny little skit set in some military camp. In very educated tones, we discussed the merits and demerits of the play, noting how well the actors on stage had perfected military gestures. “They could very well have been in the army at one point,” we commented, noting that the facial features of most of the black people around us suggested Khoisan ancestry.
My anthropology lecturer at university would have been proud of me had he heard me make the link between sharp cheek bones, possible Khoisan ancestry, a theatrical presentation and wide-scale militarisation by the previous regime. I was cooking, boy!
Cooking so much that one of the madams who had accompanied her workers thought that it would be cool to contribute to the discussion. Why not? We were talking about these people, putting them into categories, and she too thought that her take was equally important. Before I could say, “Witblits”, she was already half way through her analysis of how “these people don’t want to get educated”.
She went on to tell us that even if “you buy food and clothing for them, they will not let their children go to school”. We were supposed to tut-tut and wonder about these people’s warped priorities.
Just to drive her point home to a fellow kinsman who would understand the travesty of it all, she pointed out a child of about nine and asked, “Do you know why he is not in school?” She wasn’t going to wait for my response. She called the child over. “Jannie, tell this gentleman and this lady why you aren’t in school,” she commanded the terrified child.
That’s when I thought my British-beef-eating brother was not in any danger. British cows are safe to eat. The mad, diseased cow was talking to me and she thought I was white.