Royal Ballet of Flanders

June 1, 2002

Royal Ballet of Flanders

Reggio Emilia Danza Festival
Teatro Valli

Reggio Emilia, Italy

June 1?2, 2002

Reviewed by Silvia Poletti

Jan Fabre is a very special kind of artist. As a Flemish painter, performer, writer, opera director, dancemaker, and sculptor (his beetle-skeleton creations are renowned), his work is strongly influenced by his studies in anthropology and entomology, also by the Flemish Primitive painters’ allegorical interpretation of life. Fabre has expressed an interest in the coexistence of opposites: passions and rationality; spirit and flesh; human and animal nature. He uses these themes in his theatrical and visual works, along with provocative images, and he likes to juxtapose human gestures with classical vocabulary.

Royal Ballet of Flanders Artistic Director Robert Denvers seemed boldly to defy ballet tradition when he commissioned Fabre, who isn’t a trained dancer, to create a new version of Swan Lake. But Fabre’s reading stayed true to the dualism of nature embodied by the swan maiden, and to the medieval setting of history. Fabre underlined the destiny of death, implied in Swan Lake‘s original story, with his choreographic interpolations and dim lights and decors, recalling the memento mori motifs of medieval arts. Viewers embraced the work, which debuted at the Reggio Emilia Danza Festival.

A witty dwarf knight, invisible to the other dancers, crosses the stage, and, with total fortuitousness, stabs the waltzing dancers and the beautiful swan maidens, who fall down dead, only to come back dancing after a while. Later, a young beautiful courtesan suddenly abandons the traditional choreography, collapses, and starts to imitate animal movements. Both scenes cleverly allude to human frailty. Fabre’s reading culminates in the amazing, mournful ball scene, when Siegfried’s marriage coincides with the moment of his death, and everyone?the Courtiers, the fiancées, the Queen?is dressed in black. Fabre uses the original score and traditional costumes; what distinguishes the ballet is its atmosphere, the sense of pain and death despite an abstract, almost emotionless performance by the uniformly excellent dancers.

Fabre respectfully maintains Ivanov’s original white acts, albeit with a different dramatic cut, giving Rothbart a more incisive importance and an innovative presence. Instead of an old-fashioned pantomime role, with a costume suggesting an owl’s wings, Rothbart (played here by Giuseppe Nocera) is a bold, wild, and powerful man with a live owl on his shoulder, a primitive magician who rules Odette’s movements and destiny. Owl eyes, projected on a screen descending before every scene (the ballet is performed without intermission) are the leitmotif of the ballet; they evoke a time when man and nature lived side by side. Strongly performed by the Flanders company, Fabre’s Swan Lake retains the integrity of the ballet and conveys a deep sense of magic and mystery, absolutely rare in our day.